The purpose of the present study was to investigate whether Lewis (LEW) and spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR), characterized in numerous behavioral tests as strains with high-anxiety and low-anxiety, respectively, could differ in their sensitivity to the effects of ethanol in the elevated plus maze (EPM) and the open field (OF), two classical models of anxiety/emotionality, as well as in the acquisition of ethanol drinking behavior. It was also of interest to examine the relationship between sweet and bitter fluids preference and ethanol intake. SHR and LEW rats were given saline or ethanol injections (0.6 or 1.2 g/kg, ip.) and tested in the EPM and OF. Subsequently the same animals were given continuous free choice between water and ethanol solution (2-8%). Additional groups of animals were exposed to a free-choice regimen between saccharin (0.002-0.09%) or quinine (0.0001-0.0015%) and water. The low dose of ethanol (0.6 g/kg) induced anxiolytic-like effects and intensive locomotor activation mainly in SHR rats tested in the OF arena. Overall, LEW counterparts were unaffected in OF test. In oral self-administration paradigm, SHR rats consumed significantly more ethanol than LEW rats. Concerning other solutions, SHR rats consumed large amounts of saccharin compared with LEW rats. These data indicate that the SHR preference for ethanol intake may be positively related to their differential sensitivity to the anxiolytic/stimulant effects of ethanol and to the sensitivity of this strain for saccharin reinforcement. In addition, these findings provide evidence that the SHR strain may represent a useful genetic and pharmacological tool to investigate ethanol drinking traits.