Early Use Of Liquor In The Army

For military members, whiskey’s appeal goes beyond its rich, smoky flavor and ability to elevate the mood. Instead, it is an ally in the field of battle – something to help take the edge off the distress of armed conflict.

The use of hard spirits appears to go all the way back to the founding of the Republic. According to historian Robert Hunt, no eighteenth century military commander would have dreamed of leading his troops into battle without first providing them with adequate liquor. Drink, it seemed, appeared to both lift morale and reduce fear. It was medicinal and allowed military members to just “get the job done.”

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, single malt whiskey became the hard liquor of choice in the military. American manufacturers distilled it from rye and corn mashes, instead of the barley and wheat of the Old World. Over time, it became fantastically cheap. Simple farm laborers could buy a gallon of it for just a day’s pay.

Whiskey Becomes Standing Policy

Eventually, whiskey became a standing policy in the army. Between 1782 and 1832, military members received a daily gill allowance – around a bottle of whiskey per soldier, per week. Daily consumption of whiskey rose to a gill per day, according to Secretary of War John Eaton, with serving officers spending their pay on it.

Although the military curbed the whiskey ration after 1832, it remained an important part of military life. Sutlers would supply troops with drink and commanders would often reward them with whiskey for a job well done. It remained a prized elixir on the battlefield, because of its ability to relieve anxiety and quell pain.

The Need For Remembrance And Toasts

During the 1980s, the nation increased the drinking age to 21. But despite these curbs, armed services personnel continued to enjoy whiskey. It was essential for alleviating boredom and fear, and helping them get through long hours.

Today, personnel raise whiskey glass toasts, a tradition for soldiers to remember their fallen comrades. Toasting is a sign of respect – and a way of bringing closure to traumatic experiences. Friends and colleagues lost in battle can be remembered by the simple raising of a glass.

To facilitate toasts, many US military installations continue to sell drinks onsite. Following the massive expansion of American military power after 1945, permanent military bases now have large retail operations to cater for service personnel and their families. Many on-site outlets sell multiple whiskey brands. Fighters buy liquor to toast
the fallen and trade war stories with their friends back at the barracks.