THE SUN IS OUT, and so are the boats. Those of you reclining on the briny (or even just on Lake Union) in your masted vessel might prefer to sip mai tais or daiquiris, but the die-hard nostalgics among you might consider the original maritime cocktail: grog.
Grog hearkens to the 1700s, when every sailor in His Majesty’s Navy was allotted a daily ration of alcohol because, ironically, the water on the ship was often unfit to drink and needed to be “sweetened” with booze. This allotment originally was eight pints of beer (!), which later was exchanged for hard liquor (certainly that much beer was heavy to lug around, and went putrid on board almost as quickly as water).
Rum became a favored spirit, possibly because of the lobbying of sugar-cane planters in the colonies (since the government always makes a good customer). Every sailor was issued a “rum ration” — AKA a “tot” — to go along with his hardtack and salt beef. Alcohol was akin to a human right at the time, steeped in naval tradition and used alternately for dulling the mind and then bolstering the courage of men whose job was to endure months of boredom in order to sporadically stand their ground in wooden boats in the open sea while cannonballs were fired at them. The original “tot” of rum was half a pint per day (that’s five shots!), though that was reduced to one, as five daily shots of rum proved to be deleterious to sailors not falling off the rigging.
Sailors were meant to drink the rum one tot a day throughout the week (effectively microdosing), but some sailors would hoard their rum rations for several days in order to tipple them all at once and get properly drunk every once in a while. To prevent this, in 1740, one Admiral Edward Vernon, official killjoy of His Majesty’s Navy, introduced the practice of mixing one part rum to four parts water, diluting the rum ration into a weak alcohol miasma. Vernon’s nickname was “Old Grog” (he wore a cloak made of a waterproof cloth called “grogram”), thus the name.
It would come as a surprise to those sailors that some bars now serve grog as a legitimate libation, on purpose, usually dressed up with lime juice or ginger (as some of those sailors might have done themselves), as a tasty homage to the nautical milieu of tropical climes and scurvy prevention.
You can make your own, perhaps using a locally distilled spirit made from an Imperialism-tinged sugar source, like the Gold Rum from 3 Howls Distillery (exotic Barbados molasses) or Rum 47 from the Puget Sound Rum Company (Colombian panela sugar).
Make Your Own Grog
1. Combine ½ ounce lemon or lime juice with 1 tsp. brown sugar, and stir until the sugar dissolves (extra points if you make that brown sugar into a simple syrup, but no sailor would have bothered).
2. Mix that with 2 ounces rum to 4 ounces of water (or 8 ounces of water if you want to be utterly authentic and also make an annoyingly weak drink).
3. Serve over ice, or, if you want to get that real Nelson’s Navy experience, drink it room temperature out of a dirty cup while indulging in a single fleeting thought for the girl you left back on shore.