The Lost Tiki Lounge’s Definitive Guide To Grog

Have a little history with your alcohol, the better to pretend that you’re not a drunk, you’re an intellectual… Happy summer 🙂

The wind cracked in the sails and the ropes sung like they were auditioning for an execution – hopefully not mine. I wouldn’t have been surprised to turn and find a pirate version of Simon ‘Blackbeard’ Cowell on-deck, helming the wheel and calling for security. Unfortunately, all we had was ‘ol Grogham, standing at the bridge and relaying orders like a lord. The rumgagging bellygut that he was.

“Spirits up!”, came a cry from down by the scuttlebutt. “Stand fast the Holy Ghost” came the response from all around me, as the crew dropped what they were doing and made their way to the mess, unwashed tot glasses in hand.

Apparently this wasn’t actually a storm, just a normal day at sea. Hard work, horrible conditions and a low life expectancy. How was a man expected to make it through a day round here?

Rum. Plain and simple.

As with many things in life, the creation of Grog stemmed from man’s innate drive for survival, combined with a need to get completely wasted – that and a way to stick it to the man. In this instance Admiral Edward Vernon. Plus of course a healthy dash of sea-faring slang and nautical etymology.

So can we attribute grog’s ‘invention’ to evolution? A kind of booze based Darwinism? Yeh, why not. Let’s run with that one and see where it goes…

Two maps of the Caribbean by Philip Lea, globe maker of Cheapside, London, printed on one sheet of paper.
Lea was active between about 1680 and his death in 1700. The upper map shows a wider area of the Caribbean and the lower shows Jamaica with details of every township etc.

Why Did Sailors Drink Rum?

It’s 1655, the Royal Navy successfully invaded Jamaica and rum was added to a thirsty sailors repertoire of drinking options. Up to this point the choice was limited – beer, brandy (if in the right waters) and heaven forbid, water. Unfortunately, the casks they were stored in were left open to the elements and the contents quickly stagnated, growing algae and leaving the sailors without a viable source of hydration.

Being large in volume, beer and water were hard to transport and it wasn’t long before the ‘powers that be’ realised they would need something more sustainable for their long haul voyages. Rum did not spoil, was far easier to store and its powers of ‘restoration’ were even more considerable than those of beer. 

The Origin of Grog

Thus began a great British naval tradition, the daily ration or ‘Tot of rum’.  Sailors would often save up their tots and drink them together, leading to rampant drunkery, abandonment of duties and singing of the popular sea shanty “What shall we do with the drunken sailor, early in the morning!”

In 1740 a certain Admiral Edward Vernon ordered that the daily rum ration be diluted with water. It just so happened he was nicknamed ‘Old Grog’ after the water proof jacket he wore. Made of Grogram fabric – a rough mixture of silk and wool (or mohair), stiffened with gum. It was definitely not the kind of thing you’d want to use for underwear. Well. Not round my neck of the woods at least.

Edward Vernon by Thomas Gainsborough

He was so infuriated with the drunken sailors saving up their tots, falling out of the rigging, singing about being drunken sailors, fighting, singing and the general lack of discipline onboard, that he ordered their half a pint a day rum ration diluted with a quart of water (a 1:4 ratio) before serving it to them. 

With no way to store it, the sailors were forced to drink it immediately rather than saving it up and getting ‘legless’. The ration was also split into two servings, one at midday and one in the evening. The now watered down drink became known contemptuously as “Grog”, from the name they had given him.

At this point, sadly, we can’t say that Grog was literally a life saver, only figuratively, but we’re getting there…

Page from the journal of Henry Walsh Mahon showing the effects of scurvy, from his time aboard HM Convict Ship Barrosa. 1841/2

Scurvy… Return of the Walking Dead…

Between 1500 and 1800 the biggest cause of naval death was scurvy – killing more sailors than diseases and battle combined. Caused by a lack of vitamin C, this disease can make you look and smell like a delirious flesh eaten zombie. After a long period of trial and error, the discovery was made that adding lemons or limes to the sailors diets would prevent this ravenous disease. (You can almost hear it, ‘Ooh, what would go nicely with a glass of Appleton’s… hmm… rum and… lime?… Sounds like a plan, let’s see if it cures scurvy. Win! It does! And it tastes really good with a little extra brown sugar!’).

