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"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 moonshine is at least drinkable without danger. Although they 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.

See also: Camp Cook, The Scrounger.

Examples of Military Moonshiner include:

Anime and Manga

  • In So Ra No Wo To the garrison of the Time-Keeping Fortress has taken the tradition of distilling calvados to make up for late payments. Apparently, it's a serious felony.
    • This is because they're selling it to the local mafia in fairly large numbers and in Noel's words:

Noel: "Violation of monopoly and tax laws too. At worst, treason, as well."




Cypher: It's good for two things, degreasing engines and killing brain cells.

  • Not a distiller himself, the cook for the C57D in the film 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 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 Soldier (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.


  • 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 Gaunt's 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.
  • The classic finnish war novel 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.
    • 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 first being that one 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."

  • DC Fontana's Vulcan's Glory featured a young Scotty making "engine room hooch" for the Enterprise crew (there's even a scene of the normally-uptight Number One and Dr. Boyce having the first squeezings). However, owing to an accident involving the reactor and some stray radiation, he accidentally made it much stronger than intended.
  • William Mandella has virtually nothing in common with his unit by the time he becomes a Major in The Forever War. 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.
  • The Mote in God's 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.
  • 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.

Live Action TV

  • Hawkeye and Trapper John (and later BJ) have a still in their tent on M*A*S*H (television). 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 on Guam during World War II, that said still exploded while he was near it, and that he actually 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 Reimagined 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. He gave them a list of parts necessary to make a workable still, and in a later episode XO Tigh "bonds" with the Pegasus' XO over rounds of the products of the flight deck still. The flight deck's moonshine also makes appearances elsewhere on the fleet, Chief Tyrol trades it for parts when he's building the Blackbird, and Pegasus crewmembers (who were evidently forbidden from anything even remotely resembling moonshine) treat it like ambrosia - which for the uninitiated is the Colonial version of very good whiskey.
  • A not quite so 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 sight 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, it's 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, as Easy Company is not seen as having a moonshiner. The biggest drinker among the main characters smuggles 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.
  • 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 about as foul as it sounds, 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.

Video Games

  • This is referenced in one of the data entries in Mass Effect: the Alliance ships have ablative armor and void spaces between that and the main 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

  • While the cast of Schlock Mercenary 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 biodiesal.

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

  • Bill Maudlin (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 Mauldin's cartoons 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 (we should note, though, that there are no longer any American bases in Saudi).
  • 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. Although one book I read did mention a powder at the bottom of the jars that they made sure not to drink.
    • This sounds like the stills in The Colditz Story—the firewater would come out white, and they'd have to wait for the lead to settle out before skimming the liquid off the top to rebottle.
    • Chronic lead poisoning does take a while to start showing effects. Chances are that soldiers and POWs are more worried about the acute kind (you know, the kind that starts with a high velocity injection instead of leisurely ingestion). Saying that without the euphemism-why worry about toxic booze if you expect to get shot shortly?
      • And/or aren't sure if your side will win or not.
  • WWII era torpedoes were often fueled by grain alcohol. You can probably guess what sailors serving on submarines did.
    • Considering that the Navy probably used denatured alcohol, they probably didn't drink it often and only when desperate.