Maintaining your buzz in a disaster zone

I saw a wino eating grapes. I was like, “Dude! You got to wait.”” Mitch Hedberg

In the official world of disaster planning getting a buzz on just doesn’t show up on the agenda. In the most hammered country in the history of the world you’d think it would be otherwise but—no. Hour after hour, meeting after meeting they talk about food, water, shelter, communications, diapers, and dog food; but what about beer? What about your nightly glass of merlot? Coffee? Tobacco, cannabis, chocolate?  You’re on your own campers. It’s time we looked at cost, shelf-life, volume and some long term storage options for America’s favorite drugs.

Alcohol: If barges can’t bring bottles in, they can’t take them out either. With distilleries in Haines and Juneau, breweries in Haines, Juneau (3 of them), Skagway, Sitka, Petersburg and Ketchikan, plus an active home brewing cadre for beers, wines, and hard cider, plus a couple under the radar stills, we should be fine if the supply from Outside drops to zero—at least as long as brewing/distilling ingredients hold out—but between batches there might be times when it’s like, “Dude! You got to wait.” While you’re waiting you can turn to your cache of alcohol thoughtfully put by in the pantry. Alcohol wants to be tightly sealed and stored in a dark place away from extreme hot or cold.

Stockpiling alcohol is as sobering as that trip to the glass recycling after a holiday weekend, “Whoowee, look at all them bottles.” A drink, as a technical term, means 0.6 oz of drinking alcohol in whatever form and translates to either 1.5 ounces of 80 proof spirits (whiskey, gin, rye, etc.), or one 12 ounce beer, or one 5 ounce glass of wine. At a daily average of one drink per day you’d want 31 beers, or 6 bottles of wine, or 2 bottles of spirits for one month for each person. Beer’s cheapest but it’s also the bulkiest, it will freeze which cracks the bottles, and the shelf life is only about a year. Wine fits a smaller space. It can also freeze. Most decent, unopened white wines have a shelf life of 1 to 3 years. Reds last 2 to 5 years. Very good reds can last decades. You can save by buying in bulk. Most of the alcohol stores offer a 10 percent discount if you buy six bottles of wine at a time.

Plain unopened distilled spirits last indefinitely and can go years even after they’re opened if they’re capped tight. You want glass bottles, not plastic. Spirits don’t freeze so you can store them in the crawlspace or shed and they take up less room than wine or beer. You can also use them as an antiseptic, solvent, disinfectant, tooth/earache relief, fire accelerant if they’re over 80 proof, and for bartering. Liqueurs and cordials have a lot of sugar which means a shorter shelf life than distilled spirits but they, especially the ones with higher alcohol content, should last for years unopened and for months unrefrigerated after they’re opened as long as they’re resealed tightly. An exception is cream liqueurs. Bailey’s guarantees two years, opened or unopened. Cheaper knock-offs deteriorate faster so, drink ‘em up.

Coffee: The average American spends over $1,000 per year on coffee. If you’re in that club it might be a good idea to also put aside some black tea so you can do a caffeine taper when the grocery barge doesn’t show up. Oxygen degrades ground coffee faster than beans so buy whole beans and grind them yourself. As roaster Dillon Edwards told Bon Appétit, “the beans themselves are the best vessel for protecting the coffee.” Even at that, freshly roasted coffee beans in a paper coffee bag are good for about a week. Freshly roasted coffee beans sealed in bags flushed with nitrogen are good for two or three weeks.

Unroasted green beans, stored in jars should last a year or more. You’ll have to roast the beans yourself either on the stove top, in the oven, in a popcorn popper or in a specialty home roaster. A lot of preppers say home roasting makes the best coffee. Some take aways from the web: Stove top and oven roasting are the cheapest ways to go. They create a lot of smoke and take practice to get an even roast. Popcorn poppers work for roasting but may burn out quickly. One person suggests using popcorn makers with heating elements on the side not on the bottom because of fire hazard. Home coffee roasters are most expensive and most reliable. If the power’s out you’ll be cooking over an open fire anyway so you can roast your beans before you boil your water.

Stale beans work well for cold brew coffee. You can freeze heavy cream in ice cube trays then store the cubes in freezer bags to use in your coffee. Thawed cream whips and behaves like cream is supposed to.

Prescription drugs: More than half of Americans regularly take prescription medicines with the average prescription drug user being on four medications. One in six of us is now on a psychiatric drug with the largest category being antidepressants. One quarter of adults over 60 are on a psychiatric drug and women are about twice as likely as men to be taking them. People requiring medications (or their care givers) ought to maintain prescriptions for a month ahead in case supply lines are cut off. Medicines are compact and, according to a 2015 Mayo Clinic article*, there is a Shelf Life Extension Program (SLEP) that is compiling evidence that many medications are good for years or even decades beyond the expiration date on the package. You’d want to check if that applies to yours, naturally.

Cannabis: Marijuana has a small footprint on your pantry shelf. Unless you’re Snoop Dogg you can put a month’s supply of pot in your shirt pocket. If you are Snoop Dogg you should probably have someone else do your emergency food shopping so you don’t wind up with a truckload of red licorice twists and four tons of those brownies you baked with Martha Stewart.

Cannabis users tend to self-titrate, meaning they adjust their own doses to what’s comfortable, so it’s an individual decision about how much to store. Washington state and Colorado estimated how much pot the average smoker would smoke before they legalized weed. Washington figured about 5.1 grams per month. Colorado figured 8.3 grams per month. It’s hard to tell how accurate their predictions were because of unknowns like out of state cannabis tourism, people buying from illegal growers, etc. Everyone’s different so when in doubt, err on the side of caution.

We’ve all heard stories of the old folks getting the giggles on a ten-year old joint they found in a drawer but pot loses potency if it’s exposed to air. Cannabis sealed in foil packs lasts for months. Cannabis infused butter can last for a few weeks or months in the refrigerator or freezer but eventually the butter goes rancid. Tinctures should last for years. There are cannabis shops and/or growers in Skagway, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Ketchikan plus a lot of people in Southeast Alaska grow their own pot which means a steady supply if you know the right people.

Tobacco: Smoking preppers on the net complain most about their cigarette and cigar tobacco drying out and getting stale after a couple of months. They have passionate disagreements about whether to shrink wrap and/or put tobacco in the freezer. The outlier seems to be certain brands of pipe tobacco. If I were going to buy some for storage it would be to barter with smokers and I’d go with Gawith & Hoggarth Black or Brown Irish X unsliced rope tobacco and G & H Brown Bogie. These are the kinds sailors used to carry on long voyages. Some claim rope tobacco improves (and becomes more valuable) with long storage, and that it generally wants to dry out a bit before being used. It’s $62 plus shipping for half a kilogram that comes neatly coiled which enthusiasts can repack into Mason jars, cut a plug or coins off the rope as needed, and crumble the tobacco into a pipe or chew it. This has a high nicotine load according to reports. A surprising number of people on survivalist websites grow tobacco both for themselves and for barter but it would be a lot of work to grow it here.

Chocolate: When I brought up this idea of storing alcohol, coffee, cannabis, and prescriptions, my wife and son said at the same time, “What about chocolate?” So, I guess that’s a thing to include. Milk chocolate lasts for about a year from when it’s made. Dark chocolate is good for about two years. Cocoa powder has had the cocoa butter removed and is good for about three years.

How long would your favorite last if that’s all there was?


*Extending Shelf Life Just Makes Sense. by Dayna G. Diven, Diana Bartentein, Daniel Carrol