The Navy Grog


While most likely inspired by the historic version of Navy Grog, this version created by Don the Beachcomber is an exemplary Tiki cocktail.

I’ll be honest.  A true Navy Grog cocktail uses an ice cone with a straw through it as a garnish.  But I’m far too lazy to pack a pilsner glass with shaved ice, and then remove it from the glass, freeze it overnight and then run a straw through it.  Just a tad bit too much work for me, considering I really dislike straws.  But other than that, the drink pictured is the version presented by Beachbum Berry as Don the Beachcomber’s Navy Grog.

A lot of people, usually not cocktail enthusiasts, associate rum with pirates.  The idea that grog is a pirate’s drink is far fetched, since the mixture was created after the rise of the British Navy as a dominant sea faring authority.  Rum, as a rather cheap ingredient throughout the islands that quite a bit of the navy patrolled, was readily available, seemingly as the sugar planters could convert their wasteful molasses, a byproduct of sugar processing that would be used to create the distilled spirit of kill devil, also known as rum (Curtis 53-57).  The move to provision the ships with rum came from the attempts of the island planters, who saw turned their waste into a potent swill, one which could be sold, even at cheap, to sailors who wouldn’t necessarily be able to obtain fresh water easily.  These merchants had, by 1969, created a booklet entitled An Essay on Spirituous Liquors, with Regard to Their Effects on Health, in Which the Comparative Wholesomeness of Rum and Brandy Are Particularly Considered.  The long and fairly biased essay helped provide evidence to the naval provisioning office to authorize replacing brandy with West Indian rum on the stores of ships, giving the sailors a new dram to imbibe as their allocated beverage.

Back in the day of the British Navy drinking their allocated rum, the sailors would mix their rum with water, lime juice and sometimes sugar, in order to make the horrific spirit more palatable.  Besides making it tastier, cutting back on the harshness of the kill devil, the use of these ingredients saw the creation of something that was in a simple form, a punch.  While not adhering to the classic ratio for punches, the mixture of grog by the Navy is a mixed drink, through and through. And such drinks really helped the imbiber stave off scurvy thanks to the inclusion of lime.  It wasn’t until the late 18th century that rum, that the quality of the rum would improve drastically, so that it would not be as harsh; the quality control methods of making the rum also improved, seeing as how sugar plantation owners would no longer pour bed pans and other waste into the molasses to discourage the slaves from imbibing the kill devil that would come out of it.

The rum that was used by the British Navy for the longest time finally stopped being distributed and allocated to sailors in 1970, a day which would be known as Black Tot day among the sailors.  Since the 1950s, the rum available to the sailors, the allocated daily ration, was accepted only by about one third of the sailors who were eligible to receive it (Curtis 60-61).  Plus with raising concerns over drunkenness, and devices that provide audit phenomena such as the breathalyzer, there was a growing outreach in the public community to remove this tradition; it was in the year 1970, that the House of Commons found a solution to replace the allocation: donate money to the Sailor’s Fund, part of which provided money to discotheques on naval bases.  In 1980, the secret blend of rum which was known only to the high British Naval Officers, was sold to Charles Tobias, who created Pusser’s rum out of the mix, in order to create a rum to market to retired sailors.

The Navy Grog as a drink has a recipe for a version originating circa 1941, created by Don the Beachcomber (Berry 74).  Many times, as Berry notes, this drink will be made using a blender, much like many other tiki drinks, partly to crush the ice, but also to emulsify the mixture, which in the case of the Navy Grog, features honey.  In 1950, Don had provisioned a U.S Navy recipe book with guidelines to make the honey easier to use, so that it could be shaken in with the drink, rather than heated or blended to change the viscous thick substance into something potable: honey mix.  The honey mix is essentially a honey syrup, made of equal parts water and honey, and thus it is a lot more thin than the pure unadulterated honey.  Other than the honey mix, the drink features lime juice, grapefruit juice, three types of rum (Puerto Rican, Jamaican and Demerara), as well as some soda water.  The soda water in the case of this drink, serves not so much as to provide effervescence, but to make it potable in a way that allows various flavors to come through more than just the mix of rum.

Ted Haigh calls the Navy Grog the Ancient Mariner (Haigh 294).  This is not necessarily the case.  While really similar drinks, in that both feature grapefruit, lime, Jamaican and Demerara, the drink ends being similar at that point: for the Ancient Mariner, the cocktail involves simple syrup instead of honey syrup, Allspice Dram, which is a funky liqueur, and no Puerto Rican rum.  The ratio of ingredients is also different.  As such, I prefer the one pictured in the post, which is linked to Don, partly because of taste, but also because it is more in line with what the cocktail is from a historic perspective.  Though, I will admit that the Ancient Mariner is a bit more deep in terms of flavor, because of that Allspice Dram.

 Navy Grog:
3/4 ounce lime juice
3/4 ounce grapefruit juice
3/4 ounce soda water
1 ounce honey mix
1 ounce light Puerto Rican rum
1 ounce dark Jamaican rum
1 ounce Demerara rum
Shake the ingredients except the soda water with ice cubes.  Strain into a double old-fashioned glass with an ice-cone garnish.  
Berry, Jeff.  2010.  Beachbum Berry Remixed: A Gallery of Tiki Drinks.  San Jose: SLG Publishing.

Curtis, Wayne. 2006.  And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails.  New York: Three Rivers Press.

Haigh, Ted.  2009.  Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails: From the Alamagoozlum to the Zombie and Beyond.  Beverly, Massachusetts: Quarry Books.

Wondrich, David. 2007. Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar. New York: Penguin Group.