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Military Moonshiner
Alcohol for medicinal purposes, you understand.

"It's rotgut. Wheresoever men are gathered together, someone will find something to ferment in a rubber boot, distill in an old kettle, and flog to his mates. Made from rats, by the smell of it."
Sergeant Jack Jackrum, Monstrous Regiment, by Terry Pratchett

A military company has one member — usually low-ranking — who secretly distills liquor.

Well, more or less secretly, depending on how strict regulations are. Usually winked at all around. Especially by those who drink it. Though officers sometimes have an interesting time getting connections to it.

The moonshiner is often quite skilled at it. And the hooch itself, though frequently of fire-breathing potency, is at least drinkable without danger. Although the drinkers may curse it and describe it negatively, it generally doesn't blind or kill them, presumably because (from the characters' POV) if it were truly dangerous it wouldn't get the necessary nod-and-a-wink from higher up, and (from the writer's POV) they don't want to take out characters that way.

Often produces it for a toast To Absent Friends.

Because it requires the use of a still, appearances in cultures prior to the High Middle Ages are anachronistic — and even in the High Middle Ages still were rarities, mostly used for medicinal purposes. This character has been known to appear earlier, making fermented brews rather than distiller liquor.

If he's not The Scrounger, he gets his parts from him.

See also: Camp Cook, Hillbilly Moonshiner.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • In Sora No Woto the garrison of the Time-Keeping Fortress has taken the tradition of distilling calvados and selling it to the local mafia in a fairly large numbers to make up for late payments. It's a serious felony.
    Noel: Violation of monopoly and tax laws too. At worst, treason, as well.

    Fan Works 
  • The Houses of Healing in Minas Tirith aren't exactly military in Surgical Steel's Serindë stories, but surgeons and apprentices do accompany the army on campaign; the stills that inevitably pop up are their work.
  • Peace Forged in Fire: Morgan has a side business brewing Romulan ale, and Praetor Velal is very impressed at the quality of her product. She also mentions she had a vineyard on Virinat before the attack, and in another scene speaks hopefully of one day going back there. Unusually for the trope, she's a flag officer (her rank of khre'riov is equivalent to a rear admiral).

    Films 
  • Dozer in The Matrix.
    Cypher: It's good for two things: degreasing engines and killing brain cells.
  • Not a distiller himself, the cook for the C57D in Forbidden Planet did get a lot of booze in an unorthodox way. After befriending Robbie the robot and asking him if he could make him more bourbon, Robbie supplies him with several gallons, all in hundreds of bottles identical to the one he let Robbie scan.
  • One - Corporal Harrigan - appears in the movie Jarhead, providing the supplies for the party in Iraq.
  • This is a subplot of The Great Escape, where the American prisoners buy up all the potatoes in the camp and secretly ferment it to make a very powerful potato whisky. The English and Americans are blown away by the power of the alcohol, but the Scottish prisoners actually don't seem terribly affected by it.
    • Although Blythe (the forger) suspiciously starts to go blind towards the end. This is put down to eye-strain, but you never know...
  • Sgt. Sefton runs a still in Stalag 17.
  • Updated in Buffalo Soldiers (2001). Ray Elwood doesn't make moonshine; he bakes heroin.
  • Subverted in Inglourious Basterds in that Lt. Aldo Raine implies he did this in Tennessee before the war.
  • In Red Planet, Commander Bowman discovers that two of her crewmembers have made a still in the lab after the computer tells her that the lab's thermostat is set a little high. She confronts the crewmembers... and then asks for a drink. She downs the shot in one go and, at the crewmembers' shocked expressions, reminds them that she was in the Navy.
  • The Master: The highly emotionally unstable, über-alcoholic Navy seaman Freddie Quell operates a still amid ship in which he concocts a moonshine made out of alcohol and industrial solvents.
  • The crew of the HMS Surprise is seen heating a still over an open fire pit when they land on the Galapagos Islands in Master and Commander. Unlike many other examples, there is absolutely no indication that the practice is frowned upon, or effort to hide it.
    • In fact, there isn't much reason to believe they are distilling behind the backs of their superiors at all. At the time, the rum ration was hallowed tradition and medical common sense in the Royal Navy and one of the reasons Jack Aubrey chose to return to the Galapagos Islands was to replenish his food stocks. To assume that "food stocks" includes some form of liquor to replace or stretch the supply of regulation rum isn't that big a stretch.

