An animal's volitional consumption of ethanol may be influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. In addition, genetic control of ethanol intake may depend on the test paradigm used. In the present study, performance for, and intake of ethanol in a limited access oral operant paradigm, and preference for ethanol in a two-bottle free choice test in the home-cage were compared in female rats of the heterogeneous Sprague Dawley (SD) and inbred Lewis strains. A smaller proportion of SD rats reached criterion on the self-administration task (four of 10 SD vs eight of 10 Lewis), but those SD rats that did achieve criterion maintained higher levels of responding and greater ethanol intake, relative to the Lewis strain, in the operant self-administration paradigm. Additionally, SD but not Lewis rats exhibited increased locomotor activity and an increase in performance for ethanol compared with water. In marked contrast, Lewis rats exhibited a greater preference for 10% ethanol over water in the two-bottle choice test compared with the SD strain, which preferred water to ethanol. These results suggest that both genotype and test paradigm are involved in the extent to which ethanol serves as a positive reinforcer and that unlike two-bottle choice preference tests, self-administration studies are more highly predictive of the reinforcing properties of ethanol.