Rum and the Sea: The History of the Grog

February 25, 2018

Man has always been drawn to the ocean with the desire to explore what is beyond the horizon. As sea voyages lengthened in distance and time, one of the challenges a ship’s quartermaster faced was storage and preservation of supplies. Beer went bad, water grew algae, and brandy wasn’t always easy to come by. What was to be done?


During the Age of Exploration (15th to 18th century), the British Royal Navy would stock up on food, weak beer (1 to 3 % ABV), brandy, and water for their long voyages. Each sailor was provided a ration of one gallon a day of combined alcohol and water. Stored in wooden casks, their beer would eventually sour and the water would only last for a few weeks before it went stale or suffered an algae bloom. Wine, brandy, and beer were often added to the water to sweeten it with the hopes of making it palatable.

By Thomas Dibdin – Illustration “Saturday Night At Sea”

Rum was not introduced to the British Navy until 1655 when Vice-Admiral William Penn conquered Jamaica during Oliver Cromwell’s West Indies campaign as part of the Anglo-Spanish war. At the time the island had limited resources, but it did have something very important in ample supply. Rum. Looking to restock his provisions, Penn began providing his sailors with it in place of the beer and water provisions.


Brandy, wine, and beer remained the normal ration for the rest of the world but, as the presence of the British Navy continued to grow in the Colonies and West Indies, rum was essential to those sailing in the New World. As brandy supply and production continued to be interrupted during the various wars of the time, rum slowly replaced it as trade relations between the colonies in the Caribbean and Americas were developed, expanding England’s access to rum.

76 Years later, this rum provision was incorporated into the “Regulations and Instructions Relating to His Majesty’s Service at Sea” The regulation dictated that one undiluted half pint (2 gills) of rum was equal to a gallon of beer. Just like that rum became a part of the provisional stock on every ship in the British Naval fleet.


Enter Vice Admiral Edward Vernon — respectfully nicknamed “Old Grog” after a grogram cloak that he preferred to wear. He was revered and beloved for always fighting for better conditions for sailors in the fleet. But, he was struggling with a problem. As a result of his sailors getting undiluted rum twice a day, his officers were constantly dealing with drunkenness and disciplinary problems with their crews. He made a decision on how best to deal with these concerns.

Vice Admiral Edward “Old Grog” Vernon / Photo Courtesy of National Maritime Museum

Vernon issued Captain’s Order No. 349 on August 21st of 1740 which stated that all rum provisions must be mixed with water. And those members of the crew “which……are good husbandmen may from the saving of their salt provisions and bread, purchase sugar and limes to make it more palatable to them.” Furthermore, the rum was to be diluted in the presence of a Lieutenant of the Watch on the deck in a scuttled (open) butt reserved for this purpose. This modification to their ration was nicknamed “Grog” after the admiral. Served twice a day with the call of “Up spirits!” the ship’s purser would deliver the ration until the practice was ended on July 31, 1970.


Until the 1800’s grog was normally consumed warm. Technological advances involving ice led to the drink being consumed cold as well. Rob Chirico in his “Field Guide to Cocktails” provided two of the most popular modern grog recipes with warm and cold versions of the drink.

Sailors line up for their grog ration


– 2 oz Dark Rum
– ½ oz fresh lime juice
– 1 teaspoon brown sugar
– 4 oz hot water
– Slice of orange and/or cinnamon stick for garnish.

Mix the ingredients in a mug and stir until blended. Garnish with orange and cinnamon stick.

Hot Grog

Grog Cocktail (Navy Grog)

– 1 oz light rum (try Havana Club Añejo Blanco)
– 1 oz dark rum (try Coruba Dark Rum)
– 1 oz 151-proof rum (try Hamilton Guyana Overproof)
– 2 oz fresh orange juice
– 1 oz pineapple juice
– Slice of orange and maraschino cherry for garnish

Add all ingredients except garnish to cocktail shaker with ice. Shake then strain into a chilled old-fashioned glass filled with ice. Garnish with orange slice and a maraschino cherry.

Don The Beachcomber’s Navy Grog (Courtesy of

In the 1940’s Donn Beach started serving his version of the Navy Grog in his California tiki bar named Don the Beachcomber’s. This cocktail was known for its potency and limited to two per customer. This cocktail is considered to be part of what is considered the holy trinity of tiki cocktails alongside the Mai Tai and the Zombie.

– ¾ oz lime juice
– ¾ oz white grapefruit juice
– ¾ oz club soda
– 1 oz gold Demerara rum (try El Dorado 5 Year)
– 1 oz Cuban or Puerto Rican rum (try Bacardí 8 Year)
– 1 oz dark Jamaican rum (try Plantation O.F.T.D. Overproof)
– 1 oz honey mix*

Beachbum Berry Grog / Photo Credit: Beachbum Berry

Shake with ice, then strain into an old fashioned glass containing ice cone.

*Honey syrup – heat equal parts honey and water until the honey dissolves. Let the mixture cool and refrigerate until needed.

Enjoy these drinks sitting on a ship sailing across the seven seas or relaxing at your home bar. These grog recipes each honor the days when the British ruled the ocean and immortalized both Penn and Vernon in the history of rum and the sea.

Ready to make your own grog?

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