The USS Irex SS-482: Irex Moonshine

By James E. Reynolds, U.S.S. Irex (482), January 1997, pg. 3

In the fall of l946, after riding out a 120 MPH hurricane in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, the Irex was transferred to Portsmouth, New Hampshire to develop, test and be converted to the first U.S. Snorkel Submarine. We took along our new crew member “Snorkel the Racoon”, who we found on the streets of Key West. We also ran into a very cold Nor'Easter at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina subjecting the boat to 50 foot waves which were much higher than we had experienced in the hurricane. Most of the crew were seasick. Snorkel stunk up the boat in a diarrhea attack. We were moving from the balmy Key West area to the frigid Portsmouth area. The people of Portsmouth were our absolute favorites; it was their weather we did not like. We needed something warm and soothing to offset all these negative changes.

Fertile minds went to work. A very creative plan was developed to distill the boat's torpedo alcohol to remove the chemicals that had been added to make it unsuitable for human consumption. Within two weeks we had traded hard to get coffee and sugar from our boat, onto the base to get the required piping, containers and equipment to have our own private still set up and operating.

In order to be completely private, we found a small platform suspended under our pier where we set up our high tech moonshine still. The platform was about 8 feet below the pier surface and about 30 feet back from the edge of the pier. It was high enough that it was not affected by the giant 20 foot tides and it was well hidden. Our electric power was courtesy of the Portsmouth Navy base. All we had to do was to operate when traffic was low and we had a fair breeze to move the aromas away. We were producing the first IREX MOONSHINE from our own private still on Portsmouth Navy Base.

I was honored to be in the first tasting party—unusual for a lad of only 18 years who was a relatively new crew member. It was possibly my bubbling personality, or the fact that I had a 1937 Chevrolet (purchased from John Hornick) which served as the off-base supply wagon. Whatever the reason, I was proud to be part of the MOONSHINE CREW, a select private group purely for security reasons.

We each took a small snifter of the first vintage and sipped the new brew. Other than burning on the way down it was quite tasteless. Of course we had to have more; then WHAM it blew us away. We were drinking pure grain alcohol, tasteless but very potent and we realized it was 190 PROOF IREX MOONSHINE.

The first change, to make the moonshine less potent, was to add almost 50% water to make 100 proof liquor. Then we tried every known flavor we could think of to add some taste. Finally someone suggested anise seed which we added to create Anisette, a licorice tasting French Liqueur. VOILA! We had a good tasting 100 Proof IREX MOONSHINE LIQUOR. We had exactly what we needed to make those cold days warmer.

Unfortunately, I did not get my fair share of this magnificent brew because I was transferred to the USS REQUIN SS481 for about five months to help test their new RADAR PICKET SUBMARINE CONCEPT. Fortunately we were doing war games in the Caribbean so it was at least a well compensated loss.

When I returned, we still had a good supply available. We also had something else that I did not fully recognize for 48 years. When Ron Liles found our old shipmate Doggie Hughes and we met together at Fresno, California in 1995, Doggie told me this follow-up story.

After a while, the increased reorder rate for torpedo alcohol was duly noted by the Ward Room, probably by the Engineering Officer, and then it was reported to the Captain. The Captain wanted the best looking boat in the US Navy, so he made an agreement with Jonesy TM1C, who was our Stillmaster, to overlook the large orders of alky, so long as a fair portion was used on the base as trade for getting chrome plating done on our ship components. Jonesy and Chaney and the rest of the Moonshine Crew eagerly accepted the plan. When the IREX left Portsmouth we had more chrome plated valve handles and wheels than any other Portsmouth boat afloat.

Several months later I remember having IREX MOONSHINE LIQUOR along with HATUEY BEER at a beer ball game in Guantanamo Bay Cuba. WHAM! WHAT A COMBINATION! Isn't it amazing how creative the crew of a U.S. Submarine can be when put to the test.

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