This article was originally featured on Outdoor Life.
For more than 200 years, American bourbon has spread from its birthplace in the mountains of Kentucky throughout the country and beyond. Though the details of this liquor’s origin story are often conflicting, original bourbon distillers were likely Scottish and Irish settlers who craved their familiar, Old World whiskey and adapted their ancient recipes to New World ingredients such as corn. No ordinary moonshine, bourbon is aged in new charred oak casks until it has an amber color and a fiery but smooth finish.
9 ways to survive with bourbon whiskey
People have (and still do) make their living by creating this fine beverage, but can bourbon actually be used for more than just having a drink with your buddies? Can it be a lifesaving survival supply? The answer is yes. Here’s how.
1. Light a fire
Most bourbon brands are around 80 proof (40 percent alcohol by volume), and while this mixture contains more water than ethanol, it’s still flammable. The only trick when using liquor to kindle a fire is to be ready for the water. Liquor will light quickly but, as soon as the alcohol is gone, all that’s left is water. This means that if you dump this booze onto a pile of damp sticks, the alcohol will burn off quickly—leaving the sticks wetter than they were before.
Plan ahead by lighting a rag or a bundle of tinder that has been doused with bourbon, and placing it under the sticks until they catch (rather than wetting the sticks themselves). This way, you take advantage of the liquor’s flammability, without the drawback of its high water volume. You can even use a stick to push the wet rag out of the fire lay once the sticks are ablaze.
2. Disinfect a wound
Bourbon’s generous alcoholic content can do more than get you drunk quickly; It can prevent deadly infections when applied to cuts, scrapes, and scratches. Yes, it will sting like hell, especially on larger wounds, but few things kill microbes as effectively as liquor. Pour some across the injury, or dribble it on a piece of gauze to be left in place.
You can also use it to clean out a dirty wound. Fill an empty plastic water bottle with bourbon and screw the lid on. Next, poke a tiny hole in the bottle cap and squeeze the bottle to send a pressurized jet of whiskey to flush debris from the wound while simultaneously disinfecting it.
3. Sanitize your gear
Need to disinfect those dirty knives or bloody medical gear? A five minute soak in bourbon will kill all of the creepy crawlies that are too small to see, getting your gear ready to use again. Use a shallow pan or a tall glass as your reservoir, then just add your gear and let it soak.
This is best done right before you need to use the items, since the sterile equipment can easily become contaminated again in the interim. Shake off any remaining droplets and go to work. You can also sanitize things other than “hardware,” such as clothing smeared with blood or other filth.
4. Make some medicine
While it’s not the ideal ingredient for making your own homemade medicine, bourbon can be used instead of clearer liquor to create medicinal tinctures. Select a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid (preferably a wide-mouth jar). Cut, crush, chop, or otherwise break up the dried plant material you wish to use, and then pack it tightly into the jar. Pour enough bourbon over the medicinal herbs to cover them slightly, and then put the lid on it.
Let it sit for six weeks in a cool, dark place like a cabinet; Sunlight can negatively impact your tincture. Shake the jar once every day. After six weeks, pour out the alcohol, and that’s your tincture. So what can you make? You can concoct a tincture for wounds with Yarrow leaves. Burdock root can make a tonic for your liver. Boneset helps the body fight colds and flus. Just do your research and make sure you have a 100 percent positive ID of any plants you use. Then, mix and drink 10-20 drops of the tincture per day with water, or apply it directly to the problem area or wound.
5. Relieve your pain
An painful injury in a remote location can leave a person with few options for relief until they reach professional medical help. When the OTC analgesics in your med kit won’t kill the pain, consider giving your patient a shot or two of bourbon. Soldiers were commonly given American whiskey like this while languishing in Civil War field hospitals, and there are plenty of other historical precedents for using booze to numb pain.
Do your research on which types of injuries do not mix with alcohol. Head wounds are one, and wounds that won’t stop bleeding are another. And never, never mix liquor with other pain meds.
6. Repel mosquitos
Of the nearly 3,000 species of mosquitos, many are capable of carrying dangerous diseases. So, in a way, repelling them can be a survival necessity. Chikungunya, yellow fever, dengue fever, and malaria are just a few of the diseases these little vampires can transmit to humans. Luckily, bourbon can temporarily drive them off.
