A Guide to Grog - Recipe & History

By Sina Torner / Last updated on July 17, 2023

The Navy Grog is a mix of rum, sugar, and lemon and one the most influential cocktails. Grog without the Navy part is a way broader term and quite vague. Everyone knows it, but most only have a vague idea of what it actually is and how it tastes.
Navy Grog cocktail

Most people have the vague idea that Grog is a hot, or at least warm, alcoholic beverage that one preferably drinks in the colder months. -If one should prefer to drink it at all because the cocktail doesn't exactly come with a great reputation. 

That's where it stops, which is hardly surprising since there is no such thing as "the Grog recipe". It's more a general term used for a collection of alcoholic drinks. The Navy Grog, however, is more specific and limits the possible list of ingredients considerably. But even this leaves room for interpretation.

We show you how to make a good Navy Grog at home and give you insights into its origin and how the word "Grog" is used in different countries today.

What is Grog? 

Even though there is no correct version of Grog, it is possible to define the term. The most common definition still would be the first: hot rum, water, lemon or lime, and sugar.

Also, various dictionaries describe Grog as a mixture of rum and water, often served hot and usually flavored with lemon or lime, spices, and sugar. Others keep it more general and replace "rum" with "any type of liquor"

Ultimately, Grog can refer to any beverage containing alcohol, from high-proof spirits to beer. But how did it happen that Grog became such a generic term? -And one that seems to have a bit of a bad reputation, too?

Let me explain where such associations might come from and why they are only partly justified.

Hot Grog cocktail

Origin of the (Navy) Grog 

In its very early days, the mid-1700s, Grog was nothing more than warm rum diluted with water. If one was lucky, a pinch of spices came with the mix. 

Back then, this unusual way to drink rum was an idea of the British admiral Edward Vernon and made a lot of sense once you know his reasons - and it was not to prevent scurvy:

Before discovering Jamaican Rum, British sailors received daily rations of wine and beer. Once rum came along, it replaced those lighter brews. From then on, the men on board were constantly drunk. The potent spirit made the situation at sea more bearable but made the men lazy and lacking discipline.

Yet, while said Naval Admiral Vernon was known for advocating for better working conditions, he was also serious about his duty.

Therefore, the circumstances led Vernon in 1740 to pass the so-called Captain's Order 349, which declared that rum provisions must be mixed with water. To make the mixture more palatable, he advised adding lemon and sugar to the mix. 

Those additions -the vitamin C in the lemons, to be precise- did also help with scurvy, even if, initially, it wasn't the intention but only a welcome side effect.

Scurvy is caused by malnutrition leading to a deficiency of vitamin C. Symptoms include bruising, pain, and bleeding. However, nobody was aware of that in 1740.

Grog rations for British Navy soldiers

A Sailor's Favorite

Despite the initial disapproval of diluting their beloved rum with water, over time, Grog should become a sailor's favorite drink. They knocked it down with a loud toast of Up Spirits every day.

Now, believe it or not, Grog rations were provided to Royal Navy sailors twice a day until 1970. 

It was only then that the British Parliament had finally had enough of it and declared that the last Grog ration was to be handed out on the 30th of July that same year. -A day that is now known as Black Tot Day.

Why is it called Grog?

Involuntarily, Admiral Vernon also was responsible for the name of the drink.  Due to his fondness of coats made from grogram fabric -a firm, close-woven, fine-corded, waterproof heavy silk-mohair-wool blend with distinct transverse ribs- he was nicknamed Old Grog

When his sailors had to deal with this new, weakened version of their daily booze, they soon started to refer to it as Grog. - In a rather disparaging way because they were anything but happy about the new rules at first. After all, rum was the only way to drown out the terrible living conditions at sea.

The sailors' initial aversion to watered-down rum combined with the fact that the spirit was brought to the Navy by pirates quite possibly contributes to the fact that Grog still has somewhat of a dubious reputation.

By the way, until the 19th century, Grog usually was drunk warm. That changed only with the invention of cooling technologies. Also, the recipe was altered and refined over the past centuries.

grogram fabric
grogram fabric

The Term Grog in Different Regions

Apart from its historical meaning, today, the term Grog can refer to all sorts of alcoholic drinks, which is one main reason why it has such a questionable reputation (together with the fact that it was a "cheap" drink for sailors - and pirates):

  • In Australia, the term Grog can mean any alcoholic beverage. 
  • In Fiji, it describes a drink consisting of water and the powder of sun-dried kava root.
  • In Sweden, Grog can be any alcohol mixed with soda and fruity juices. There is no recipe and no fixed ratios. It can range between 5:1 and 1:1 juice to spirit. -Something similar to what other countries call a Highball, but the number of ingredients is not limited to two. 
  • In many other European countries, Grog refers to hot black tea with honey, lemon juice, and rum. -The amount of rum is hereby quite variable. This version of Grog is also a popular drink for relieving symptoms of a cold.

