Taste sensitivity to bitter substances, including ethanol, may play a moderating role both in the initiation of drinking and in the intensity and frequency of drinking once it is initiated. A study (Pelchat and Danowski, Physiol Behav 51:1261-1266, 1992) showed an association between the capacity to taste PROP (6-n-propylthiouracil), a bitter tasting compound, and a family history of alcoholism. The implication of that finding is that family-history-negative individuals may be protected from early initiation of drinking or heavy consumption of alcohol once drinking is initiated. The present study sought to replicate those findings by using direct interview methods (versus history methods) to obtain alcohol use and alcohol problem information from the parents of "at risk" individuals and by examining a larger number of subjects. A bimodal distribution of the ability to taste PROP was found, similar to that observed in the general population. No association was found between the ability to taste PROP and a paternal history of alcoholism, regardless of the taste threshold employed or after controlling for several potentially confounding variables. A lack of association with alcoholism risk was also observed for subjects' self-reports of reasons for drinking or not drinking alcohol based upon taste preference: high-risk and low-risk for alcoholism groups were not distinguished by either a stated preference for the taste of alcohol as a reason for drinking or a stated dislike for the taste of alcohol as a reason for limiting drinking. Thus, neither taste sensitivity for PROP nor the palatability of ethanol appear to influence the choice to drink among adolescent and young adult individuals at high risk for developing alcohol-related problems.