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"In ten years in this dump, I've come to accept a very low standard of life. But even at the bottom of this fish tank, a man must have standards. The pathetic trou du cul down at Worley Winery has started putting water to his terrible wine... water!!!"
Pierre Gobbi, BioShock

Diluting an alcoholic beverage (or some other drug), usually with water for alcohol, but sometimes other substances, is fairly common in both the real world and fiction. Street drugs are also almost always cut with other stuff. It is usually done so as to get more saleable product from smaller amounts of genuine ingredients. For example, lactose powder or flour may be added to cocaine to bulk it out. Yet sometimes, dilutants are added for other purposes. Some dilutants might mask an unpleasant flavor.

Adding products to make a drink or drug seem stronger is not this trope. For example, an unethical Hillbilly Moonshiner might add poisonous wood alcohol to their illicit hooch to give it more "kick", or drug dealers might add PCP to cannabis to enhance the perceived psychedelic effectiveness.

This can overlap with Expensive Glass of Crap when the watering down consists of mixing small amounts of fancy aged booze with larger quantities of mediocre or crappy "plonk".

May result in A Tankard of Moose Urine.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Silver Spoon: When Yugo asks one of the staff of Ooezo about a way to make money, he replies that an easy way for a dairy farmer to increase profits is by watering down their milk, which gets mixed in with others from nearby farms, so no one will notice at the store. He then goes on to explain how they're checked for this by weight and freezing point, which you can bypass by either adding too little for them to detect or figuring out which days they measure.
    Man: If you're willing to commit fraud, then you can raise your profits.
    Yugo: Umm... that seems—
    Man: If you even think about it, I will kill you!

    Comic Books 
  • In Preacher, Custer starts off his massive "The Reason You Suck" Speech to the whole town by telling the bartender he can almost taste the beer through all the water.
  • In some versions of the Batman franchise, The Penguin has shifted from outright crime to running a nightclub, where he makes far more money selling overpriced souvenirs and, yes, watered-down drinks.

  • In American Psycho, a couple of the yuppies complain about how the cocaine they've been sold is "a gram of fucking Nutrasweet".
  • In the film version of Sir Henry at Rawlinson End, the ghost of the late Rawlinson Bulldog Gums takes possesssion of his now-stuffed body, and urinates through the floor of the upstairs corridor into Sir Henry's drink in the dining hall below. Sir Henry is horrified ó the stuffed dog's bladder had been refilled with water. This watering-down is what prompts Henry to finally exorcise the ghost of his brother who put the dog up to it.
  • The old Polish comedy Gangsters and Philantropists featured a story about a hapless lab technician who accidentally takes a hydrometer with him after leaving work. He goes to a restaurant, orders a drink and absentmindedly starts stirring the drink with the hydrometer. The restaurant manager sees this and thinks that the guy is a government inspector testing if the restaurant is watering its drinks. As the protagonist is leaving the restaurant, he is handed an envelope with money as a bribe to not report the restaurant. Once he figures out what happened he starts regularly going to restaurants with lab instruments and supplements his income with the bribe money. Later he resorts to weighing steaks since the restaurants are also likely serving less meat than advertised on the menu.
  • Ocean's 8: In her first scene Lou is supervising as her nightclub's employees water down vodka, giving them strict instructions on how to make it seem convincing ("three fingers from the top").
  • Discussed in Scary Movie. Cindy's dad, before he leaves her at home for the weekend, tells her he "left her a little present in the coffee can", and reminds her that if she's going to cut and sell it to use baking soda, not baking powder.
  • The Sting: When Henry Gondorff is performing the initial con against Lonnegan on the train, he makes himself up as a drunken slob by taking a bottle of gin, splashing some of it on his face and gargling with it so he reeks of alcohol, then pouring half of it out and filling the bottle back up with water before taking it with him to the poker game. He advises Hooker that gin is the best thing to drink while working a con because the mark can't tell that you've watered it down.

