Green’s Dictionary of Slang

rotgut n.

[its effects; cf. gut-rot under gut n.]

1. cheap or inferior beer.

G. Harvey Encyc. Dict. n.p.: They overwhelm their paunch daily with a kind of flat rot-gut, we with a bitter dreggish malt liquor [F&H].
[UK]T. Heywood Eng. Traveller IV i: In the next Tauerne, there’s the Cash that’s left, Goe, health it freely [...] Nay Drowne it all, let not a Teaster scape To be consum’d in rot-gut.
[UK]J. Taylor Drinke and Welcome 12: [Beere] is contemptuously called Rotgut.
[UK]Scourge for Poor Robin 7: The good Woman at home sits lamenting till twelve at night over [...] a draught of Rot-gut.
[UK]The tongue combatants 5: In the mean time the good woman at home sits lamenting over a piece of Mouldy-bread, and a draught of Rotgut.
[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: Rot-gut very small or thin Beer.
[UK]J. Addison Drummer V i: Small beer! rot-gut!
[UK]New Canting Dict. [as cit. c.1698].
[UK]Bailey Universal Etym. Eng. Dict. [as cit. c.1698].
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue n.p.: Rot gut Small beer; called beer-a-bumble — will burst one’s guts before it will make one tumble.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum [as cit. 1785].
[UK]‘Jon Bee’ Dict. of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, etc. 150: Rot-gut — swipes of the third running off of the wort, or porter after being doctored by the publican.
[UK]G. Kent Modern Flash Dict. 28: Rot gut, – swankey, small beer.
[UK]New Sprees of London 16: This was a Jerry-shop, or swanky ken; a regular rot-gut shop, a duce a nob to be chiselled and poisoned.
[US]G.W. Harris ‘The Knob Dance’ Spirit of the Times (N.Y.) XV July in Inge (1967) 50: I rid up and axed the speaker ‘how much Tarrif there was on rot-gut?’.
[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. (2nd edn).
[Aus]C. Crowe Aus. Sl. Dict. 68: Rot Gut, bad beer.
[Aus]West Aus. Sun. Times (Perth) 9 Feb. 13/3: The concoction they call ‘shypoo’ or ‘rot-gut’ sold in public houses [...] is vile stuff.
[US]Schele De Vere Americanisms 217: Rotgut, used as far back as in Heywood’s English Traveller [...] for a poor kind of drink, and in England still often heard in speaking of small-beer.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 24 Dec. 43/1: A pint of iced lager wouldn’t go bad now, would it? [...] I wouldn’t buy the rotgut they sell here, anyhow. They want four pesos a bottle, and it isn’t worth one.
[US]W. Edge Main Stem 76: She had been drinking a few pints of rot-gut.
[US]Mencken Amer. Lang. (4th edn) 566: There are, indeed, slang terms that have survived for centuries, never dropping quite out of use and yet never attaining to good usage. [...] Among nouns, gas for empty talk has been traced to 1847, [...] rot-gut to 1597 and bones for dice to c.1386.
M. Forsyth Short History of Drunkenness 189: This sort of rotgut declined with the advent of the proper saloon.

2. cheap wine.

[UK]Tongue Combatants 5: The good woman sits Lamenting over a piece of Mouldy-bread and a draught of Rotgut.
[UK]Humours of a Coffee-House 3 Sept. 18: Here, give me a Dish of your Mahometan Rotgut.
[Ire]S. Lover Legends and Stories 248: The munseers drinks port / To the divil I pitch such rotgut.
[US]H.W. Forester My Shooting Box 93: Rot-gut! [...] none o’ your hocks nor your clarets for me.
[UK]A. Smith Natural History of the Gent 86: He calleth the vin ordinaire ‘rot,’ but drinketh brandy to intoxication.
[UK]‘Pot’ & ‘Swears’ Scarlet City 382: Order a magnunm of fizz—no rot-gut.
[US](con. 1914) S.J. Simonsen Soldier Bill 13: Bill [...] bought a few drinks of rotgut and some beer which braced him up.
[Aus]Mirror (Perth) 8 May 1: Scandal of illicit Rot-Gut Liquor [...] Those unfortunates driven to sly-groggeries to buy their cheap wines and liquors.
[Aus]R.S. Close With Hooves of Brass 91: His voice, thick with Scotty’s rot-gut, bounced among the wooden huts.
[US]M. Rumaker Exit 3 and Other Stories 161: Drink some of this rotgut.
[US]R.D. Pharr S.R.O. (1998) 493: Sneaky pete [...] That rotgut makes your head swell up [...] and the next thing they know you’re dead.
[UK]A. Burgess 1985 (1980) 140: A bottle of rotgut, a coughing fit in every globule.
[US]D.H. Sterry Chicken (2003) 5: Six months ago I was guzzling rotgut and smoking angel wings at boarding school?

3. (US, also r.g., rot) cheap whisky.

