View Full Version : Century old liquor and human decomposition: Would this work?

10-21-2006, 03:04 AM
I'm giving away a major major plot twist when I ask for this advice, but I gotta know.

In my WIP, one character is a bootlegger in the 1920s. He keeps barrels of whiskey in the secret room underneath the garage.

His angry girlfriend kills him (in 1924). She is later arrested, but the police have no evidence against her and let her go. She soon steals his body from the morgue to prevent any further inspection.

She takes the body into the room in the garage and stuffs it into an empty liquor barrel (she's strong) and fills it with whiskey and seals it.

Flash forward to modern day when a character unwittingly drinks from this barrel, which still contains the whiskey, and dies almost immediately.

Here are the questions. Can whiskey preserve a body like this? Would the body decompose at all? Assuming the barrel was sealed tight and none escaped or evaporated, what would the body look like after nearly a century? Could someone die from alcohol poisoning this way?

Pretty twisted, I know, but it works in the story very well.


10-21-2006, 04:27 AM
I don't know, but here are some folks who claim to...




Not sure how useful they are to you, but I googled corpse preservation alcohol (and liquor).

10-21-2006, 05:35 AM
You know, I think I had heard the urban legend before, and had forgotten all about it. I hadn't even thought of googling it.

The links were helpful, yes, thanks. I'm reading through them now.

Given that it's an old urban legend, should I not use it?


10-21-2006, 05:53 AM
Well, there is obviously some truth to the idea. Alcohol will pickle things which is a form of preserving.

Perhaps in the right atmosphere, perfect conditions, right alcohol content and assuming there is no air in the barrel which might suggest a leak, evaporation and thus leaving part of the body free to decay as normal, the body would pickle and stand the test of time.

As for whether that would make the liquor toxic/poisonous, I don't know. I'm only making educated guess about the rest.

If you have a local distillery, a call to them might help. Or asking your own doctor? I know it'll be strange asking them, but usually you'll find that if you tell them you're an author and it's research for your novel, they'll likely as not fall over themselves to help. My doctor treats me like I rock-star because he's into comic books and I write some. It's cool, but very strange.

Happy hunting.

10-22-2006, 12:20 PM
I believe, after his death at the Battle of Trafalgar, Admiral Nelson's body was 'pickled' in rum so that it could be brought back to England.

It was not the usual sea-death practice but it was done for important people in certain cases.

I'm nearly sure that alcohol was used to pickle the bodies of the high and mighty when they died away from home and it was important that their bodies had to be returned to their homes. I think I remember an Italian prince during the 14thC being treated like this.

I can't guess what the results would be of drinking such alcohol but common sense tells me it would smell and look pretty disgusting if the body were not gutted and cleaned first. Gruesome topic!

10-22-2006, 06:29 PM
If I remember correctly, the rum in which Nelson had been pickled was later drunk by sailors, apparantly with no ill effects (but sailors of that era would probably drink anything!).

10-22-2006, 06:47 PM
Thanks for the responses. I did check out all the links, and then read the similar information given in Jan Harold Brunvand's The Choking Doberman (referenced on the webpages, and present on my bookshelf). So, I suppose I had "internalized" the story of the "corpse in the cask" and had forgotten it was an old urban legend.

The stories were similar: a corpse was stored inside a barrel full of whiskey, rum, whatever, then drunk by a group of people. Then the corpse is discovered, and everyone is horrified.

But that's where the story ends. Nowhere does it say what the whiskey tasted, looked, or smelled like, and if there were any ill effects from drinking it.

As writers, we are generally told to avoid cliches, but I can't say I've ever come across a story that has used this urban legend. I'm going to go ahead and leave it in and go with my original plan. Perhaps what happens to my character would happen in real life after drinking century-old whiskey that had a body stored inside.


10-22-2006, 07:00 PM
OK, here's an idea I'm just gonna throw out there with now research to back it up. If you want the end result to be that the person drinking the old liquor with said human "tequila worm," how about if our "worm" was planning to do some killing himself and he had in his pocket a sachet full of arsenic powder?

(See, I don't know if you can get arsenic powder, but I'm sure there is something like that, maybe a different poison.)

The sachet was wax paper, so it was OK for a little while, but after that duration, being completely immersed, it eventually mixed into the liquor making the stuff toxic.

Maybe a little contrived, but it works and it's a twist on the urban legend so it's not a straight lift from that source.

10-22-2006, 07:21 PM
That's an excellent notion, and I may be able to use the concept. Thanks!


10-27-2006, 01:36 AM
What would happen if the body had been embalmed before being placed into the barrel? All sorts of noxious/deadly liquids would mingle in with the booze, making it potentially lethal.

10-28-2006, 01:04 AM

That's a good point. The body was stolen from the morgue the day after it was brought there. I'm going to have to call a funeral home to find out how these procedures work. If the body had been full of enbalming fluid, then it most certainly could have poisoned the whiskey.


10-28-2006, 01:31 AM
:D I can only imagine that call... With all of our strange questions, how ever can authorities weed out the wackos from the writers?

10-29-2006, 01:38 AM
By making an appointment to visit the mortuary in person, in business attire, with a writerly air about us, and questions fully prepared, so do we writers identify ourselves.


Although it kind of bothered me to see the mortuary guy at the library wearing a bright yellow T shirt and old Levi's.

Maryn, demanding that people remain in their slots at all times

10-30-2006, 01:23 AM
It occurred to me that after that amount of time in the liquor, some, if not all of the tissue would have slid off the bones.

This would likely form a slurry in thebottom of the barrel. Since when the barrel is tapped, it would be around the level of the slurry, the first glass drawn would look nasty. Would anyone really wanna take a swig?

The flip side is that you take the top off the barrel and dip in a cup, which would be free of that slurry, but they wouldn't some things float? Maybe even the skull would be visible?

Sorry of this rains on your parade.

11-01-2006, 06:32 AM

Actually, that would work very well. In my book, the reason that the character drinks from the barrell is because she has been possessed by a ghost of a person who lived in the 1920s. Everything she sees (in our modern world) she actually perceives as 1924. She's repeating actions she did when she was alive. In this case, it was drinking that alcohol. To her, the alcohol looks perfectly clear. But the reality (the reader sees) is that the alcohol could be filled with nasty gunk, which would be invisible to the character.

So, it's a very good point that works nicely with the plot.

Thanks for pointing it out!