  • Examples from Discworld:
    • A certain class of upper-class snobs like to label their alcohol backwards (so that whiskey is read as "yeksihw" and port as "trop") to prevent their servants from stealing sips from the bottles. In response, the butlers top the bottles up with "eniru" after they've had their fill.
    • Scrape is a troll drug that's even worse than Slab, as it involves any junk lying around and requires pigeon droppings. And Discworld pigeons are described as "effluents on wings"...
    • But a suggestion that a landlord has been watering down the scumble is quickly discarded, because everyone knows "what happens if you lets a drop of water touch scumble".
    • Mrs Bradshaw's Handbook to the Ankh-Morpork and Sto Plains Hygienic Railway has a story about a bartender who was given new hands by the local Igor, and discovered that they were rather more refined than he was, fluttering in alarm when he swore and insisting on being washed when he left the privy. Then some of the customers noticed that he also washed them when he took a barrel up from the cellar...
    • Mr. Tulip's drug problem is that he wants a drug problem, but can't get his hands on actual drugs to save his life. Despite Ankh-Morpork being a Wretched Hive par excellence where any euphoric substance under the sun can be purchased, he'll somehow inevitably find the dealer who's selling powdered moth balls and baking soda. Although Mr. Pin tries to set him straight, Tulip still insists these substances must be working as intended, as they are "chemical".
  • The book M.Y.T.H. Inc. In Action features Mob enforcer Guido discussing this phenomena, noting it's a way for the bar owner to make more money off less product, and his customers don't mind because less alcohol per glass makes the drink "healthier".
  • One of the minor characters in the Philip K. Dick novel Eye in the Sky is a hostess at a club who waters down her own alcoholic drinks (as a large amount of her job is drinking with customers) so as to not get drunk herself.
  • Lana Lee, the business-minded owner of the Night of Joy bar in A Confederacy of Dunces also waters down the drinks of her "hostess" Darlene...but she also waters down all the other drinks as a cost-cutting measure. Burma Jones frequently comments on it—particularly how it might be cutting into her profits, as people won't come back to a bar where they get too-weak drinks.
  • In the extended version of Steven King's The Stand, one of the survivors of Captain Tripps is a heroin user who knew where his dealer kept the stash. Unfortunately for him, the dealer died before he could cut it, so the druggie snorted almost pure heroin and promptly died of an overdose.
  • Guy Gavriel Kay:
    • The Sarantine Mosaic, being Historical Fantasy based on Byzantine (eastern Roman Empire) events, has most people watering their wine regularly in Sarantine society. Taking one's wine undiluted is considered a sign of a dissolute drunkard - reasonable, given how much wine everyone seems to drink throughout the day.
    • Tigana: the fashion is to drink kav laced with liqueurs. At the beginning of the novel, as word spreads that one of the city's patriarchs has died, people are flooding into bars to gossip about it. In the inn where the artists and musicians drink, the bartender gets so excited by the crowds and the news that he actually starts pouring full measures of booze until his wife notices and makes him stop.
  • Inverted in Trainspotting. Renton's usually compensates for the fact that Seeker usually cuts any heroin he sells by upping his dosage per hit. He overdoses when the gear he gets is actually pure (or less cut at least).
  • The Hobbit: When the dwarves are captured by the Elves, the guards sit down for some drinking. As the narration notes, they start drinking wine that's meant to be drunk in small glasses and cut with water, the guards down the stuff undiluted in huge bowls. Very soon they're dead drunk, alowing Bilbo to let the dwarves out.

