Most people have the vague idea that Grog is a warm, alcoholic beverage that one preferably drinks in the colder months. -If one should prefer to drink it at all. But that's where it stops. And it's no wonder, as there is no such thing as "the one true Grog recipe". It's more of a general term used for a set of alcoholic drinks.
What is Grog?
Even though there is no specific, original version of a Grog, it is still more or less possible to define the term. Online dictionaries state that Grog is a mixture of Rum and water often served hot and usually flavored with lemon or lime, spices, and sugar.
Some keep it more general and replace Rum with any type of liquor. And ultimately, Grog can refer to any beverage containing alcohol such as beer and others. But having said that, the most common of those concepts definitely would be the first, which is hot Rum, water, lemon or lime, and sugar.
So how did it happen that Grog became a generic term? And one that sometimes seems to ring an adverse bell with many? -Perhaps because you hear it so often but rarely actually see anybody drink Grog?! Let me explain where such associations might come from and why they are totally unjustified.
History and origin of 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. And this, back then, unusual way to drink Rum was an idea of the British admiral Edward Vernon. And it made a lot of sense once you know his reasons.
Before the discovery of Jamaican Rum, British sailors received daily rations of wine and beer. Then Rum came along and replaced them. Some sources claim officers hoped to prevent scurvy by providing rations of Rum. However, the spirit did not seem to help with the scurvy situation. Instead, it made the situation at sea more bearable, but also, the men constantly were drunk, lazy, and lacking discipline.
And while Naval Admiral Vernon was known for advocating for better working conditions, he was also serious about his duty.
Therefore, said circumstances led Vernon in 1740 to pass the so-called Captain's Order 349, which said all Rum provisions must be mixed with water. And to make it more palatable, he advised adding lemon and sugar to the mix. Those additions, in turn, did indeed also help with scurvy - the vitamin C from the lemon, to be precise. However, no one was aware of that back then.
Despite the initial dislike, over time, Grog should become a sailor's favorite drink. They knocked it down with a loud toast of "Up Spirits" each day.
And believe it or not, twice-daily Grog rations were given to Royal Navy sailors until 1970. It was only then that the British Parliament 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.
How Grog got its name
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". And when his sailors had to deal with this new, weakened version of their daily booze ration, they soon started to refer to it as Grog. -Not in a loving way, as they were anything but happy about the order, as Rum was the only way to drown out the terrible living conditions at sea.
The initial aversion of sailors to watered-down Rum and the fact that Rum was brought to the Navy by pirates might also be the reason why Grog still has somewhat of a dubious reputation.
Until the 19th century, Grog usually was drunk warm. But since the invention of cooling technology, it more and more often got served cold, as well. And also, the recipe was altered and refined over the past centuries.
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. And so it happened that in the 1980s, the manufacturer decided to sell the original Navy Rum in liquor stores. The label under which it got distributed, and still is today, is called Pusser's Navy Rum. They pride themselves on being one of the most traditional and historic Rums available today.
By the way, "Pusser" is slang and goes back to the word purser. A ship's purser was the title of the person who handed out Rum rations to sailors in the Royal Navy.
Use of the term Grog in different regions
As the definitions in various dictionaries show, Grog is, besides its initial meaning, also a term that can refer to all kinds of alcoholic drinks. In Australia, the term "Grog" gets used for any type of alcoholic beverage. Whereas in Fiji, it describes a drink consisting of water and the powder of sun-dried kava root.
In Sweden, Grog can be anything containing alcohol mixed with soda and fruity juices. There is no recipe and no fixed ratios. It can be anything 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 only.
And in many other parts of Europe, Grog refers to hot black tea with honey, lemon juice, and Rum. Whereby the amount of Rum is quite variable. This version of Grog is also a popular drink for relieving symptoms of a cold or the flu.
Because Grog can mean so many different things depending on where in the world you are, you will sometimes come across the term Navy Grog. That clarifies which version you mean, namely the original, legendary mix of Rum, water, lemon juice, and sugar.
The best 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. Hereby, sour means lemon juice, sweet refers to sugar, strong stands for Rum, and weak for water.
But 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. But I prefer it a little closer to the original, and therefore, here is my favorite Grog recipe:
- 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. Cheers!
If you want to make a hot Grog:
Add all the above-listed ingredients into a mug and give them a good stir. Add the lemon wedge and Up Spirits!
Grog, the first Tiki cocktail
Many people consider Grog to be the first Tiki cocktail. And in any case, it is one part of the holy trinity of Tiki Cocktails, the other two being the Zombie and the Mai Tai. Of course, there are many more brilliant Tiki cocktails today, but these three are untouchable. So instead of being dubious and questionable, the Grog is the father of many of our favorite cocktails today. So grab your shaker, mix yourself a good one, and Up Spirits.