Small Wars Journal

The Military and Whiskey’s 250-Year Old Relationship

The Military and Whiskey’s 250-Year Old Relationship by Kevin R. Kosar – KCET

Whiskey, as any enlistee will tell you, is popular among America’s fighting forces. Military installations’ drinks shops (“Class 6” stores) are stocked with a galaxy of intoxicating drinks — beer, spirits, wines — but whiskey is especially popular. And it isn’t just any whiskey — it’s the American-made bourbons, ryes and Tennessee whiskeys that really move off the shelves.

Certainly, the popularity of whiskey among soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines can be explained partly as a reflection of American taste in general. Americans purchased more than 30 million cases of American whiskey last year, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

But for military men and women, whiskey holds an additional appeal beyond its glorious amber color, robust flavor and mood-alleviating powers — it may even be more American than apple pie (which seems to have been invented in England). Whiskey has been with the America’s armed forces since the earliest days of the republic…

The whiskey ration went from being an occasional order to a standing policy for the army. For fifty years (1782-1832), each soldier was entitled to a daily gill. Additional gills, notes historian Mark Vargas, were issued to men on especially hard duty. The nascent whiskey distilling industry in Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania was more than happy to supply the army. A gill a day amounts to nearly a bottle of whiskey per soldier per week, which made for tens of thousands of bottles annually.

Soldiers of the day had an enormous appetite for whiskey. Secretary of War, John Eaton, told Congress in 1829, “The practice of indulging in the use of spirituous liquors is so general in this country that there is not, it is to be believed, one man in four among the laboring classes who does not drink, daily, more than one gill; and it is from these classes that our army is recruited.” The next year the army bought 72,537 gallons of whiskey, or 13.6 gallons for each recruit…

Read on.