    Live Action TV 
  • Due to its heavy focus on drug gangs, The Wire features the drug version of this trope in spades. (Eg. numbers are thrown around between the gangs to talk about the strength of their product; 'Take it to ten' or 'This stuff is ninety', referring to what percentage of the product is actually the drug), and in hard times, they weaken their product by cutting it with whatever similar-looking substance comes to hand to make more profit. In season two, there are five deaths and eight hospitalizations in the Correctional Facility because the supply of heroin has been cut with rat poison. In this case it was for the sake of assassination, but the police couldn't be sure because that kind of thing can just as well be done as a way to cut cost and increase perceived potency.
  • The Beverly Hillbillies' Granny, a Hillbilly Moonshiner, usually makes strong liquor, but waters it down for the city folks who couldn't handle it at full strength.
  • Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad originally spiked his meth with chili powder, not so much to dilute as because he considered it his signature flair. When he joined up with Walter White he put a stop to that, because Walt takes great pride in the fact that he can produce meth that is more than 99% pure. The high quality of Walt's meth is what brings him to Gus's attention.
    Chili powder. Did I not tell you how moronic that was?
  • Rosie does this on M*A*S*H to keep the prices down.
    Rosie: Keeps prices from getting high.
    BJ: Has the same effect on the customers.
  • On Graceland the agents are able to intercept a large heroin shipment that was supposed to sustain Bello's drug operations for months. With his inventory running out, Bello decides that he has to dilute the heroin so he does not run out before a replacement shipment can arrive. Since he does not want to gain a reputation for watering down his product, he uses a substitute that most junkies would not detect but which can kill people if mixed with alcohol or other drugs. In Bello's arithmetic, a few dead customers is better than having a reputation for selling inferior heroin.
  • In "Roe to Perdition", the I Can't Believe It's Not Heroin! episode of Frasier where the Crane boys become caviar dealers, they at one point consider cutting their supply of high-grade caviar with inferior stock.
  • In this Horrible Histories sketch, a milkman during the First World War watered down his milk to make it go further. Just donít ask him where he got the water from.
  • An episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia involves this when the gang comes into possession of a large amount of cocaine owned by the mob. Over the course of the episode, a lot of the cocaine ends up depleted, which leads them to try to dilute it with flour. Naturally, they dump so much flour on the cocaine that it's more flour than cocaine.
  • On NCIS, Palmer's upcoming wedding is set to take place during an investigation of a domestic terrorist, so Gibbs gets the idea to use Palmer's Stag Party as part of a sting. All the drinks at the parry are watered down to keep the agents sober; Palmer, however, Can't Hold His Liquor and ends up plastered.
  • In one episode of the comedy series The Detectives, the titular police officers go to a dodgy criminal pub where they confront the landlady with the fact that one of her regular customers had recently been pulled over by a squad car having previously consumed a truly ridiculous amount of alcoholic drinks at her establishment, leading to this exchange:
    Landlady: What's that got to do with me?
    Dave: Maggie, he was under the limit. You've been watering the booze down again.

  • The The Pogues track "Sally MacLenanne brings this up as part of a barman's job.
    I played the pump, and took the hump, and watered whiskey down
  • "How Low" by Against Me!
    Now seriously, this is my last and final time
    Well I'm making some big, big changes in my life
    No, you won't catch me down here again
    Waiting to score sweaty money palmed in my hand
    What the fuck are you cutting this with anyway?

  • The Bible:
    • Watered-down wine is used as a metaphor in the Book of Isaiah as God's way of telling His people Israel that their spiritual life isn't as pure or as potent as it used to be.
    • Used by the writer of 2nd Maccabees at the end to compare with writing a good story.
      For just as it is harmful to drink wine alone, or, again, to drink water alone, while wine mixed with water is sweet and delicious and enhances oneís enjoyment, so also the style of the story delights the ears of those who read the work. And here will be the end. (2nd Maccabees 15:39)
    • In the Gospel of John, when Jesus performed his first miracle (turning water into wine at the Wedding at Cana), he turned it into the very best wine. One of the guests passes comment about it to the host, since the usual practice was to water it down and use cheaper wine overall.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Palladium Fantasy has several lower class establishments such as peasant taverns and inns that are explicitly mentioned to water down their booze. Getting a bottle of the good stuff usually means dropping a bit of gold at a higher end location or settling for cheap but borderline toxic rotgut moonshine. Pick your poison...

    Video Games 
  • In BioShock, minor character Pierre Gobbi has an audio diary complaining about the hellhole Rapture is turning out to be; but there is one thing he cannot stand: Worley Winery, producers of the fine wine Arcadia Merlot, watering down their wine. They then claim that at least they are using distilled water, and not seawater. This points the player to the winery, as distilled water is one of the items for the current Fetch Quest.
    • In Bioshock Infinite Burial at Sea, there's an audio diary of Atlas complaining about how cost ineffective Vigors are because of how it's sold in diluted, drinkable form and vouches for just selling them in concentrated form to be injected into your bloodstream with needles. The marketing team can figure out how to make them sell.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: One of the less heinous things Ingo does when he takes over Lon Lon Ranch is water down their milk products.
  • Mentioned by Vlad in Grand Theft Auto IV. He says that Mikhail cuts his cocaine with laxative, causing Niko to be Squicked out when he mentions the effect it has on him.

