Alcohol is one of the oldest human-made beverages in the history of humankind. It has been used for a variety of purposes — not just for drinking, by many cultures throughout history. Over the centuries humanity has refined and improved the process of creating alcoholic beverages. This has not only allowed for a wider variety of alcoholic drinks but it has also made alcohol much quicker to produce. As a result of having more choice and faster production when it comes to alcohol, the market is oversaturated with the stuff. It’s quite safe to say that during a post-apocalyptic scenario there will probably be a lot of alcohol still lying around the place. So, how would you go about using this resource to your benefit in such a case? Other than hosting a banging end of the world party with a few mutants, obviously.
1. As a disinfectant
Starting with what’s probably the most obvious one, some forms of highly concentrated alcohol drinks can be used as a disinfectant, as they aid in killing harmful bacteria.
Medical instruments, cooking utensils and other tools that you’ll need to keep sterile can be disinfected by washing or soaking them in alcohol. Alcohol can also be used to disinfect open wounds, by applying a small amount to the affected area and then covering it with a clean bandage or piece of medical gauze.
However, not all type of alcohol is suitable as a disinfectant. Rubbing alcohol (or isopropyl) used in medicine is 70% alcohol by volume (abv). So you’ll need to find something that has 70% ABV or is roughly similar. Although we commonly see vodka being used as a disinfectant in movies and literature, the truth is that the majority of vodka on the western market is only around 40% ABV. So, in reality, it makes a pretty shoddy disinfectant, unless you can find the pretty uncommon strong stuff, which usually has to be imported from ze motherland itself (thank you, comrade Amazon! *Hic!*)
Rum, brandy, whiskey, absinthe, centerbe, cocoroco, rakija, poitin and moonshine are likely to be the best alcohol that you can find in a post-apocalyptic store, home or nightclub to use for this purpose. While you technically could use alcohol with less than 70% ABV, it won’t be as effective and will only kill around half of the types germs crawling around your medical instruments or wounds, if you’re lucky.
One other thing to note is that, although you can use alcohol as a quick rinse-and-spit mouthwash, you shouldn't really use alcohol for disinfecting a toothache. Alcohol is produced by fermenting sugars. And, as you should know, sugar is bad for the teeth. You’ll likely make things worse by applying too much alcohol to a toothache. Remember, the dentist is closed on bank holidays, Christmas and during the entire post-apocalypse.
2. As a weapon
This one is quite obvious too. Stuff an alcohol-soaked rag into a bottle of booze, light the rag and then throw the bottle at the unsuspecting group of mutants/crazy cannibals/zombies/man-eating plants/aliens/surviving in-laws/insert-other-post-apocalyptic-pain-in-the-arse-here.
Again, the higher the ABV of the alcohol, the better a flammable weapon it will make. However, make sure you’re aware of your surroundings. It’s no good trying to lob a firey bottle of death at a large crowd in front of you if there happens to be a low ceiling above your head. In the case of people-eating baddies, you’re just making their mealtime easier by cooking yourself for them. You should also avoid using this type of weapon around flammable things, like trees — not only will this be dangerous to yourself and waste natural resources, but you’ll also be providing a huge beacon that screams “yo, here I am, come get me” to other baddies for miles and miles.
Aside from the alcohol, an empty bottle can be broken and used as a temporary stabbing instrument. Bear in mind you’ll probably only have one to three strikes before the glass breaks and renders your makeshift weapon useless, so aim steady and avoid bony areas. Broken glass from a bottle could also be glued to a longer weapon, such as a cricket bat or baseball bat, to make it a little bit more deadly, alas temporarily until the glass breaks, anyway.
3. As a fire starter
The chances of electricity or combustible gas being present in a post-apocalypse are extremely slim. In such a case, you’ll need to take some advice from your caveman/woman ancestors and rely heavily on fire for warmth, cooking and light.
Beverages with high ABV are useful for starting fires. A campfire can be kick-started by soaking a rag in alcohol and lighting it underneath some dry sticks or foliage. Mind your eyebrows though, you’ve seen what happens in cooking shows on the tellybox when the chef chucks a bottle of booze on the pan.
Alternatively, you can create a lamp by making two holes in the top of the bottle and inserting a piece of string in one of the holes to act as a wick. The second hole is there to relieve pressure as the fuel burns (in other words, stops the glass blowing up in your face. Very important. Glass in the face is not fun. You’d be better off safely learning how to make an alcohol lamp before the apocalypse strikes, because if you get it wrong you might not live to try again). The benefit of an alcohol lamp (also known as an alcohol burner), aside from light, is that the air directly in front of the lamp is also sterilised by the alcoholic flame.
4. As a de-greaser
Some forms of alcohol are used for cleaning oily and sticky messes, such as adhesive residue and grease. This can be useful for keeping your tools and weapons clean and effective. If you need to use a firearm during the post-apocalypse, alcohol can help to keep the firearm clean and jam-free (though, realistically, if you're smart enough you’re not really likely to need to use a firearm unless absolutely necessary as a last resort — they’re very loud and ammunition will probably be hard to come by).
However, alcohol that is intended for drinking contains a lot more water than cleaning alcohol does. So make sure you thoroughly dry any metal, such as a firearm, bicycle chain and so on, after de-greasing it with alcohol, otherwise, it’ll cause rust.
