29 Aug Grog: The Unofficial Sailor’s Drink
Out on the ocean, water is a precious commodity. Despite being surrounded by water, it isn’t drinkable, and honestly, the freshwater kept on most ships… wasn’t much better. The water could be unclean, stale, and lead to illness if consumed. Unless, alcohol was added.
We made a #TallShipTuesday about alcohol in the navy not too long ago. In that video, we did not include much about the famous sailor’s drink, grog. This drink is generally made of rum but also could have traditionally been ale, wine, or other alcohol. This spirit was mixed with water and sometimes served with citrus to fend off scurvy on long voyages.
The origins of the term “grog” specifically used to refer to this concoction, dates back to the 18th century. The oldest uses of the term come from an event that happened in the 1740s. An old English Admiral, Edward Vernon, made a new rule for the navy. He became concerned for sailors health and wellbeing as sailors were given an undiluted rum ration. Admiral Vernon ordered that these rum rations be mixed with water to dilute it.
Vernon frequently wore a grogram coat. Grogram is a material made of coarse, loosely woven fabric. Because of this choice of clothing, many referred to Edward as “Old Grog”. Sailors co-opted this name and took to calling the diluted rum “grog” in less than complimentary fashion after the Admiral.
Water, Alcohol, and History
Despite that reported origin, alcohol has a longstanding history of being diluted with water for health purposes. For centuries, humans have run into the problem of unclean drinking water. To this day in much of the world it can still pose challenges, but one way our ancient ancestors protected themselves was by adding alcohol to their water. Of course, alcohol being an antiseptic, would clean the water and keep people from falling ill.
Casks of water out at sea would get stale. Sometimes they would grow algae. They were often contaminated with bacteria and other waterborne diseases that could get people sick. It was commonplace before “grog” was officially used, to “sweeten” the water with beer or wine to make it “taste better.” We know today that alcohol was actually cleaning up the water, but sailors at the time didn’t know that.
Rum and the Royal Navy
So how did grog and rum become so associated with one another if it was also made with other types of alcohol. Well, the royal navy sailed with rations of beer and fortified wine due to the undrinkable nature of water at sea, but this simply wasn’t practical for long voyages. In the early 1700s, William Penn, an admiral in the navy, issued rum as rations to his crew after a battle in Jamaica. By 1731, rum rations were issued across the British fleet. It became widely used since it was relatively cheap to make and had a high alcohol content.
Modern Day Providence’s Grog
At Providence’s grand opening of the Senator John Warner Maritime Heritage Center, we served our take on grog. When you come aboard one of our sails, feel free to order Providence’s Grog.
1 ounce rum
½ ounce fresh lime juice (optional)
3 ounces chilled ginger beer
1 slice of lime (optional)