Arrrhhhh, Matey, arrrrrrrh! Grog is a traditional drink of nautical folk. The standard recipe today, if and when it’s served, according to Pusser’s British Navy Rum website, is 2 parts water, 1 part rum, lime juice to taste and dark cane sugar to taste. You can also sprinkle a little cinnamon (ahh, sweet cinnamon) or nutmeg on top for that final taste of the dandy. That’s the modern version.
The traditional/original version is a little different and the origins are a little fuzzy, but basically it came to be in this way. On old sailing ships distilling fresh water was not practical, so enough water was taken on board in barrels to last for the length of the passage or cruise. After a time at sea, without methods of preservation like the addition of chlorine to keep it fresh, stored water became distinctly slimy, algae being ubiquitous stuff. To make the water more palatable, it was mixed with beer. As longer voyages came about, the sheer volume of stowage of the beer in addition to the water became a problem, so the beer was replaced with rum in 1655 after the conquest of Jamaica. At first they gave this to the sailor straight, but this caused disciplinary problems, especially since some sailors would hoard their ration and drink it all at once. Finally (change being difficult in all the Navy’s of the world) the rum was mixed with water and served at specified times during the day to curb the excesses of drunkeness. Lime juice was added to improve the taste, also having the effect of fighting scurvy. The sailors were served grog twice a day in the ration of a half a pint of rum to a quart of water (a 4:1 ratio of water to rum). The practice was carried over into the American Navy, except we made a change to rye whiskey as the American sailor preferred it. That is until the teetotalers barged in (wouldn’t you know they would put an end to a sailor’s fun) and ended the practice in 1862. The ration continued in the Royal Navy until July 31, 1970, now known as ‘Black Tot Day’ when the last pipe of “Up Spirits” was heard.
The name ‘grog’ most probably came from ‘Old Grog’, the nickname of Admiral Vernon because he wore a grogham cloak. Americans actually called their alcoholic ration ‘Bob Smith’, after Robert Smith who was Secretary of the Navy when the rye ration was instituted.
Traditional toasts of the Royal Navy were/are as follows:
Sunday – To absent friends
Monday – To our ships at sea
Tuesday – to our men
Wednesday – to ourselves (as no one else is likely concerned for us)
Thursday – to a bloody war (and a quick promotion)
Friday – to a willing foe and sea room
Saturday – to sweetheart and wives (may they never meet)
So in conclusion for today, let’s raise our mugs of sweet libation to the ambrosia of the seas.