For some time, Admiral Vernon had allowed his crew to trade their bread and salt rations for lime and sugar to help make their ‘grog’ more palatable, but in 1756 the Navy stipulated that citrus juices were to be added to the rum and water grog mixture in order to stave off scurvy. This addition of limes later lead to the Americans giving the Royal Navy sailors the nickname “Limeys”.

Now, now we can say it was a life saver! Yes! Praise be to the virtues of rum with a little added sugar and lime. Grog truly evolved into a drink that helped the betterment of our species.

Dr. James Lind discovered citrus fruit prevents/cures scurvy.

Rum as Currency

So, to help combat the terrible hardships the sailors endured, rum was deemed necessary for morale, to cover up the taste of the bad food and foul putrid water. On board it was such a valuable commodity that it was worth more than money and a sip from a fellow mates rum was a sign of great generosity or could be used to repay favors.

In time this tipple became a second currency with a language of its own. If you did a ship mate a favour you could claim sippers and gulpers from his next ration. A “Wet” was just enough to wet the lips, a “Sipper” being a gentlemanly sip and a “Gulper” being a large swallow – but only one! A“Sandy bottom”, normally used to settle a debt, was an invitation to finish off whatever was left in your ship mates mug.

The rum was collected from the ships store under the Pursers control (or Pusser as they were then called –the rum was later named Pusser’s Rum). Each mess – an area of the ship used to eat and socialise – had a “Rum Bosun” who was in charge of collecting the tots and then issuing them out to his crew. The Bosun would tell the number of tots to the Lieutenant of the watch officer who was in charge of the Grog under the Pusser’s control. 

The Pusser’s steward was assigned the task of recording and maintaining the daily book keeping along with inventory records for the ships rum. G for Grog, T for Temperance and sailors under 20 were denied their rum ration and marked as UA (under age). Instead, they were given just lime and water and when they ‘became of age’ and were issued their first ration of rum, it was called… Grog Day.

Rum Ration Aboard HMS King George V, 1940. Below deck, a line of seamen queue to collect the daily rum ration for their mess. Picture ©  Imperial War Museum.

Ritual and Tradition

At the time of day when the rations were distributed, the Bosun would ring the ships bell and call out “Spirits up” and the Sailors would call “Stand fast the Holy Ghost” before downing their tot. Tot glasses were kept separate from any other glasses and were never washed on the inside as they believed that the previous tots would stick to the side of the glass, making the next one even stronger.

The rum was mixed and served from a simple cask called a “Scuttled butt”. As the sailors queued at the Scuttlebutt for their grog they exchanged gossip and the term ‘scuttlebutt’ became Navy slang for gossip. Nowadays the water cooler in an office is the “scuttled butt” by which the staff congregate to gossip or have a moan about their co-workers, the butt and environment may have changed but the scuttle certainly hasn’t. Later the ship’s scuttle butt was upgraded to a “Rum Tub” – a barrel made of oak, reinforced with brass or copper bands and decorated with the words “THE KING GOD BLESS HIM”.

However these rum times were not long to last. On the horizon loomed a day dark as sin and black as night…

Black Tot Day. A dark day indeed. One might even be tempted to call it devolutionary, if one was in a habit of stretching analogies…

Sailors of the Royal Navy wear black armbands as a sign of mourning on Black Tot Day.

The Demise of the Rum Ration

  • In 1823 rations were reduced from ½ a pint of rum to ¼ of a pint. To compensate for this loss and possibly to stop any potential mutiny, 2 shillings were added to the sailors monthly wage along with tea and coffee. At this time the ration was issued only once a day instead of twice and they had to wait until the evening. Petty Officers and above were still allowed their rum neat.
  • In 1850 the ration was halved once more, coming in at an eighth of a pint of rum, with a ratio to water of 1:3, plus meat and sugar rations increased to compensate. And for anyone that abstained of their ration, they were paid Grog Money at a rate of 1 shilling and 7 pennies per month.
  • In 1919 Grog Money was increased to 3 pennie per day, and then in 1937 the ratio of rum to water was reduced to 1:2

By the 20th century, the sailors’ rum tradition had lasted for over three hundred years, until Admiral Peter Hill-Norton raised concerns about the pernicious affect alcohol could have on sailors who managed complex machinery whilst under the influence. The final nail came with the invention of the breathalyzer and a British newspaper using one to demonstrate that a sailor could still be legally drunk and ‘Three sheets to the wind’ after drinking his tot ration.  

