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.
That is no wonder, considering there is no such thing as the one true Grog recipe. It's more a general term used for a collection of alcoholic drinks.
What is Grog?
Even though there is no original version of a Grog, it is still possible to define the term:
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. And ultimately, Grog can refer to any beverage containing alcohol such as beer and others.
Having said that, the most common of those definitions still would be the first: hot Rum, water, lemon or lime, and sugar.
But how did it happen that Grog became a generic term? And one that seems to have a bit of a bad reputation, too? Is it because you have heard it often (perhaps from a shady character in a pirate film?!) but rarely actually see anybody you know drink Grog?!
Let me explain where such associations might come from and why they are only partly justified.
Invention 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.
That 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.
Origin of Grog
Before discovering Jamaican Rum, British sailors received daily rations of wine and beer. Then Rum came along and replaced those lighter brews.
Some sources claim officers hoped to prevent or cure 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 lacked discipline.
And while said Naval Admiral Vernon was known for advocating for better working conditions, he was also serious about his duty.
Therefore, the circumstances (wasted sailors) led Vernon in 1740 to pass the so-called Captain's Order 349, which declared that Rum provisions must be mixed with water. And to make it 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 it wasn't the initial intention.
Scurvy is caused by malnutrition and a deficiency of vitamin C. However, no one was aware of that back then.
The Navy Grog turned into a sailor's favorite potion
Despite the initial disapproval of diluting their sacred Rum, over time, Grog should become a sailor's favorite drink. They knocked it down with a loud toast of Up Spirits every day.
And 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.
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 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 and the fact that Rum was brought to the Navy by pirates might also contribute to the fact that Grog still has somewhat of a dubious reputation.
By the way, until the 19th century, Grog usually was drunk warm. But with the invention of cooling technologies, it more often got served cold, as well. 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.
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.
Use of the term Grog in different regions
Apart from its initial, historical meaning, Grog is a term that can refer to all kinds of alcoholic drinks.
In Australia, the term Grog can mean any kind 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 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 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 you are in the world, you will come across the term Navy Grog.
That clarifies which version you mean: the original, legendary mix of Rum, water, lemon juice, and sugar.
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.
Hereby, sour meant lemon juice, sweet referred to sugar, strong stood 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.
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
Of course, there are many more brilliant Tiki cocktails today, but these three are untouchable.
So instead of being questionable and suspicious, the Grog is the father of many of our favorite cocktails today. So grab your shaker, mix yourself a good one, and Up Spirits.
- 2 oz Navy Rum
- 2 oz water hot or chilled
- ½ oz lemon juice
- ½ oz Demerara syrup
- 1 lemon wedge for garnish
- 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
- 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