  • In Lackadaisy their supplier at the beginning of the comic has a not undeserved reputation for cutting his booze with embalming fluid. The fact that they're even buying from him serves to show how badly the Lackadaisy speakeasy is doing.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • In "The Crepes of Wrath" Bart is sent as a foreign exchange student to France, only to find out that he's basically been sold as a slave to shoddy wine makers. Unable to speak the language, he toils for weeks as the men abuse him. One day, immersion kicks in and he realizes he's fluent. He immediately runs to a cop and tells him how the men beat and starve him and cut the wine with antifreeze. The officer listens stoically until he gets to the part about the wine. To which he's horrified and rushes off to arrest the men.
    • At a school event in "I Love Lisa", Principal Skinner instructs Willie to water down the remaining orange drink, who claims watering it down any more isn't even possible.
    • When the citizens of Springfield start dumping their booze into the water supply of an army troop occupying the town Moe claims this is definitely the only time his booze has been watered down.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars has this as a key plot point in the episode Corruption, in which smugglers (The usual merchant ships having cut shipments due to the titular Clone Wars making travel unsafe) cut the tea they smuggled into Mandalore with a toxic chemical, which leads to scores of hospitalized children.

    Real Life 
  • Truth in Television with illegal drugs, which can be bulked up in many ways, from spraying glue on cannabis buds to make them heavier, to mixing powders like cocaine and heroin with anything from baby powder to rat poison. Ensuring pure quality is often used as an argument for drug legalization, although with cannabis, many stoners complain that pre-rolled joints in legal dispenseries are often bulked up with low quality trimmings.
  • Tragic real-life consequences ensue when impoverished parents do this to infant formula, which is expensive, to make it stretch longer. It seems harmless but unfortunately, too much water dilutes a baby's normal sodium levels, leading to a potentially fatal condition called "water intoxication" in infants under one year old..
  • As mentioned by one of the examples above "hostesses" and "hosts" who work in bars or nightclubs to draw in patrons almost always have their own drinks severely watered down to allow them to not get too soused given the job requires them to drink along with the guests.
    • This is also commonly done by unscrupulous bartenders who have particularly profitable customers who also happen to be drunk and approaching the point of being overserved; what they usually do is take cocktails with non-alcoholic ingredients that overpower the taste of the alcohol to begin with and drastically reduce the amount of alcoholic components. This is particularly easy with fruity cocktails (colloquially known as "bitch drinks"), and it is virtually foolproof if the bartender is careful to keep the amount of alcohol negligible. This is because people who are already drunk cannot detect whether a drink contains alcohol or not, and if they do make a fuss about drink strength, they'll look like any other belligerent drunk who needs to be carted out by the bouncers.
  • During Prohibition in the United States, illegal alcohol was often cut with methyl alcohol, a poison that can cause permanent blindness.
    • This was also done DELIBERATELY by the government to prevent industrial alcohol from getting consumed. This worked as well as you might expect: not. Contemporary comments to this were: "The government is under no obligation to furnish the people with alcohol that is drinkable, when the Constitution prohibits it. The person who drinks this alcohol is a deliberate suicide." and "If the Senator's theory is that alcohol is so poisonous, then why put poison in it?" (the second quote is not a response to the first one).
  • The British Royal Navy served "grog" to its sailors. You could call it watered-down rum, but it's more like rummed-up water, and the main point was that the alcohol would keep the water drinkable. This was also done to moderate the sailors' drinking. The daily ration wasn't enough to get really soused anyway, but issuing it watered down discouraged sailors from hoarding up their rations and going on a bender.
    • More importantly grog was often also cut with lime juice, originally to improve the taste but later found to help fight off scurvy. Eventually, officers in the India service drinking the stuff (though officers were allowed wine, they started to take the lime-grog for the antiscorbutic effect) started to add sugar, tea, and sometimes other fruit juices, and thus punch was born.