Wiped on exposed skin or sprayed on clothing, the evaporating alcohol acts like an insect repellent. Just be prepared to go through a lot of it. You’ll need to reapply it every 30-45 minutes for noticeable effects. And no, you can’t catch a buzz through your skin.
7. Get some sleep
In a crisis, sleep may be as hard to come by as food and water. This is one of those things that you often have to learn the hard way. Without sleep in every 24 hour period, your mental, emotional and physical health will suffer, and you’ll be operating at a greatly reduced capacity. Help the Sandman along by taking a shot or two of bourbon as a nightcap.
This nervous system depressant will help relax your muscles and mind—allowing sleep to come easier and helping your worries drift away. Don’t drink too much though—too much alcohol will actually disrupt your sleep. Make sure you drink plenty of water once you wake up, as liquor tends to leave you dehydrated.
8. Throw a Molotov cocktail
This trick is just plain ugly and a waste of a fine adult beverage, but it might have a place in certain grim settings. The colorful name “Molotov cocktail” was first used by Finnish soldiers during the Winter War in 1939. Various fuels and other flammable liquids were poured into glass bottles, corked with a rag, lit on fire, and hurled as a “poor man’s grenade.”
This incendiary weapon is still employed today during times of civil unrest worldwide. Again, it’s a shame to waste good bourbon, but if the zombies finally rise up (against all my personal predictions to the contrary), you might need something like this. Stuff a cotton rag into the neck of your bourbon bottle, light the rag on fire, and immediately toss it against a hard surface that will shatter the bottle. You’ll get additional style points for yelling something cool as you launch your wildly illegal projectile. Seriously kids, DON’T try this at home.
9. Make a trade
Bartering can be traced back to pre-literate cultures at least 6,000 years ago. Bartering still happens today through various websites and networking organizations. But could you really survive by bartering if you were out of cash, money lost its value, or the electronic payment systems were down?
Maybe, but only if you had something good to trade…like some top-shelf bourbon. Sure, you’d have to learn the ropes of the same barter system that gave our ancestors some problems, but once you figure out the limitations, you might be able to trade your fine whiskey for some other necessities.
14 ways a beer could save your life
Bourbon isn’t the only alcohol that can help you get out of a survival situation alive. Even a can of cheap beer can be used as a survival tool in the right circumstances. Just ask Clifton Vial of Nome Alaska, who was stranded for more than 60 hours outside of town on Nov. 28, 2011. While he was out for a drive, his truck veered into a snowdrift, and with no cell service he couldn’t call for help. He was wearing only jeans, a thin jacket, and sneakers.
Vial did everything he could to endure temperatures of 17 below zero. He insulated his clothing with random rags and used the truck’s heater for warmth until he ran out of gas. For nourishment and hydration … you guessed it, he turned to a few cans of frozen Coors Light. Mr. Vial survived his ordeal thanks to turning his attention to an unlikely hero––a beer can. Check out these 14 ways to use a beer can to survive.
1. Boil water
One man’s trash… right? Just a single can of beer is capable of becoming a life saver if the can is used to boil raw water to make it safe for human consumption. The trick with boiling in cans is to set the water-filled can next to the fire; in the ashes. Do not place the can in the center of the fire, as the metal will break down quicker.
In 10 or 15 minutes, the water will start to boil. Then boil for 10 additional minutes just to be on the safe side. Let the water cool and have yourself a pathogen-free drink.
2. Make char cloth for flint and steel
This will be a one-shot deal, but a beer can is capable of producing usable char cloth for flint and steel fire making. Cut the top off the can and pack the inside with fibrous tree bark, punk wood or cotton cloth. Fold the top of the can shut and throw the can into the camp fire for exactly five minutes. The can should be melting by the end of five minutes, but if you are lucky, your char cloth will be ready before the can disintegrates.
3. Make a fishing reel
This classic fishing reel can be made of almost anything cylindrical, but the beer can makes a fine spool for storing the fishing line. It’s even possible to cast the line right off the can. To make your fishing kit, tie the monofilament to the can’s pull tab, or better yet, tie the line through a small hole that you have pierced through the can.
Wind up the line around the can, trying not to overlap the mono too much. For storage, put a rubber band or tie a string around the can and mono to keep it from unraveling. The can fishing rig casts a bit like an open face reel, so be patient and be cautious to avoid tangling the line.
