They have power, wealth, and style. Alice prefers champagne, martinis, liqueur, and fine wines. Bob leans in the direction of whisk(e)y or brandy. Alice can typically be seen lounging around in long luxurious gowns and sipping absentmindedly at her drink while Bob pours himself a glass after a hard day and sits down to dwell in his thoughts.
The character is not depicted as an alcoholic of any degree — they do not need to drink, they merely find it pleasant. Combined with tranquil indoors imagery of a wealthy home, comforting silence, and solitude, the drinking scene will have the audience know that the character lacks nothing in this world.
As one alcohol expert put it, "The truly rich people I've seen while working drank whatever they felt like, and beer was one of the relatively common options. But high-quality, expensive liquor or wine visually communicate affluence better than beer does, so that's what you see 'rich people' on TV drinking."
In short, having an expensive taste in alcohol and the ability to sip it whenever you please is a good visual representation of wealth.
The trope most likely comes from Britain; starting in the Middle Ages, wine was the drink of the rich nobles (as it had to be imported from the Continent, usually from France), while beer was a common drink (made locally with local ingredients). Similarly, distilled liquor was initially always imported to Britain, as distilling technology didn't make it to the British Isles until the late 14th to early 15th century. Even after that, distillation technology was initially quite expensive (requiring you to burn a lot of fuel to make a fairly small amount of liquor), and the technology needed to make anything actually good was enough to keep it well out of the hands of the common man.
This character is likely to have a Big Fancy House, full of white stuff, and there may be a joke about spilling expensive and colourful alcohol on a more expensive but very white couch. They may have a high-profile job and like to drink hard at work, or may have no job and so the free time to drink all day. Or they might just have enough money to enjoy the finer things in life, and the TV writers know the best way to show, not tell, this characterisation is to give them a crystal glass of scotch.
For the affluent villains taking evil sips of expensive alcohol, see A Glass of Chianti, and for when a classy character is denoted by their knowledge of wine, see Wine Is Classy (though this trope does cover wine examples, as having wealth and having class snobbery are not the same thing). This character may wear a tuxedo and order a martini, but that trope is about Bond expies. Sister Trope to Drink-Based Characterization.
- One humor poster shows a man in a silk smoking jacket standing behind a stone mansion with manicured lawn, holding a martini in one hand. The poster's caption reads "Poverty sucks."
- Nick Wilde of Zootopia discovers a minibar set in disarray while snooping around inside a limousine. The monogram on the drinking glass is "B," which causes Nick to deduce that the limo belongs to crime lord Mister Big.
- Starting with actor Sean Connery's portrayal of James Bond, the British agent insists that his vodka martinis be "shaken, not stirred", invoking this effect.
- The post-game revelers from 1975's Rollerball wear ball gowns and dinner jackets, and sip champagne from proper flutes, before spilling onto the lawn to obliterate a stand of trees with an incendiary pistol. Ah, how elegantly decadent.
- Tony Stark in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is seen drinking scotch to match his narcissistic rich boy persona. In the first Avengers film, he even prepares one for Loki when they're exchanging words at Stark Tower and as an excuse to go behind the bar to get his Iron Man suit attachment bracelets in preparation for needing to jump out the windows — though this could well be exploiting the theory behind the trope to prevent the trickster from questioning his movement. In the first Iron Man film, he even throws in a portable alcohol station for the troops in the Middle East who buy his weapons.
Tony Stark: Give me a scotch, I'm starving.
- Lost in Translation involves Bill Murray's character shooting a commercial for the expensive Whiskey brand "Suntory" in which he has to convey the "Liquor is Luxury" trope. Unfortunately, he doesn't understand the director's instructions due to an inept interpreter so the whole shoot is a strenuous endeavor. However, the photo shoot works out much better.
- Studio honcho R. K. Maroon from Who Framed Roger Rabbit has a crystal decanter of whiskey in his office. Gumshoe Eddie Valiant makes a beeline for this booze when he drops by to receive an assignment.
- In Feet of Clay, Nobby Nobbs (who's been set up as the King of Ankh-Morpork) is invited to a party and then to a smoking room, where he swills the brandy like beer.
- In Nero Wolfe, this is part of the titular investigator's Bunny-Ears Lawyer life: as a hedonistic shut-in, he conducts his business from a well-appointed brownstone while knocking back six quarts of his preferred beer every day. When he vows to go dry until a particular killer is caught, it's seen as very Serious Business.
- In The Malloreon, the protagonists meet a tipsy noblewoman in a remote manor and soon realize that her isolation and boredom have led her to become a Lady Drunk.
- Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock is a Corrupt Corporate Executive and Magnificent Bastard who likes fine whiskey. Often shown drinking or needing a drink, rarely shown visibly drunk. This trope is lampshaded constantly.
"Business drunk is like rich drunk. Either way, it's legal to drive."
- How I Met Your Mother has Barney and Robin who both drink scotch compared to the rest of the gang's beer — Barney has a big job at a big, corrupt, banking group and makes "16 crap-tons" a year, Robin is revealed in the last season to be sitting on a big pot of family wealth (not that it was really a secret she has money, what with the big, glamorous, mansion lodge home that her flashbacks show, and the fact she was a teen pop star in Canada). Ted also starts to drink scotch more the later it gets in the show, matching his growing status as a professor at Columbia and successful New York skyscraper architect.
- Iron Fist (2017): Ward Meachum, of course, keeps a liquor cabinet in his office for him to raid when the stress of being his dead-but-resurrected father's mouthpiece gets to him. In one episode, he even tries to sweet-talk a reporter who tries to end an interview early into staying with a bottle of bourbon.
Ward Meachum: What, you leaving so soon? We've got bourbon to finish.
Jennifer Many: Tempting, but, uh, I have an early morning deadline...
- The Punisher (2017):
- When Dinah Madani is talking with her mom in the first episode concerning her grief over losing Ahmed Zubair, she does remark that she's been drinking more now that she's got access to her parents' expensive liquor.
- Later in the episode, Billy Russo is seen drinking some fine whiskey while he and Rawlins are meeting in a fancy CIA safehouse to discuss what to do about Frank.
- Parodied on A Bit of Fry and Laurie with the John and Peter sketches. John and Peter are "high powered executives", and as such are constantly drinking whiskey or brandy at work from a fancy cruet. The joke is that they run a small health club in the small town of Yutoxeter, but act like Fortune 500 CEOs and treat everything like Serious Business despite the low stakes. There was also a physical comedy element, as their ridiculously dramatic gestures could send liquor flying everywhere — and there was a subtle absurdity in the sheer number of decanters and cruets available for them to tap for refills.
- In Boston Legal, Alan and Denny always finish off the day with bonding over cigars and scotch on their office balcony.
- Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist: Zoey's rich supervisor Joan has a cabinet full of expensive liquor in her office, and she treats Zoey to 72-year-old Scotch at one point.
- Frasier and his brother Niles are both wealthy psychiatrists who collect wine and frequently drink sherry. When Niles' divorce from Maris puts a strain on his finances, he has to stop buying cases of expensive wine. In another episode, Frasier's accountant tells him he had to hire an assistant specifically to keep track of his sherry purchases. The brothers' tastes are contrasted with their blue-collar, ex-cop father whose choice of drink is beer.
- Singer C W McCall recorded the country song I Like Beer, about his preference for the common man's beverage. In the song, his wife, however, clearly likes martinis, and frowns upon her husband's tastes.
And she thinks I'm uncouth,
While she's sipping vermouth,
And I yell as the waiter draws near,
I like beer.