    Literature 
  • In Sandy Mitchell's Warhammer 40,000 novel Scourge the Heretic, when Kyrlock and Drake are standing guard at the beginning, Kyrlock produces drink distilled by one of the tank drivers.
  • In Dan Abnett's Gaunts Ghosts novels, Bragg is noted at the regiment's finest maker of sacra. After his death, others make it, but the old bottles are prized.
    • In The Armour of Contempt, when they gather to greet Dalin Criid back from his first day of training, they succeeded in digging up some of Bragg's sacra. When Gaunt arrives to wish Dalin well, he points out that there are regulations about that sort of stuff — so they had better drink it up and get rid of it.
    • In Only In Death Larkin brings a bottle of Bragg's to Rawne so they can drink To Absent Friends.
  • In Terry Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment, like the quote says: Get a bunch of guys together and they'll make some kind of alcohol, in and smelling of foul containers if need be.
  • The Unknown Soldier features the soldiers brewing alcohol during a stalemate. They nickname the container it's brewing in "Boy".
  • In Sandy Mitchell's first Ciaphas Cain story, a soldier tells Cain he's not what they expected. Cain laughs and reels off all the things they doubtlessly did to prepare for his arrival — including dismantle the stills.
  • Sir Horace Harkness from Honor Harrington did it for the most of his recorded career — and, probably, still does.
    • Which is kind of odd, as alcohol doesn't seem to be contraband in the Royal Manticore Navy. However, if Weber is taking his cues on this policy from contemporary Royal Navy practice then luxuries like alcohol, tobacco or chocolate would be on sale from the ship's stores at a crewman's own expense. The stock taken aboard is fairly limited, prices are probably high and there may well be heavy restrictions on how much alcohol one can buy at one time. This creates lucrative opportunities for the likes of Harkness.
    • The Royal Navy ended the daily rum ration in the early 1970's, replacing this with a strictly enforced official ration of two cans of beer per day for each man (with an equivalent ration in the officers' wardroom). While it is still a disciplinary offence to hoard or stockpile beer - it has to be drunk on the day of issue and not retained - and men who do not drink are similarly not allowed to give or sell their ration to men who do, apparently there are ways around this. It is also worth noting the rum ration was briefly reintroduced, although not universally, during the Falklands War of 1982. The American Navy, however, remains officially "dry".
    • One minor character in one of the short stories was apparently a noted moonshiner who got away with it because he was very good at his official job and produced very good hooch.
  • In Starfighters of Adumar, one pilot mentions that he knew their new diplomatic liaison when said liaison was a pilot. He didn't make his own alcohol, but he smuggled it and all manner of other things in.
    • And in Wraith Squadron, when the squadron mechanic looks at a hastily-cobbled-together ship he just finished, he says it's the second most hazardous thing he's ever made. The most hazardous was his first still.
    • Rebel Stand, written by Aaron Allston like the other two Star Wars Expanded Universe examples, also has moonshine. Moonshine which one character thinks smells like paint thinner.
      Jag: We're not that lucky. While we've been waiting, I've been determining its effects on local insects. One hundred percent deadly.
      Jaina: Hush. This is the finest example of the Borleias distiller's art. It's dereliction of duty to be drinking it when another Vong barrage might start at any minute. That means it's going to taste wonderful.
      She took an experimental sip.
      To her credit, she did keep her reactions from her face. But through the Force Kyp could feel her physiological reaction as nerve endings in her throat protested the intrusion of the homemade brew.
      • The scene continues on with notes like Jaina's voice now sounding like an elderly mechanic's, Jag tasting it and making "a noise that suggested he'd just been punched", Kyp tasting it and surmising that it seems to be "part alcohol, part pepper, part rotted fruit" and then asking if the other two had had the antidote before he showed up, Jag taking another sip and having a clearly visible ripple of anguish from his neck to his feet, and at the end Jaina saying they should drink to the (unrelated) conclusion of the conversation.
        Kyp: Do we have to?
        Jaina: We have to.
        Jag: (chuckles) It's a drink that makes death-duels with Vong pilots pale in comparison.
  • The Forever War: William Mandella has virtually nothing in common with his unit by the time he becomes a Major. Except that one of the cooks has cobbled-together a still and is selling booze to the troops. More than anything, he's amazed at how they got the raw materials out of a closed-system. They pulled it off by offering crewmen their products in exchange for sugary desserts to use as feedstock.
  • The Mote In Gods Eye: Captain Blaine always has a good supply of Irish Mist, supplied courtesy of Sergeant Maloney and his vacuum still. Officially, Blaine doesn't know where it comes from. It has a part in the climax, when a Motie imitates the captain, but doesn't know about the still.
  • Moloch, in the novelization of the Girl Genius wecomic, Agatha H. and the Airship City, is revealed to have been this, making him relatively popular amongst his peers.
  • While they were never actually shown in a scene, a later Vorkosigan Saga novel has Miles commenting that in his ten year career in the military, he has never once seen a spacecraft or station larger than a courier or personal transport that didn't have an unauthorized still on it somewhere.
  • Nellie Coombs in The Thin Red Line secretly brews "swipe", an alcoholic drink made of canned fruit. When discovered, he's forced to teach the trick to the rest of the C Company, which leads to everybody getting staggeringly drunk.
  • The Star Trek novel Vulcan's Glory establishes that producing "Engine Room Hooch" was almost universal on early Starfleet vessels. Predictably, Scotty was very skilled at producing hooch of the highest quality. Even by-the-book officers like Number One looked the other way (in exchange for having the first squeezings from the still, of course). However the batch in the novel was accidentally contaminated by radiation from the warp reactor, which made it much stronger than intended. This had the fortunate side effect of bringing their attention to a damaged reactor that they would have missed otherwise.
  • On the Ark Royal The chief engineer has a still, which provided most of the booze Cpt. Smith drank while the ship was stuck in orbit. Newcomer Commander Fitzwilliam is momentarily surprised to see unlabeled rotgut served openly at his first briefing with the senior crew, then remembers that he hadn't seen a ship yet where the crew wasn't fermenting something.