5. As an anti-mould solution
Fabric, such as that of camping equipment or rucksacks, is at risk of mould growing on it. As well as causing weakness and damage to the fabric, some moulds are known to trigger underlying breathing complications, such as asthma. In this case, it’s a good idea to keep on top of it.
Alcohol evaporates very quickly and, in doing so, also displaces water with it when it becomes a gas. Mould relies on moisture to thrive, so adding a dash of alcohol on a mould colony will not only eliminate it but will also prevent it from growing there again, at least for a while. Due to the flammability of clothing fabrics, such as cotton, it’s not advised to do this to your clothes.
6. As a deodoriser and body wash
Alcohol is pretty good at eliminating body odours. While it’s probably expected that humanity’s last survivors will pong quite a bit in the absence of hot running water and shampoo, body odour is actually a sign that loads bacteria are thriving on your skin. Large amounts of bacteria on your body won’t do you any favours if you manage to get a cut or other form of exposed injury.
Moisten a rag with alcohol and apply it to your armpits and other smelly bits to kill all of the bacteria that is partying on your skin in those areas and neutralise some of that body odour. Most deodorants that you buy from the shop pre-apocalypse contain alcohol, so you’re likely already putting booze on your armpits.
Don’t go overboard though. As mentioned above alcohol evaporates quickly, taking water with it. Frequently treating yourself to an alcohol scrub-a-dub-dub will dry out your skin, making it more vulnerable. Do it every now and again, not every day. It’s the apocalypse, everyone else smells too.
Though it might be tempting to use alcohol to deodorise clothes or shoes, do remember that alcohol and fabric makes a wonderful firestarter.
7. As pest control
This one is a bit of a hit and miss. Some annoying bugs, such as mosquitoes, hate the stench of alcohol. So combining alcohol with olive oil and applying it to your skin can act as a makeshift mosquito repellant. The oil prevents the alcohol from drying out your skin (sort of).
However, this is the ‘miss’ part, it also attracts pests. Cockroaches in particular love a tipple of the ol’beer and will come running faster than an alcoholic at an ‘all you can drink for free’ beer festival. So while you might wake up with no mosquito bites in the morning you’ll probably have a few roaches chilling out on your face.
Cockroach problem? No problem. Soak a piece of food (like bread) in some booze (preferably beer). Place the food in a deep container or bag lined with a slippery substance such as vaseline. Presto — a home-made post-apocalyptic cockroach trap. They’ll be attracted by the booze and won’t be able to climb out of the container. (By the way, cockroaches can be fried, toasted or boiled and safely eaten. So this is also a great tip to get some extra nutrition during the post-apocalypse. Bon appetite).
8. For personal consumption
Every now and again you’ll probably want to relax a bit. The post-apocalypse is a stressful and dire place to be, a small drink or two of alcohol could help you to relax, ease some of your muscle tension and to unwind before you sleep for the night.
You should not use alcohol as a means of drowning your sorrows during the post-apocalypse. That would be a great way to not only waste a valuable and multipurpose resource but also to get you killed. Humans are well known for doing extremely dumb, stupid and downright moronic things when they have alcohol in their bloodstream. Like mistaking a decaying zombie for a pretty person and taking it home with you (we’ve all been there).
9. For raw materials
The container that the alcohol was contained within can be just as useful as the alcohol itself.
Empty bottles can be used to store other liquids, such as water or fuel. We’ve already discussed glass bottles being used as a makeshift, temporary weapon.
Plastic bottles can be used to make cordage, which is useful for building fishing traps, baskets and so on. If cut in half, the bottom of the bottle can be used as a bowl to eat from. A lot of plastic bottles full of air can also be used to create a raft to travel across bodies of water. Bottles can also be used to collect rainwater (or the chopped-off top half can be used upside-down as a filter to trap rainwater into running into another container) that you can boil and filter to render it relatively safe to drink.
Corks can be grounded up and used as moisture-retaining mulch to help you grow vegetables in soil.
Metal cans can be repurposed as cooking stoves, cooking pans, food containers to eat from or the tougher top and bottom part of the can could be fashioned into a small, semi-sharp knife for cutting food. You can also cut a small “door” in the side of a can and use it as a small lantern to protect candlelight from the wind.
10. To barter with
As you can see, alcohol has several uses in a post-apocalyptic survival scenario. That also means that alcohol should have a pretty decent value attached to it, especially as it becomes rarer as the years pass by.
During the post-apocalypse, all of the money in the world will likely become useless, especially if the world has transitioned to digital currency (best of luck to you withdrawing from PayPal or a crypto-currency wallet when the internet doesn’t work because, you know, there’s no electricity). With money being rendered worthless, except maybe to help you get a campfire started, items such as shoes, medical supplies, bullets, fuel, clothes, livestock, food and, indeed, alcohol will most likely be the accepted forms of currency in bartering and trading (and bribing). This is nothing new, the Vikings, for example, traded like this.
The value of alcohol will probably depend on two factors, aside from its rarity. First the quantity of liquid in the bottle and second the alcohol by volume (ABV). As we’ve mentioned further up, the higher the ABV is, the more beneficial it is. Though it’ll also be easier to defraud others by watering down the alcohol, therefore unopened bottles will likely have a far higher value than opened bottles.
There you have it. Alcohol has several uses during a post-apocalyptic scenario which makes it a very valuable resource and trading item. At least you've now got an excuse to fill up that mini-bar, eh?
How would you use alcohol during the post-apocalypse?