4. Spark a flame
This method plays off the principles of optical fire making. Polish the can with little smears of chocolate to create a shine so the light of the sun can be reflected off the can’s concave bottom. Select a fine, fluffy tinder, preferably one that has a dark color. Play with the zenith and azimuth angles of the can until you get some smoke coming from your tinder.
5. Use a pull tab for a fish hook
While a soft, malleable fish hook is just about the worst fish hook you could ask for, you can catch fish by using a gorge hook fishing technique and some pretty flimsy improvised hooks. Break off the can’s pull tab, and cut out a section of tab so that it looks like a fish hook. Sharpen the hook tip to a point, attach it to your line and bait it appropriately. Instead of trying to set the hook in the fish’s mouth when he bites, give him some line and let the fish swallow the hook.
The pull tab hook will hang up on the soft stomach or esophagus a lot better than it would pierce the fish’s jaw. Be advised that this is not a catch-and-release method, as you’ll probably be ripping the fish’s guts out to retrieve the home made hook. This is survival fishing.
6. Hang a candle lantern
I love a good, cheap little camp lantern. A simple candle nub and a creatively carved up can will give you a surprising amount of light for a cheap price. It’s even lightweight. Just cut a line down the side of the can. Cut two more lines so that the cuts resemble a capitol “I.”
Fold open these little double doors and drop in a tea light candle, or add a handful of sand and stick a candle chunk inside the lantern. Hang it from the pull tab on a nearby twig, or hang it from a piece of wire. Don’t hang the lantern from the pull tab with a meltable or flammable line. Trust me, those lines won’t last long above the hot candle.
7. Make a bow drill friction fire socket
Another way to get fire from the can is to use it as a bow and drill fire component. The bow and drill method has the muscle to work through cold and wet situations, but it needs to spin freely at the top of the drill. Crush the can so that it has folds in the side which will receive the top of the drill. The slick metal will not require any lubricant, like a wooden block would. However, it will get hot very quickly.
8. Craft a reflective signal
If your beer can isn’t shiny on the outside, cut the thing in half to expose the metallic interior. It’s not going to be as shiny as a signal mirror, but it can still reflect light as a form of signaling for help. You can also hang it up in a prominent place and let it twist in the wind as an “automated” distress signal.
9. Make a survival stove
Cut a can in half, add a few ounces of high test alcohol to the bottom half, and you’ve got yourself a dollar friendly camping stove. No, it won’t perform like a Jet boil, but the price is right. You can also prowl the Internet for plans to build a can stove with little jets around the top lip, which will increase the stove’s efficiency.
10. Build a cheap survival kit container
You can create a waterproof and fairly inconspicuous survival kit for dirt cheap if you are able to get your beer out of the can in a creative way (like through the side) and leave the pull tab intact. Use your knife to punch a hole in the side of the can, and pour the beer into another container. Let the can dry out inside.
Load it up with fire starters, first aid gear, signaling equipment and all of the other usual suspects. Wrap 20 to 30 feet of duct tape around the can as a way to seal it up. Then you can tell your buddies about the duct tape wrapped beer can that could save your lives.
11. Rig a camp perimeter alarm
This trick is ideal for bear country. Throw a few small rocks in an empty beer can and set it up somewhere that the can will fall down with a crash. Tie a string to the can, and then run the string around your tent or camp as a tripwire about one foot off the ground. Just one bump of the line from man or beast will send the noisy can tumbling down from its perch, and hopefully give you a head start on the intruder.
12. Make a fishing float
By punching a new hole in a can, next to the hole you drink from, you can thread a small rope through the openings to make a float for fishing nets, trot lines and fish traps. Yes, this one is teetering on the brink of littering more than the others, but keep in mind that this is survival that we are talking about here.
You can go on a recycling quest later, if you lose some cans but save your life. To finish the float, use a small rough rock to grind the can openings smooth to reduce wear and tear on the float line. We don’t want the float to cut the line.
13. Cut some projectile points
14. Drink the beer
So many of our forebears survived in areas and situations with bad water because of their knowledge of beer brewing. Beer has been used for thousands of years as a pathogen free beverage, and a way to store food calories. You could store a barrel of wheat or barley in your little shack, which you would never be able to keep the rats and bugs out of, or you could have a barrel of beer which still has much of the same calorie value, and it wouldn’t be tainted by pests. Drink the beer for both hydration and calories in the event of an emergency, but make sure you drink responsibly––always.