Grog: The Drink of Sailors

Ahoy, me hearties! The pirate says as he swings his sail westward and scans the horizon for ships, taking a swig of his grog... Wait, what in the world is grog? Pirates are a big part of our history and pop culture, and most people are familiar with the pirate vocabulary of eye patches, swords and treasure. However, a little-known part of pirate culture is their signature drink, grog.

What Is Grog?

Grog originated in the British royal navy, specifically with vice-admiral William Penn. Penn landed in Barbados in the 17th Century and captured modern-day Jamaica. Although this was significant for many reasons, one of them was the introduction of rum to the royal navy. While Jamaica had little beer or wine, there was plenty of rum to be found, and it soon became popular among sailors of the British Royal Navy to consume a generous amount of navy rum to make the long, arduous passages more bearable.

Although Jamaican rum certainly made sailing more enjoyable, a group of drunken sailors doesn't always make for the best crew. Vice Admiral Edward Vernon, a British admiral who sailed with his crew to the Caribbean in the 18th Century, was the first to solve this problem. Vernon's nickname was "Old Grog," chosen for his grogram cloak of wool, silk and mohair.

He created a solution for his sailors' inclination toward drunkenness in 1740 by creating the legendary grog. At this point in the history of navy grog, every man's daily ration of alcohol was half of a pint of rum, to be drank at his leisure. To keep his sailors from reaching a level of belligerent drunkenness, Vernon declared that each man's half-pint would be diluted with a quart of water.

The sailors had to mix their water and alcohol on deck, before the eyes of the Lieutenant of the Watch, to ensure that no one snuck extra naval rum into his alcoholic beverage. This mixture was to be divided into two helpings, one given in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Those with money to spare were allowed to purchase sugar and limes to make the combination of water and dark rum more appetizing. This historical usage of limes is what led to the word "limey," a slang term for a British person.

Arrrgh, matey!

The sailors, accustomed to the freedom of drinking straight rum whenever they wanted, were far from happy with these new restrictions. In their displeasure, they named the disgusting mixture "grog," to mock Old Grog and his old grogram coat.

Ironically enough, the grog that these sailors so despised would turn out to be their saving grace in times to come! Scurvy, a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency, killed thousands of sailors from 1500 to 1800. Since sailors spent so much time in the sea without access to fresh fruits and vegetables, they were very susceptible to vitamin deficiencies, some of which would be serious enough to kill them.

Since scurvy is caused by a lack of vitamin C, the fresh lime juice was essential in saving these sailors' lives. This incidentally prevented thousands of deaths by providing sailors with a dose of vitamin C. Over time, grog became the British Navy's favorite drink. It continued to help sailors endure the rough waves and physical toil throughout the Revolutionary War, World War I, and World War II. It was also widely popular among pirates, whose variation included nutmeg and was called bumbo.

But Why's the Grog Gone?

To the sailors' chagrin, eventually, the British Parliament had had their fill with drunken sailors, and July 30th, 1970 went down in history as the last day that the Royal Navy's sailors received a grog ration. This date was known from then on as Black Tot Day, as a "tot" was another word for the ration of rum given to sailors.

Now, grog can be used to describe basically any alcoholic drink. These days, it often includes rum mixed with various quantities of sugar and juice. Modern-day grog can be made with orange juice, lemon juice or even grapefruit juice. It is typically mixed with hot water and brown sugar and combined with a cocktail shaker until the sugar is dissolved, and you can even get fancy at the end with a cinnamon stick garnish.

So, if you feel like channeling your inner Captain Jack Sparrow or you're simply looking for a cozy drink, here's a classic grog recipe that'll warm ya right up!

Watch: 8 Health Benefits of Rum