Friday Happy Hour: Grog, a British Naval Tradition Since 1655
One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak…
This little rhyme was once the most coveted drink recipe in the British Royal Navy. A little rum-soaked sonnet adapted from Barbadian origins and flown across the high seas of the Caribbean. Evoked for both medicinal and celebratory reasons, these 12 words were not just a suggestion, but a standard that kept British sailors buoyant and the ship’s purser honest. Known in some circles as spelldeck or punch, you’ve likely heard of this royal ration by its more common name – Grog.
The British Royal Navy began doling out rum rations in 1655, shortly after their momentous victory over the Spanish in Jamaica. While sailors of the time easily fell under the spell of rum’s potent authority, resulting in rampant drunkery, abandonment in the lower ranks, and a steady tide of poached livers, it’s interesting to note that the highest ranks of the British Navy cherished rum for its medicinal value above all else.
Literature recounting the health benefits of rum were disseminated from a loose conglomerate of enterprising plantation owners in 1769, with smashing results. Within 10 years the royal provisioning office maintained that a secret blend of West Indian rum be the choice spirit aboard Her Majesty’s service. It would remain so for another 200 years.
Twice a day the men would be called to the decks as the ship’s purser, usually accompanied by “Jack Nastyface” (a collegial term used for the cooks assistant), would mix the potent brew as thus:
One Part Sour In 1753 the effects and remedy of the lack of ascorbic acid (scurvy) were well documented and a daily regimen of citrus juices were adopted to the rationing of all sailors, landlocked or at sea
Two Parts Sweet Refined sugar or potable molasses were typical
Three Parts Strong Insert Rum, Pussers Rum is the official British secret recipe
Four Parts Weak Water, even if it wasn’t fresh, the belief was that the alcohol would clean it up. Brilliant.
Alas, this tradition became too good to be true and on July 31, 1970 the last of the daily Grog rations were handed out aboard British Ships. Among sailors the fateful day is known as Black Tot Day.
- ½ ounce of fresh Lime juice
- 2 teaspoons of sugar
- 1 ½ oz of Pussers Rum
- 1 oz water (the ice constitutes the rest of the recipe)
Combine all the ingredients over ice, stir vigorously and toast rapidly and repeatedly.