    • Another Royal Navy trick was to cut ground coffee beans with bread that had been toasted black then crumbled. This was done deliberately to make the beans - and their precious caffeine - last longer. By the end of a voyage it was not uncommon for naval coffee to consist entirely of water and burnt bread.
  • Rationing in World War II led to this — in more ways than one. During the siege of Leningrad, the food situation got so precarious that the Soviets started issuing bread filled out with sawdust, and the Germans themselves would later give the foodstuff to POWs, impressed foreign workers and concentration camp internees.
    • Though note that the "sawdust" in this and other similar stories often refers to the ground tree bark that for many species of trees contain an actually edible and nutritious, if hardly tasty, part. This part was stripped off and ground into powder to stretch the flour supplies and make use of the otherwise unpalatable food source. In fact, this trick is centuries old, and the tree bark was long-known as a famine food in Northern Europe.
  • More Truth In Television, and perhaps an inversion: A very minute portion of alcohol was always added to water in ancient societies to make it safe(r) to drink. (Even the Apostle Paul, otherwise rather famous for being an ascetic, recommends this in a letter to Timothy because the other had been having stomach problems.)
  • This was done with milk and even bread depressingly often. (Milk would be mixed with water, bread with chalk, plaster, grit and worse...) There's an incredible amount of legislation on this in older legal systems, often putting it on the same severity scale as theft and murder (this was the original rationale behind "the Baker's Dozen", during Medieval England, the punishment for shortchanging customers on bread was amputation of the hand, bakers compensated by erring on the side of caution and selling 13 loaves of bread for the price of 12). Because, well, it kind of is murder to sell someone "food" with the nutritional value of cardboard.
    • The Nestle boycott of the 1970's was partially related to the risks of watering down powdered infant formula.
      • In 2008, producers of baby milk powder in China were found to be adding poisonous melamine (a chemical used to fool food quality testsnote  , allowing them to dilute the powder with non-nutritious material without being caught). It lead to 60 000 babies being hospitalized. Two people were executed for their roles in the tragedy.
      • Hill's Pet Foods and several other pet food companies were sold wheat gluten by Chinese suppliers that was laced with melamine, and the melamine-tainted pet food reportedly killed thousands of dogs and cats and resulted in massive recalls. The pet food contamination scandal led directly to checking human foodstuffs from China for similar adulteration.
    • This is such an ancient problem that Islam, particularly the Hadith, have very strong words for milk merchants who water down their product, calling them cheats of the lowest order, etc., etc., etc.
  • Apparently, according to the Talmud, in ancient Israel and Babylonia, wine was made so strong that it was actually undrinkable unless mixed with water in a ratio of about 2 parts water to 1 part wine.
    • In much of the ancient Mediterranean wine was fermented to a very high alcohol level and then watered down later, either soon before sale or by the customer. It was considered very unhealthy to regularly imbibe un-watered-down wine.
      • For a good reason- alcohol and sweetness of unwatered vine perfectly covered bitter taste of poison.
  • And as for good old fashioned watering down beer? The trick isn't to water it down with water. That gets caught by anyone with a sense of taste. Instead, you water down expensive beers with cheap beer.
    • In modern bars, this is more commonly done with other liquors as opposed to beer, which comes from tapping pressurized kegs, and is thus very hard to water down without obvious engineering on the taps themselves or opening the kegs to water them down.
  • Watering wine was a very important skill for bartenders in ancient Greece and Rome - you started strong and then began diluting as the customers got drunker and less able to notice. There's a famous bit of graffiti in Pompeii that assaults a caupon for watering his drinks too much.
    • There was also at least one recipe that called for mixing wine, with pitch, rosin (a type of resin derived from pine trees) and seawater. It was considered an acquired taste.
      • A form of this still exists as the Greek retsina.
    • Note also that the Greeks in particular considered drinking undiluted wine a sign of uncouthness (or alcoholism—pretty much the same thing). Even if you liked your wine strong, you were supposed to mix it with some water.
  • Roman spiced wine conditum paradoxum was often spiced so strongly and with such an unlikely additives, that it was said to be sometimes completely undrinkable, if not diluted.