    Live Action TV 
  • Hawkeye and Trapper John (and later BJ) have a still in their tent on M*A*S*H. They say that they're distilling gin (hence the martini glasses), but what actually comes out is little more than high-proof grain alcohol.
    • Colonel Potter once mentions that he had had a still in Guam during World War II that exploded and injured him. He got a Purple Heart for the wounds he suffered when said distillery explosion occurred.
    • This very still received a Shout-Out in Community, where the TV-obsessed Abed constantly compares Jeff Winger to Hawkeye. Jeff immediately orders a "Hawkeye still" be built in his editorial office.
  • The flight deck crew in the new Battlestar Galactica set up a still and are harshly reprimanded for it by Chief Tyrol... because it was a sloppy job that made "liquor" liable to kill someone, and teaches them to build a better version. Later, Colonel Tigh catches Tyrol brewing liquor to trade for engine parts, directs him to the parts he needs, and takes a jar as payment.
  • A not-quite-as labor-intensive version was the fatal flaw/clue in a Columbo episode. There was only one place on the campus of the military school where the bottle could be seen: the site of the murder.
  • Not military, but still a strictly regimented, all-male institution. A Christmas Episode of Porridge features one of the prisoners distilling hooch in one of the shower blocks. Served in a disinfectant bottle, its taste causes Fletch to comment that they should have taken the disinfectant out first.
  • An exploding still is a minor plot point in Generation Kill when it nearly blinds one of the Marines.
  • Averted in Band of Brothers; Easy Company lacks a moonshiner. The biggest drinker among the main characters has to smuggle his booze in the luggage of a known teetotaler, and later resorts to looting when his supply runs dry.
    • They were fighting their way through France and into Germany, two countries held in high esteem throughout the world for their wine and beer respectively. Swiping a few cases or a keg from an abandoned or wrecked bar would not be difficult.
  • Firefly: Not strictly military, but alcohol is still hard to find in the Black:
    Mal: To Kaylee, and her inter-engine fermentation system.
  • Chief of Security Tony Verdeschi from Space: 1999's second season spends his off-duty period trying to brew beer using Moonbase Alpha's hydroponics equipment, resulting in varying degrees of failure.
  • Brody assembled a still from the lab/kitchen tools aboard Destiny in Stargate Universe. The drinks usually taste horrible, though this might be attributed to the flora of that galaxy.
  • The prisoners of G-Wing in Bad Girls brew up a batch of "Chateau Larkhall" using fruit, powdered drink mix, and yeast tablets nicked from the prison kitchen. Winds up tasting as good as it sounds (that is: horrible), but at least it's alcoholic. It's later consumed at an impromptu wake for Monica's son.
  • In F Troop, Sergeant O'Rourke gets around this by having the local Indian tribe, the Hekawis, make the booze for him. He still provides them with parts and raw materials...and sells the finished product in Fort Courage's saloon, which he secretly owns.
  • JAG: In "Cabin Pressure", Harm & Mac are sent out to a ship to investigate the death of a moonshiner.