Since Grog can mean so many different things depending on where you are in the world, there is a distinction between the terms Grog and Navy Grog. It indicates which version you mean: the original, legendary mix of rum, water, lemon juice, and sugar or the somewhat vague reference to any sort of alcoholic, often warm, beverage.

Hot Grog black tea

The Best Navy Grog Recipe

One part sour, two parts sweet, three parts strong, and four parts weak. That was the original rule of thumb for Navy Grog in the British Navy. Sour is lemon juice, sweet refers to sugar, strong means the rum, and weak the water.

This formula changed over time, and you can find many variations, hot or cold. Some ask for different measurements or add ingredients like grapefruit juice, honey, soda water, or cinnamon. 

We prefer our Navy Grog close to the original. Thus, this is our favorite recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 2oz Navy Rum
  • 2oz water - hot or chilled, both works
  • 0.5oz lemon juice
  • 0.5oz Demerara syrup
  • lemon wedge

Instructions for the cold version:

Put all the ingredients into your cocktail shaker, add ice and shake until well chilled. Then strain over ice into an old fashioned glass. Add the lemon wedge.

If you want to make a hot Grog:

Add all ingredients into a mug and give them a good stir. Add the lemon wedge and Up Spirits!

Pussers Navy Rum Original

The Original Navy Rum

For a long time, the original rum used by the Royal Navy to make their Grog was not available to the public. It was exclusive to sailors, their superiors, and other naval workers. 

When the daily rum rations ended in 1970, however, things changed.

The demand for Navy Rum decreased drastically, as you can imagine. So it happened that in the 1980s, the manufacturer decided to sell the original Navy Rum in liquor stores. 

The label under which it went and still goes over the counter is Pusser's Navy Rum. They pride themselves on being one of the most traditional and historic rum brands available today.

Pusser is slang and goes back to the word purser. A ship's purser was the person who handed out Rum rations to sailors in the Royal Navy.

Navy Grog

Navy Grog in Tiki Cocktail Culture

Many people consider Grog to be the first Tiki cocktail. And sure, it is one part of the holy trinity of Tiki Cocktails - the other two being the Zombie Cocktail and the Mai Tai

Of course, there are many more brilliant Tiki cocktails today, but these three are untouchable. Thus, the Grog recipe is the foundation of many of our favorite cocktails today. So grab your shaker and mix yourself a good one.

Some ask for different measurements or add ingredients like grapefruit juice, honey, soda water, or cinnamon. But I prefer it a little closer to the original, and therefore, here is my favorite Grog recipe:

Navy Grog cocktail

Navy Grog

Often disregarded but one of the most influential concoctions for today's mixology.
Prep Time: 3 minutes
Course: Drinks
Cuisine: British
Keyword: lemon juice, rum
Servings: 1
Calories: 191kcal
Cost: $1.90

Equipment

  • 1 Jigger
  • 1 Cocktail Shaker only for cold version
  • 1 Hawthorne Strainer only for cold version

Ingredients

  • 2 oz Navy Rum
  • 2 oz water - hot or chilled
  • ½ oz lemon juice
  • ½ oz Demerara syrup
  • 1 lemon wedge - for garnish

Instructions

Cold Version

  • Add Rum, chilled water, lemon juice, syrup, and ice into your shaker.
    2 oz Navy Rum, 2 oz water, ½ oz lemon juice, ½ oz Demerara syrup
  • Shake until your cocktail shaker feels cold, and strain your Grog into an Old Fashioned glass.
  • Garnish with a lemon wedge. Cheers!
    1 lemon wedge

Hot Version

  • For the hot version, you don't use a shaker. Just pour all ingredients into a mug and stir for a few seconds. The hot water ensures that everything blends well.
    2 oz Navy Rum, 2 oz water, ½ oz lemon juice, ½ oz Demerara syrup
  • Garnish with a lemon wedge. Cheers!
    1 lemon wedge

Nutrition

Serving: 5ozCalories: 191kcalCarbohydrates: 17gProtein: 0.8gSodium: 18.7mgPotassium: 40mgSugar: 16.1gVitamin C: 6.2mgCalcium: 17.4mgIron: 0.2mg
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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