  • Averted with Janis Joplin. Apparently, she was just one of several people killed by a dealer who failed to cut his batch of heroin enough to make it "safe".
    • This is a very common reason for a drug-related deaths actually. As established dealers try to capitalize on their status, they tend to progressively dilute their ware with various adulterants, forcing their clients to buy a larger and larger amounts of drug for the same kick. And when a new dealer moves in and tries to compete by selling a stronger, more pure stuff, the users very often use the dosage they got used to with the old, diluted drug for the new, more pure one, leading to overdose.
  • On a lighter note, diluting alcohol with sodas or fruit juices to make larger, less alcoholic beverages is one of the staples of modern bartending. From a purely economic perspective, this benefits more or less everyone: the weaker drinks make cheap liquor sippable, reducing the cost of drinking to the consumer, and buying cheaper liquor allows bars to serve more customers. Even liquor connoisseurs benefit, since premium, high-quality spirits are usually available in the bar but must be ordered by name, leaving them to those who know them by name and presumably will not adulterate them with soft drinks.note 
  • On an even lighter note, it is common for parties/school functions/other large events to tip the proportions of water to Kool-Aid (or other) drink mix in order to have enough.
  • In 2013, the State of New Jersey ran a sting operation called "Operation Swill" that revealed no less than 29 establishments statewide (of which 13 were T.G.I. Friday's locations) passing off cheaper brands as premium liquor. On its own, that's Expensive Glass of Crap, but sometimes the bars would mix a bit of the real thing in for some reason; and since most of these places were not so much bars as restaurants with liquor licenses, the vast majority of drinks ordered there would be mixed—perfect for disguising the fact that you used crap liquor instead of the real thing.
  • Vladimir Gilyarovsky, a famous pre-Revolutionary Russian journalist and a chronicler of the old-timey Moscow life, had once described a popular practice of the city's restorateurs dubbed half-and-half, where they will supply the most important guests with the good brand-name booze, while the rest will get cheap knock-off brands, and actively advertized this practice to the organizers of various functions hiring them as a way to reduce the expense.
  • During the Prohibition, it was normal practice for illegal bars, even the ones that were considered classy and served a wealthy clientele, to serve pure grain alcohol mixed with dye, water and tiny amount of real whiskey as expensive Scotch.
  • The profitability of this trope actually led to Italian organized crime families getting into the business of stealing premium quality olive oil and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese that was then cut with cheap fillers and labeled as being pure, then sold around the world. The legitimate business of the Corleone family in The Godfather being olive oil importers is a reference to this.
  • Speaking of watering down oil, this was the fraud in the "Salad Oil scandal", which involved taking loans against vegetable oil that was almost entirely water.
  • This is actually how you make vodka in the first place. You ferment a crop (traditionally grain or potatoes, but anything starchy or sugary will donote ) and filter out oils and other unwanted products, then you cut the resulting alcohol with water until you reach the proof you want. Then flavor to taste.
  • Most bourbon is watered down after being withdrawn from the maturing barrels. Much like what the Romans did with their wine, this is done so the bourbon won't kick in your teeth from it's strength of flavor and potency. Any Bourbon below 80 proof is labeled as diluted bourbon, and then there is Cask strength that is only 1 to 2 percent less than when the barrel is first poured out for bottling. All of this is regulated by Federal law as Alcohol regulations and taxes are Serious Business in the United States and many other countries.
  • Par for the course in The Victorian Era, when the lower-class couldn't exactly complain about what was in their food (and nearly always never even knew what was in it) and couldn't afford better, unadulterated food. Iron bars adding weight and mass to loaves of bread was as harmless as it got (at least the iron could be used for other purposes).
  • The 1985 Austrian Wine Poisoning scandal was discovered as a result of a wine truck driver refusing to allow his cargo to be watered down and reporting the incident to the authorities. The subsequent investigation found that wine all over Austria was being tainted with a toxic chemical in order to make it taste like higher-quality wine.