Quitman in Claiborne Life Quitman I 42: Whiting and I had to treat to ‘red-eye’ or ‘rot-gut,’ as whiskey is here called [DA].
[US]Ely’s Hawk & Buzzard (NY) Sept. 8 n.p.: The [‘grogshop’] stock consists principally of rat gut [sic], stinkabus and old Irish whiskey.
[US]J.J. Hooper Adventures of Captain Simon Suggs (1851) 53: That tother bottle’s rot-gut, ef I know myself — bit a drink, I reckon, as well’s the rest.
[US]Life in Boston & N.Y. (Boston, MA) 8 Oct. n.p.: [He] will present them with a bunch of jaw breakers and a pint of r.g. from his saloon [ibid.] Was it the gas that stupefied Andrew O—y [...] or was it Brown’s r.g.?
[US]N.Y. Daily Trib. 18 Sept. 5/6: [The rowdies stand] at the bar inside drinking rot gut and ready to ‘go in’ on anyone who [differs] from them politically.
[UK]T.H. Gladstone Englishman in Kansas 43: Step, and liquor here, you sir. A heap finer this stuff than that there rot-gut ashore.
H. Greeley Overland Journey 201: A grocery devoid of some kind of ‘rot,’ as the fiery beverage was currently designated, was to them a novel and most distasteful experience [DA].
[US]H.L. Williams N.-Y. After Dark 63: The water jug [...] is seldom used; the guests preferring their ‘rotgut straight.’.
[UK]Bristol Mercury 19 Apr. 6/4: A man I had known [...] was ‘dead beat’ trying to live on ‘Rotgut’ whiskey or ‘chained lightning’ without eating anything.
[US]Cultivator and Country Gentleman (US) 10 Dec. 799/1: We rack our brain to invent slang words for various drinks, and bring out such names as ‘forty-rod,’ ‘tangle-foot,’ ‘rot-gut,’ ‘blue ruin’ and ‘Jersey lightning,’ words that would puzzle a foreigner.
[US]A. Garcia Tough Trip Through Paradise (1977) 112: I [...] gave him his regular swig of rotgut.
[US]C.A. Siringo Texas Cow Boy (1950) 132: ‘Jim’ of course didn’t relish the half pint of rot-gut that he was forced to drink.
[US]J. Flynt Tramping with Tramps 373: They invested the fifty cents in whisky well called ‘rot-gut,’ and it unhinged their brains.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 6 Oct. 31/1: Some such drastic action is badly needed in Sydney, where any vile rotgut is made to masquerade under the various classic brands, with an impudence which would be amusing if it didn’t indicate such a lamentable need on the part of the public to be protected against itself in the matter of its drinks.
[UK] press cutting in J. Ware Passing Eng. of the Victorian Era 43/2: When a bloke is flatch kennurd the booze pushers will give him any rot in the house, and that’s very hard lines.
[US]H. Hapgood Types From City Streets 50: They kindly share with him their glass of ‘rot gut’ (five-cent whisky).
[US]G. Henderson Keys to Crookdom 289: There are stills that turn out hundreds of gallons of ‘rotgut’ daily.
[US](con. 1920s) J.T. Farrell Young Manhood in Studs Lonigan (1936) 319: The stuff was generally strong enough to corrode a cast-iron gut. It was [...] rot-gut.
[UK]G. Kersh They Die with Their Boots Clean 17: Racial purity! [...] Rotgut might reasonably vaunt its mad harshness over the gentle strength of a tempered liqueur.
[US]Kerouac On the Road (The Orig. Scroll) (2007) 127: Somebody passed a bottle of rotgut, the bottom of it. I took a big swig.
[UK]B. McGhee Cut and Run (1963) 69: Maggie [...] produced a bottle of her rot-gut and two glasses.
[US]D. Goines Swamp Man 88: How ’bout bringing us a bottle of rotgut over here.
[US] in J. Breslin Damon Runyon (1992) 252: Al Smith had a bad stomachache from some rotgut.
[US]J. Stahl I, Fatty 166: An older [...] ‘bellhop’ [...] wheeled in a doghouse of rotgut.
[US]G. Pelecanos (con. 1972) What It Was 119: Some boofer poured rotgut into a Royal bottle.
[US]S.A. Crosby Razorblade Tears 144: ‘The best liquor money can buy. Not that rotgut my daddy used to drink’.
[UK]M. Herron Secret Hours 231: ‘Here’s your rotgut,’ said Otis, sliding the whisky across the table.

4. cheap alcohol in general.

[US]J. Miller First Fam’lies in the Sierras 67: All of the following popular drinks, that is Old Tiger, Bad Eye, Forty Rod, Rat Pizen, Rot Gut, Hell’s Delight, and Howling Modoc, were all made from the same decoction of bad rum, worse tobacco, and first-class cayenne pepper.
[UK]Henley & Stevenson Deacon Brodie I tab.I iv: What brings a man from stuff like this to rot-gut and spittoons at Mother Clarke’s?
[UK]Pall Mall Gazette 19 Sept. 9/1: I armed myself with a supply of the fieriest rot-gut ... and set out to wish him good-bye [F&H].
[Aus]‘Dads Wayback’ in Sun. Times (Sydney) 3 Aug. 1/7: ‘Wot sort o’ rot-gut would ther coves sell in backyards as had ter pay er fine [...] every three months?’ .
[US](con. 1946) G. Pelecanos Big Blowdown (1999) 79: The house rotgut is okay by me.
[US]T. Robinson Hard Bounce [ebook] He cuts the top-shelf liquor with rotgut.

5. derog. term for soft drinks.

[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 31 Mar. 1/1: Instead of beer, gin, and whisky they are existing on sarsaparilla, lemonade and. general rotgut.

6. illicitly distilled alcohol.

[US]‘Blackie’ Audett Rap Sheet 211: I wouldn’t touch that rotgut with a ten-foot pole!
[US]H. Rhodes Chosen Few (1966) 59: Y’all oughta be ’shamed of y’selves givin’ that poor boy that damned ol’ rotgut.
[Can]R. Caron Go-Boy! 149: Most of the guys on the sports gang were unstable; but with a bellyful of rot-gut — watch out!