Getting drunk on a tight budget is practically a rite of passage. Just about all of us have some tale to tell about nights spent getting shitfaced on Olde English 800 or some equally putrid swill.
But party all the time as we might, it's doubtful any of us have stories that involve being so broke, we had to resort to throwing down any of this. If we had, we'd likely not have lived to talk about it.
Nothing about tharra, a home-brewed alcohol native to India, sounds too bad at all. Granted, its 90 percent alcohol content will end your shit, but that's the point of homemade alcohol, right? But unlike other homemade swills you'll read about later, tharra is rarely mixed with other less drinkable alcohols to improve its potency. It is simply made by fermenting the mash of sugar cane pulp in large ceramic containers. It sounds kind of delicious really, and it may very well be at first.
And you can drink it right out of a bag!
But before you go dipping into that bottle of finely-aged tharra that grandma brought back from her trip to India during her days as a high school floozy, there's something you should know. Unlike other spirits, whiskey for example, tharra doesn't benefit from aging. In fact, let it sit long enough and it turns from barely consumable alcohol into full on poison.
But if the numbers are any indication, a little copper formaldehyde poisoning isn't going to stop anyone from getting their drink on, because tharra continues to kill hundreds of people each year.
Just last September in the Pakistani city of Karachi, 22 men died after drinking tharra from an illegal brewery run by a police constable. And why were they drinking tharra when regular old alcohol is plenty legal in Pakistan? For the same reason any of us would have. It was the middle of the holy month of Ramadan and the liquor stores were closed.
For all of you who still think communism is evil, hear this. During the reign of communism in the Soviet Union, alcohol was one of the few things people could afford. In present day Russia, steep excise duties have put alcohol out of the price range for many working-class stiffs. We'd take communism any day, thank you very much.
To get around the pricing problem, many Russians have turned to the most horrible of options: surrogate alcohol. For those unfamiliar with the term, your liver thanks you, because surrogate alcohol refers to any number of products that have high alcohol contents but are not intended for human consumption. In Russia, in a pinch, common cleaning products will do, but the surrogate alcohol of choice is usually cologne or aftershave.
Boasting a 97 percent alcohol content that should earn it a skull and crossbones on the label, the cheap aftershaves are often bottled to resemble cheap vodka, because, you know, drinking out of an actual aftershave bottle would just be humiliating.
No one knows how widespread the whole "getting drunk off aftershave" thing is, in or out of Russia. "These are products that are often consumed by people living on the margins of society," said professor Martin McKee, head of the Department of Shit We Already Knew at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Thunderbird is far and away the most normal drink on this list. It's perfectly legal to buy and finding it is as easy as following the trail of broken souls to your nearest crime-ridden neighborhood liquor store.
But that's where the normalcy ends. Thunderbird was introduced shortly after prohibition ended by E&J Gallo Winery. According to Bumwine.com, the brothers Gallo wanted to corner the young wine market and began selling Thunderbird in the ghettos of America. Good luck finding that info on their website.
As part of the marketing campaign for Thunderbird, they produced radio ads with the catchy lyrics, "What's the word / Thunderbird / How's it sold? / Good and cold / What's the jive? / Bird's alive / What's the price? / Thirty twice." You know what's not awesome about that? Not a damn thing.
Thunderbird is so synonymous with vagrancy that several cities have introduced legislation banning its sale in certain impoverished areas. Oh, and one more thing about Thunderbird, despite being pale yellow in color, it has the pleasing side effect of turning the lips and mouth black whenever consumed in large quantities. Scientific studies confirm, that's pretty fucked up.
Created from fruit, sugar and, oh dear, ketchup, pruno ranks just below anal rape as one of the least favorable alternatives to the luxuries of the outside world that prison has to offer.
When speaking of pruno, it's not unusual to hear words like "bile" and "vomit" used to describe its unique flavor. Even the type of hardened killers who eat a little bit of their victims probably hold their noses when downing a glass of this fermented goop. While prisoners are famously unconcerned with exactly what they use to make it, just so long as it gets made, the most famous recipe comes from a jailhouse poem and calls for ten oranges, fruit cocktail, 40 to 60 sugar cubes, water and ketchup. Minus the ketchup, that doesn't sound all that unpleasant.
But most recipes don't call for hiding the contents away in a Ziploc bag out of the line of sight of prison guards so they can ferment for days on end either. And that is the long and short of the pruno-making process. Add ingredients in a Ziploc bag, let it rot, heat it occasionally, strain it, drink it.
To add to the deliciousness, stories abound about guards who, upon finding batches of pruno being made, have opted to piss in the would-be-hooch rather than confiscate it. Because of its trademark unflinchingly foul taste, most prisoners may never taste the difference. Sometimes revenge is a dish best served lukewarm.
Look, we understand that, as a website whose main talent lies in our ability to place comic book movies in order from least to most awesome, you probably take whatever advice we give you with a grain of salt. But please, we beg of you, if ever there comes a time to view Cracked not as a symposium of dick jokes but instead as a source for information invaluable to your very existence, let it be the time you spend reading the following sentence:
If you're ever in Kenya and someone asks if you'd like to try some changaa, do not drink that shit.
In a simpler world, changaa would just be another variety of home-brewed alcohol, like moonshine in the US or tharra in India. But in Kenya, the production of changaa is often controlled by criminal gangs who are in competition with each other. With that competition comes a willingness to go to dastardly lengths to make sure one gang's changaa provides more of a "kick" than the competitor's changaa.
To up the alcohol level of their product, gangs have been known to dilute changaa with tasty mixers like jet fuel, car battery acid or formalin (a mixture of formaldehyde, water and methanol, if you're keeping score at home). In case you're wondering, yes, changaa kills a lot of people every year.
Above: Changaa, powering a small barrel across a lake.
But thanks to its considerably low price compared to traditional alcohol, people still risk it. Of course, some people have opted not to chance drinking tainted changaa and instead have made kiroro their drink of choice. What's kiroro you ask? Jet fuel, of course! Except without all those needless "meant for human consumption" ingredients. We only wish we were joking.
If you liked that you'll probably enjoy Adam's look at The 5 Most Ridiculously Over-Hyped Health Scares of All Time. Then you can cheer yourself up with the very adult-themed Star Trek TNG rap Or head to the brand new Official Cracked Store and become a startlingly attractive walking advertisement for our site.