What did Pirates Drink?

Alcohol was both a Godsend and Devil's Torment on board Naval and Pirate vessels. Thanks to Captain Billy Bones in the book Treasure Island, the alcoholic beverage most associated with pirates is rum. Of course, rum has a long association with the British and American navies because both navies had liquor rations and that liquor was usually rum.   Rum is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented molasses. At one time it was all the rage in the Colonies as well as Caribbean because of its inexpensive means of production.

Because water had a tendency to go bad on ships, due to bacterial growth, rum or other spirits was sometimes added to kill the taste. A dram (a small amount) of rum was often added to a sailor's water ration to kill the taste of the rancid water. This was called grog. This also explained coffee and tea. Of course this was not just something that happened aboard ship. It also happened anywhere water tasted bad.

Rum would often be the downfall of many pirate crews. Unlike military and merchant ships where some kind of authority measured out the rum being consumed, a democratically run pirate ship, with its weakened code of discipline, sometimes led to a complete disregard for sobriety. There are several accounts of pirate ships easily being boarded because the ship was too drunk to fight One of the best known examples was the capture of Anne Bonney, Mary Reed, and Calico Jack Rackham. Even Bartholomew Roberts, the tea totaling pirate was unable to stop his crew from drinking.

Besides rum, ale was sometimes available on ship but ale, like water would turn bad after a period of time. Of course the bad tasting water could still be drank. The bad ale could not.

Port wine was often available to officers as a substitute for or in addition to a rum ration. Port first became popular among the English when they went to war with France, and could obtain French wines. Unlike normal wine port it is fortified by adding grape brandy during the fermentation process. This makes it more stable during temperature changes and allows it to last longer during sea travel.

It should be noted that Royal Navy Rum was a high quality rum and remained so until it was no longer issued as a ration in the British Navy.

On a side note, whereas the Royal Navy had rum the Her Majesty's Army had gin. Legend has it, the Army in India had a problem with malaria and the cure for the disease, quinine tasted really bad. To get the soldiers to take their medicine, it was mixed with the liquor ration. Thus gin & tonic was born.

It should also be noted that within the U.S. Navy, while it lasted (until 1854), the liquor ration was just as often bourbon or other whiskeys as it was rum. The amount of alcohol was determined by Congress and then left in the hand of the ship's captain.  documentation_license


Pirate Grog Recipe
Add approximately one ounce of fine rum (the rum used in the Royal Navy was an exceptional quality alcohol) to tin or glass of water (7 to 9 oz.)

1 (oz) of Rum
the juice of half a lime
one or two teaspoons of cane sugar
and fill the rest of your tin or mug with water.

When it was made on board ship it was usually made in a large barrel called the grog tub and then rationed out to the sailors. Grog gets its name from Old Grogram, the nick name of British Rear Admiral Edward Vernon who order his sailors rum ration diluted to prevent hoarding and drunkenness.

Many claim to make a traditional Navy grog recipe, there are only several accepted forms. The Royal Navy's grog recipe includes lemon juice, water, rum, and cinnamon. A commonly-found recipe in the Caribbean includes water, light rum, grapefruit juice, orange juice, pineapple juice, cinnamon, and honey. In the Far East, the Japanese Navy is rumored to concoct a much stronger variant primarily from sake and wasabi.

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