    Video Games 
  • This is referenced in one of the data entries in Mass Effect: the Alliance ships have ablative armor and void spaces between the decks and the main outer hull; in the entry it's mentioned that you'd often find illegal stills in these void spaces. Chief Ashley Williams (no, not that one, the other one) jokes that a still is the second thing Alliance engineers install in a starship — the engines being the first — before her toast to absent family members.

    Web Comics 
  • Schlock Mercenary:
    • While the cast are technically military, they haven't been moonshining. But Schlock does find a still while working undercover at a circus - being used by the clowns. They were apparently trying to make Merlot Brandy. Schlock stated that they were closer to making biodiesel.
    • Captain Tagon recounts a time when he was in the infantry and a greenie major gave their company far too much living space.
    "Within two weeks we had four stills, two smack labs, an on-site escort service, a two-star casino, and a greenhouse full of hyperjuana."

    Western Animation 
  • Referenced in The Simpsons episode "Brother from Another Series" after Sideshow Bob is released from prison:
    Cecil Terwilliger: Now make yourself at home. Perhaps a glass of Bordeaux? I have the '82 Chateau Latour and a rather indifferent Rausan-Segla.
    Sideshow Bob: I've been in prison, Cecil. I'll be happy just as long as it doesn't taste like orange drink fermented under a radiator.
    Cecil Terwilliger: That would be the Latour, then.

