This article uses the models of Paul Sabatier and Peter Hall, which stress the role of ideas and social learning in the policy process, to illuminate an historical case study over a hundred-year period. This concerns the Drink Question 1850–1950 in Britain and the various techniques for control of alcohol. In turn, the case study is used to suggest ambiguities or problems with the approaches. The case study finds the concept of social learning to be of some utility but casts doubt upon some of the assumptions of Sabatier and Hall: especially the threefold categorization which each author employs. Both models play down unduly the role of external forces in shaping the policy process and do not satisfactorily take into account the changing nature of a political system. In the case study the interplay between social problems, policy objectives and policy techniques is more fluid and complex than their theories suggest.