During WWII, US Navy torpedos were fuelled on 180 proof grain alcohol. So were the sailors.
The torpedos had an easier time stomaching the stuff. Alcohol was (and is) more-or-less banned on Navy ships, and the higher-ups employed dastardly stratagems to keep the high-proof fuel out of the sailors’ bloodstreams. Early on, They spiked the stuff with methanol. Thirsty sailors would do their best to remove the methanol by filtering the fuel through compressed loaves of bread, but the poison still blinded enough sailors that the Navy had to find a less permanently incapacitating adulterant. They adopted Croton oil, which our great seer Wikipedia says caused “painful cramps, internal bleeding and a violent emptying of the bowels.” Not easily discouraged, the sailors developed primitive stills that allowed them to evaporate off the croton oil leaving perfectly drinkable 90% alcohol torpedo fuel.
Maybe not perfectly drinkable. I have here a bottle of 190 proof spirit, and it features prominently a label warning one not to imbibe the contents undiluted under any circumstances. The website I bought it from states that “it is questionable whether the human body is meant to digest such strong substances.” The men of the US Navy, at least in the main, heeded this warning. They mixed the hopefully-no-longer-poisoned fuel with presumably whatever they could find, but traditionally with pineapple juice, to create a concoction christened torpedo juice. Wikipedia, through mysterious sourcing, declares that the “standard” recipe calls for two parts ethyl alcohol to three parts pineapple juice. Let’s do it.
My alcohol is sadly (happily) not recovered from adulterated torpedo fuel. Instead, it’s a Polish grain alcohol called Polmos Spirytus Rektyfikowany. At 95%, it’s actually stronger than the torpedo fuel. So still at least somewhat batshit, even without the croton oil/methanol/blindness/explosive diarrhoea. As prescribed above, I mixed it 2:3 with pineapple juice to produce myself a landlubber’s Polish knock-off torpedo juice.
It smells innocently of pineapple juice. It tastes like waking up five days later in a stranger’s bathtub with a toucan on your chest. Piercingly alcoholic, in a way that seems to ring out a siren song to abandon and oblivion. Plus tropical. I can see such sensations being desirable if stuck on a submarine or a ship months in mid-ocean. On a Thursday evening, they were a little much. I had to melt an iceberg’s worth of ice into the thing to finish my cup.
In V, Pynchon suggests that Navy sailors were not wholly satisfied with maybe-poisonous torpedo fuel, and remained alive to other sources of alcohol. Page 372:
Howie Surd the drunken yeoman, who had two grooves worn bare in the hair of his leg from adhesive-taping pints of various booze under one bellbottom by way of providing the crew with something tastier than torpedo juice, had almost made it the two steps from quarterdeck to ship’s office when Knoop like a Siamese boxer fetched him an agile kick in the calf. And there stood Howie with Schenley Reserve and blood running over his best liberty shoes.
Guess it’s back on the torpedo juice. (The shattered Schenley Reserve, by the way, is a Canadian whisky that is no longer made—if anyone’s got a dusty bottle at the back of a shelf, do let me know. )