    Real Life 
  • Truth in Television: this trope is common in Real Life. Soldier's life is hard and stressful, and getting drunk or high on drugs is considered essential for staying sane. While almost all armed services in the world relate negatively on drunkenness in the service, the Cannon Fodder at the bottom of the military food chain has its ways to avert the watchful eye of the superiors. Many junior officers turn blind eye on military moonshiners, as they know their troops.
  • Bill Mauldin (in Up Front) noted these moonshiners existed during World War II, and that higher-ups winked at them, and even warned them when there might be crack down. Partly because they produced safer booze than the locals did. One of his cartoons also shows an enlisted man busily adjusting his still, as an officer looks on. The officer says, "Hell of a way to waste time. Does it work?"
  • There are stories of stills blowing up in American military bases in countries like Saudi Arabia with strict alcohol bans (please note, though, that there are no longer any American bases in Saudi).
    • Pilots in the leadup to the Gulf War would be known to ferment fruit juices or have alcohol smuggled in from the US via emptied mouthwash bottles. What was irksome to them is that personnel housed in neighboring Bahrain only a few miles away were allowed to purchase alcohol
  • Self-sufficiency forefather John Seymour wrote that during his time in the King's African Rifles, each company had one assigned brewer, who would knock up some kind of beer from whatever he could scrounge and let the company drink it once a week. "Horrible stuff, but it kept us sane."
  • During WWII Allied prisoners of war would make alcohol in German prison camps. It gets scary when you read how they used lead pipes for their stills but apparently no one died from lead poisoning due to the lack of exposure. Although one book, The Colditz Story, did mention a powder at the bottom of the jars that they made sure not to drink.
  • WWII era torpedoes were often fuelled by grain alcohol, albeit doctored to make it undrinkable in its normal state. Sailors devised crude stills to separate the alcohol from the additives.
  • This trope is omnipresent in the Russian Army. The army is based on conscription with very little for the soldiers to do and with the service conditions being hellish at best. Many conscripts attempt to escape the everyday misery into alcohol (if stationed in North) or into heroin and other drugs (if stationed South). Some of the moonshiners are very skilled and can turn unbelievable stuffs into drinkable alcohol. Though they usually extract alcohol from various technological fluids rather than distill true moonshine.
    • The Russian Army does not denaturize the alcohol used as fuel or coolant on its equipment (the alcohol-based de-icer used in the air force and army aviation is particularly famous). They know their troops and that they would drink it anyway, were the stuff rendered toxic or not.
    • According to one story the Russian army uses alchohol based fuel for its vehicles in an act of Genre Savviness. It is assumed that soldiers will always try this so one might as well make sure it's not poisonous.
      • Sort of true, while most Russian Vehicles run on diesel or gasoline, Russia also uses mixed fuel engines which can run on fuel of most octane levels, including pure alcohol (though in practice it is often mixed with a much less potent trash fuel first). Most mixed fuel engine personel transports have a tank of chemically pure ethanol as "Emergency fuel," though we know what it really used for.
  • A high-ranking Red Army officer who defected to the West in the mid-1970's described during his debriefing how anything up to a third of all Russian tanks committed to the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 were immobilised and rendered un-usable, owing to soldiers either drinking vital alcohol-based lubricants, or else using reserve fuel tanks for illicit distilling and transportation of home-brewed vodka - which was so utterly unsuitable for powering a tank that once the reserve tank was switched on, the "fuel" it contained fouled (and often destroyed) the engine. He described a situation where the whole of the march route into Prague was lined by immobilised tanks that had broken down - largely for this reason.
    • This apparently also happened a lot during the Soviet Union's abortive attempt to "pacify" insurgency in Afghanistan in the 1980's.
    • Fighter pilot and defector Victor Belenko wrote that oftentimes jet fuel would be dumped and nonexistent flight plans and reports created so that the crews could swipe the alcohol.
  • Truth in Television: the novel about American marines in the Pacific in WW2, The Thin Red Line, describes how the first PX stores to be set up in places like Guam and Guadalcanal to provide troops with extra comforts very quickly sold out of two items - cheap cologne aftershave and tinned pineapple juice. On investigation, it was discovered the American soldiers were getting round the "no alcohol while on campaign" rule by drinking the aftershave for its alcohol content. The only thing that made it palatable and masked the taste of perfume was the pineapple juice.
  • After the privations of home service and the spartan conditions of the North African desert, British soldiers posted to the Italian war in 1943 soon discovered one thing the Italians made in abundance - wine and spirits. Drunken-ness in this theatre was at epidemic levels, the British soldiers discovering wine had three or four times the alcohol content of the beer they were used to. Comedian Spike Milligan relates how the British Army in northern Italy and Austria celebrated the German surrender in May 1945: a fountain near Milligan's billet was made to work and literally flowed with wine. Acording to Milligan, the official Order Of The Day for 7th May 1945 was ''Every man is ordered to get drunk!"
    • For its part, the US military has, on a number of occasions between its inception and World War I, found reason to issue advisories reminding troops that they are not allowed to drink with the enemy in wartime. In the lulls between fighting—and, obviously, this only applied to the least bitter conflicts—troops were known to hang out with whoever had the best still, regardless of their affiliation.
  • At least one group of Glassblowing students have set up a still, using the incredibly hot air coming off of a glass furnace. Unlike most example, most of the alcohol produced was used for fuel in torches to shape the glass without causing it to melt.
  • The Chauchat machine gun was notorious for being more of a danger to it's operator then to the enemy. However parts of it were really good for making still.


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M*A*S*HImageSource/Live-Action TVMay to December
Military MaverickAdded Alliterative AppealMillion Mook March

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