According to the definition by Merriam-Webster, grog is “any alcoholic drink (such as beer),” or “an alcoholic drink containing liquor (such as rum) mixed with water.” The term can also describe a liquor that is blended with water and served hot with lemon juice and sugar.
This word was popularized by British sailors in the 1600s. These sailors were on a mission to colonize the New World, and they made a lot of grog in the process.
One of these sailors was William Penn, the father of the original William Penn, who Pennsylvania is named after. Penn and his men relied on beer and fortified wine to get them through their journey across the pond. Their water supply wasn’t fit to drink, but their alcohol was. The only issue was that the supply of beer and wine was limited in the New World.
Therefore, these sailors were forced to ferment their own alcohol using sugar. The most viable option was to produce rum because of the sailors’ easy access to sugarcane. By the 1700s, rum could be found on nearly every British Royal Navy ship.
It may not be the best idea to be drunk on rum while navigating a ship. However, the British Royal Navy loved to drink. As more and more alcohol was produced on these ships, more restrictions were put on sailors to keep them from drinking.
To learn more about grog and why it was so famous, continue reading below with Saucey.
Refining their water supply
While sailing, the freshwater that the sailors had on board would start to grow bacteria. At a certain point, it would become undrinkable.
To combat this issue, sailors were given rations of beer or wine, which they mixed with the contaminated water. This practice would improve the taste of the water greatly and help purify it.
However, as the supply of beer and wine dwindled, this method of purification became obsolete. The sailors were forced to find more efficient, affordable options.
This is when rum enters the picture. Because of how much stronger rum is than beer or wine, much smaller rations could be given to the sailors. Usually, the average sailor would receive half a pint of rum a day.
This was a tremendous improvement from the previous purification method, which required about a gallon of beer a day per sailor. In 1731, this purification method was officially stamped into history, added to the Regulations and Instructions Relating to His Majesty’s Service at Sea.
This rum water came to be known as grog. Initially, the sailors despised this drink, longing to return to the days of drinking pure rum. However, as time passed, grog became the most popular drink in the Royal Navy.
They began using scuttlebutts (or large casks meant to serve water) to mature their grog. The grog that was produced from these casks were known as tots. The popularity of this drink would increase through the Revolutionary War, World War I, and World War II.
It was only until a few decades ago that grog stopped being served in the Royal Navy. On July 30th, 1970, also known as “Black Tot Day,” the last grog rations were distributed.
The rum effect: how grog affected sailors
While using rum to purify contaminated water seemed logical, it was difficult to execute as planned. After receiving their daily portion of rum, a lot of the sailors would stash it away and drink it straight instead of mixing it with water.
This habit would cause severe dehydration among the sailors. It would also cause a lot of sailors to become intoxicated and unable to operate their stations.
To address this problem, British Vice Admiral Edward Vernon instated a mandatory law on his ship that rum be mixed with water before being distributed to the sailors. This order was given on August 21st, 1740.
Under the new rules, every pint of rum was to be mixed with two quarts of water. Each sailor received two servings each day. The Lieutenant of the Watch made sure that these guidelines were being followed.
Other commanders would use different ratios for their rum water, but every ship eventually adopted this system. In 1756, this would become the official standard practice of the entire Royal Navy.
Admiral Vernon was also among the first to add lime to rum water. Following 1747, after James Lind proved that scurvy could be prevented by consuming citrus, the use of limes became universal.
Between 1500 and 1800, the leading cause of naval death by far was scurvy. This disease killed more sailors than any other disease, disaster, or battle. Just think about this: during the Seven Years’ War, about 1,500 sailors died in combat. During those seven years, nearly 130,000 sailors died from scurvy.
This disease is caused by a lack of vitamin C, which the limes helped mitigate. At the time, sailors had no idea what was causing scurvy. All they knew was that this random, green fruit was saving lives.
The evolution of grog
Today, the word “grog” is an all-encompassing term used to refer to practically any alcoholic beverage. This wasn’t always the case, though.
For instance, in Australia and New Zealand, grog was originally just a blend of rum and water, sometimes with a hint of lemon or lime added to it.
Rum is significantly stronger than beer or wine. And this was even more apparent back then when the rum recipes were loose and undefined.
No one knows exactly where the “grog” name comes from. However, there is a general consensus that the drink was named after Admiral Vernon. According to legend, all sailors would call the Admiral “Old Grog” because of the grogram cloak he would wear.
Grogram is a coarse fabric made with silk and combined with mohair or wool. It is stiffened and made waterproof with gum. Grogram cloaks are thick, fanciful garments that were typically reserved for those in a position of power.
It is also believed that the sailors started using this term out of spite since they were upset about their rum rations being taken from them. Rum was the one thing that allowed them to cope with their horrid living conditions.
It isn’t so farfetched to believe that grog comes from Admiral Vernon when you take a step back.
Grog’s bold taste
Some people view grog as a drink of the past, only to be enjoyed by sailors and pirates. But you’d be surprised at how much flavor this drink provides.
To create your own grog, all you need is two ounces of rum, four ounces of water, a teaspoon of brown sugar, and a half-ounce of lime juice. You can also use an orange wedge or cinnamon stick for your garnish.
If you find yourself getting way too buzzed off of straight rum, it may be wise to make some grog. The water does a great job of softening the drink’s intense flavor, while the lime and brown sugar help accentuates the rum’s sweet notes.
The idea of watered-down rum may not sound so appealing, but trust us when we say that grog is a worthwhile drink to try. Not only will you be getting a taste of history, but you’ll also be able to enjoy a rare cocktail with rum that is seldom found in bars and restaurants.
Grog has a light, golden hue that is very inviting. On the nose, you’ll notice hints of cinnamon, spice, and brown sugar. Plus, grog is very easy to drink. You might run through a few glasses of this drink before even noticing you’re tipsy.
The meaning of the term “grog” has certainly changed over the years, and it has a rich historical background. If you’re looking for a taste of the past, whip up some grog to experience what life might have been like for British sailors traversing the open seas.
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