The House of Commons got together to discuss this in a meeting known as ‘The Great Rum Debate’ and eventually on 31st July 1970 sailors drank their last ever tot, some bore black armbands and conducted mock funerals to bid farewell to their beloved rum ration. This day became known as Black Tot Day.

Ordinary Seaman Ernest Weir receives an extra rum ration (splicing the mainbrace) during Victory over Japan celebrations aboard H.M.C.S. PRINCE ROBERT off Sydney, Australia, 16 August 1945. 

Splicing the Mainbrace

In rum terms this was an additional tot of rum that was awarded on special occasions, before battle, after a victory or on completion of a hazardous operation like climbing up the rigging and repairing or ‘splicing’ the mainbrace. In battle, the braces (the lines that trim the sails) were sometimes shot away by the enemy, making the ship unmanageable, so if you were brave enough to fix this a tot would be well deserved. After Black Tot day this command and issue of rum could only be given by the monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, who gave these orders during the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012.

How to Make Your Own Grog

If you feel like Splicing the Mainbrace and trying out some Grog for yourself, here’s everything you’ll need. Just don’t overdo it or you may feel ‘groggy’ in the morning!  (Did I really just go there? Yes, I suppose I did. Blast your toplights! Stop this tilly-tally and pass me some of that black sinned rumbullion!)

Grog – Original Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 oz Dark Navy Rum
  • 4 oz Water
  • 1 oz Fresh Lime Juice
  • 1 teaspoon Brown Sugar – or a 1/2 oz of Demerara Syrup
  • Half a spent Lime Shell

Method

  • Add brown sugar, lime juice and 1oz of the waterinto a cocktail shaker and stir until the sugar’s dissolved.
  • Pour in the rum and the rest of your water, adding enough ice to show above the surface of the liquid.
  • Shake vigorously for around 15 seconds and strain into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice – or even better a skull Tiki mug!
  • Throw in your spent lime shelljust to make sure you get rid of the scurvy. Raise your glass, pull a lip-curling face and make like a pirate. Aaarrgghhh!

Pusser’s Rum Grog

Pusser's rum being poured into a glass jar of grog

Ingredients

  • 2 oz Pusser’s Rum
  • 2 oz Water
  • 1/2 oz Fresh Lime Juice
  • 1 teaspoon Unrefined Dark Cane Sugar
  • 2-3 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • 1 Slice of Orange
  • 1 Cinnamon Stick

Method

  • Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice.
  • Stir vigorously until the ice has diluted by half.
  • Strain into a rocks glass or glass tankard filled with ice
  • Garnish with a slice of orange and a cinnamon stick

Non-alcoholic Grog

For when you’ve a calling to be a pirate but you need to make a sacrifice to the seven seas. No rum ration for you sailor! But don’t despair, this spicy mix will get you dancing a sea shanty in no time 

A tankard of non-alcoholic (ginger beer) grog

Ingredients

  • 5 oz Fiery Jamaican Ginger Beer
  • 1 oz Fresh Lime Juice
  • 1 teaspoon Brown Sugar – or a 1/2 oz of Demerara Syrup
  • 2-3 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • Half a spent Lime Shell

Method

  • Add brown sugar, lime juice and 1oz of the ginger beer into a tankard or collins glass and stir until the sugar’s dissolved.
  • Fill the glass with cubed ice and top up with the rest of the ginger beer.
  • Stir vigorously until the ice has diluted by around a third – don’t be afraid of that nice frothy head!
  • Add 2-3 dashes of bitters and garnish with your spent lime shell.

Courtesy of The Lost Tiki Lounge.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply