This article traces the history of research on the development, evaluation and implementation of alcohol brief intervention (BI) in Europe. BI originated in Europe and, following a definition of opportunistic BI, early pioneering studies are summarised. The role of European scientists in the series of studies making up the WHO Collaborative Project on Detection and Management of Alcohol-related Problems in Primary Health Care (1982–2006) is then described, followed by a short account of a current EU-funded project (Primary Health European Project on Alcohol) with the aim of achieving a widespread, routine and enduring implementation of BI in EU member states. In addition to involvement in these two major projects, a great deal of research on BI has been carried out in a range of European countries and some of this research is noted. Several European governments are now taking the rolling out of BI in routine services very seriously as a policy measure. There is no necessary conflict between widely available BI and alcohol control measures. While much remains to be done regarding practical implementation, the mood of those interested in the promotion of BI as a means of reducing alcohol-related harm, in Europe as elsewhere, is cautiously optimistic.