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. 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).
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.
4. Make 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.
5. Repel Mosquitoes
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.
6. Relieve Your Pain
A 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.