Category: drinking

Drunk History: The Rise, Fall, and Revival of All-American Whiskey


“Giggle Water,” cocktail recipe book by Charles S. Warnock, 1928.

Getting Wasted on Torpedo Fuel During World War II,

During World War I the United States Navy first instituted a rule decreeing that no alcoholic beverages were permitted on ship. This didn’t mean that drinking stopped entirely on US Naval vessels, crafty sailors still found ways to smuggle alcohol on board or produce their own.  During World War II many sailors resorted to drinking the fuel from the Mark 14 torpedo. The Mark 14 was the standard torpedo used by the US Navy in early World War II which could be dropped from the air, used by surface ships, and used by submarines. To power the torpedo the Mark 14′s engine burned 180 proof (90%) ethyl alcohol. For those who don’t know, ethyl alcohol is the potable type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages.  Sailors would mix the torpedo fuel with juice, preferably pineapple juice but also whatever they could get their hands on. The drink was commonly known as “torpedo juice”.

In response to an outbreak of sailors boozing on torpedo fuel, the US Navy began denaturing the fuel, which means they would add a 5-10% mixture of methyl alcohol to the fuel. Whereas ethyl alcohol is potable, methyl alcohol is poisonous, causing blindness or death when consumed. Denaturing was a process created during the Prohibition Era to prevent people from drinking non-beverage sources of alcohol such as fuel, cleaners, and sterilizing agents. The idea is that if you mixed it with  poison people would be smart enough not to drink it. In reality, people drank it anyway causing thousands of deaths. 

To this day denaturing is still done and taken for granted without a thought despite many thousands of people being poisoned to death, not just desperate boozers looking for a cheap drink but accidental poisonings of children. Regardless, the Federal Government and most other governments have yet to change their policies on denaturing. I guess it’s worth it to keep people from getting drunk on rubbing alcohol. However, the US Navy did modify it’s policy regarding fuel alcohol. Like denaturing in the civilian world, denaturing of torpedo fuel only led to hundreds of deaths of sailors by methanol poisoning. Sailors would try various methods of filtering out the methyl alcohol, some as harebrained as running it through a loaf of bread. Most methods failed resulting in illness and death. Thus, the US Navy ceased denaturing of torpedo fuel but substituted methanol with croton oil, which is a potent laxative. The Navy figured that if they weren’t going to poison sailors who broke the rules by drinking torpedo fuel, they could at least give them a really bad case of the runs. Unlike methyl alcohol however, croton oil can be successfully removed from alcohol, in particular through distillation. All over the Navy sailors constructed crude stills to distill the alcohol from the croton oil. 

So then the Navy found itself back to square one, with it’s hands full of unruly sailors drunk on torpedo fuel. The problem was mostly resolved however with the invention of the Mark 18 torpedo. The Mark 14 torpedo had several problems; it often failed to detonate or detonated too early, it would run too deep, it would run in circles, and of course sailors were getting smashed on it’s fuel. Thus in late 1943 the US Navy adopted the Mark 18 torpedo, which was much more reliable, more economical, and utilized an electric engine. Thus no need for alcohol fuel.  At that point, much of the supply of underground booze in the US Navy dried up.

If you want to “relive” World War II history and make torpedo juice for yourself, it’s relatively simple. Just mix one part 190 proof grain alcohol such as Everclear (found at any liquor store) with three parts pineapple juice. Please don’t use methyl alcohol or denatured alcohol. Don’t eat Tide pods either you dumb shits.

Happy Hour astrology mixology: 44 famous mixed drinks” pamphlet produced by Southern Comfort, 1971.