How do prisoners make alcohol in jail?

I saw on a documentary that prisoners attempt to make alcohol in their cells… I also saw that they make it in a bag. How do they do this?


Just about anything can be fermented to make alcohol. Materials are purloined from the kitchen and brewed anywhere something can be hidden.

My brother spent some time in prison and told me about a jailhouse brew that he and some of his peers went in on – it consisted of a can of tomatos mixed with sugar and yeast in a thick poly bag, sealed up and hidden in a toilet tank in one of the cells. Word came down that a cell-to-cell search was being made, so the conspirators drank their brew early. There were two downsides to the early consumption: the alcohol level was not all that it could be, and the yeast was still active, so they all ended up feeling a bit gassy.

But hey, you drinking something that spent a long time fermenting in a damned toilet, you’re obviously not that fussy.

The diabetics will often request glucose tablets, ostensibly to take if their blood glucose runs low, but in really to use to make hooch.

The soak basins issued for foot soaks figure in the process too.

I had to learn a lot after I started practicing in a prison.

In The Great Escape they used potatoes.

Which makes a really bad tasting wine.

Same way sailors do I figure. Something with sugar and a bit of yeast. Pineapple is effective if particularly vile. IIRC it had a heady bouquet somewhere between JP5 and 130 octane aviation gasoline.

People who want a drink will drink almost anything. I was in Greensboro, NC at the Overseas Replacement Depot and guys used to go down town and buy moonshine. I didn’t drink at the time but tasted some of it. Most of it tasted to me like dirty socks smell.

I don’t know whether the guys really liked it or it tasted better because they thought they were getting away with something.

And the funny thing is, they could have gone to the Officer’s Club and gotten good liquor.

In UK prisons this stuff is called ‘hooch’

Anything with any form of sugar content can and is used, suger from the kitchens is the most common, but molasses feed used for farm animals is used too.

More sophisitcated prisoners can use grain boiled and mashed up, but these last two are only found in prisons with farms attatched.

Sugar is by far the most common method of producing alchohol, inmates will collect it and store it for use.

It is usual for oranges, or pretty much any fruit to be used to give it some kind of passable flavour.

The places selected for brewing determine how quickly it can be consumed, anywhere warm is favourite, but staff know this and so the best places are always under surveillance.

Containers are very often 5 litre containers which normally contain cleaning fluids such as disinfectant, floor polish and the like.
These are rinsed out but can leave the mark of their previous contents on the brew.

Prison staff try to ensure that empty potential hooch containers are slashed apart, I have seen rubbish bags used as liners for holes in the ground for the fermentation stage, these are camaflaged over with a thin layer of soil, greenhouses are the favourite place for this activity.

Many prisons make their own bread so yeast is not a problem, but if this cannot be obtained then mouldy bread yeast cultures are used, also yeast extracts such as marmite are used to start of the frementation process.

Hooch is often adulterated even more to make it more potent, I have heard of cases where anti-freeze has been obtained from prison vehicles to fortify it.

In low category prisons getting hold of alchoholic beverages is not difficult so hooch is fairly uncommon, but the higher security rated prisons it is a consant hunt for the stuff.

Inmates try to make it for certain times of the years, such as Christmas and news years eve, and since it usually takes about a week to ten days fermentation before the hooch can be decanted we usually do sweeps to find it during the run up to known hooch festival times.

Hooch is not the major problem in UK jails as it once was as it has long been surpassed by hard drugs, still, it does cause staff hassle as inmates are not the most intelligent of drinkers(or indeed as examples of humanity) and they can become aggressive, or make themselves seriously ill.

Why aren’t inmates allowed to make their own alcohol in jail?

It can be a cause of serious disorder, stand outside a nightclub when they are clearing out and you will probably see a few drunken brawls.

The prisoners are not exactly concerned with the quality of the liquor, they take it just like any drug, to get as intoxicated as possible as fast as possible.
The stuff they make can be dangerous to health, and the way they consume it makes the risks far greater.

Why should they be able to have alchohol in prison, part of the principle of prison is denial of goods and services, so this means they have restrictions on all their possessions and these are used to provide incentive for good behaviour.

Well usually they get Lizzie to agree to make it. Then some big thug like Monnie pressures Wonky Lynn Warner into bringing in yeast from the outside job she conveniently works at. But then something usually happens and then Judy has to dump the hootch that’s left after Noeline gets drunk and bashes in the new color TV making Erica, the Governour stupid.

But Judy left some hootch and they rest of the gang hid it int he fire extinguisher which when Steve used it to put out a fire sent him backwards toward the fall and yet after he fell he STILL landed on his back.

All I learned about Prison I learned from Prisoner Cell Block H.


Right…you get a 5 litre tub, easily available from the cleaners, collect about 15 oranges, again easily gotten when they have the fruit option at mealtimes, about 1-2 kilo’s of sugar and yeast or marmite, easily gotten from the kitchens. squeeze all the oranges into the tub, add the marmite or yeast and half the sugar, fill ip[ up halfway, and cook it every night using hot water in a mop bucket, after 4 days add the rest of the sugay and fill container right up, remember to spear holes in the lid or it will explode, give it another 6 days of cooking at night time, then drain and drink…it gets u rat-arsed but the hangover is hardcore…also when youve drained, keep the dregs at the bottom and just add more oranges and sugar to kick it off again…hope this helps

Zombie notwithstanding, why are you cooking it? Or do mean merely warming it up a bit to speed up fermentation? Because once you get in the 50C range, you’re killing your yeast. And does Marmite even have live yeast cultures? I would imagine with all the salt and heat processing, it’d be dead, and any fermentation you happen to get is just happenstance.

It would seem not:

THIS is a funny, yet informative, article about the production of prison wine and a review of the result.

Peace - DESK

Hell - since I really should have asked way back when:

How do these rigs ensure ethanol (aka ‘grain alcohol’) instead of methanol (aka ‘wood alcohol’)?
I was under the impression that the heat at which the mash is cooked determined this for your basic moonshine - but I’m guessing thermometers aren’t exactly common in cell blocks.
My best guess: You have to really try (i.e. increase heat, add ?) to get methanol, and whatever comes out of these ‘cell block stills’ is not heated enough to produce methanol.

And is the stuff called “alcohol” used as rubbing for sore muscles, cleaning stuff, etc. even vaguely related to either ethanol or methanol?

Unless I’m misunderstanding, most of the stuff you get in cell blocks is not distilled. It’s just fermented. That’s what pruno and things of that nature are. Stick a bunch of sugar-rich liquid in a bag, throw in some yeast (or hope to get some natural yeast), wait, and you should get something in the 5%-15% ABV range through the process of fermentation. Concentrating further is a bit more complicated and does require a still or freeze distillation (which tends to concentrate the stuff that gets you really bad hangovers.)


Fermentation vs distillation.

Should have seen that. Old age - it’s not for the weak.

iso-propyl alcohol, Has an -ol connected to an ixo-propyl, instead of connected to a methy or ethyl group. Drinking and fuel alcohol is fermented: alcohols for other use are produced by industrial chemical reaction.