Thursday, June 21, 2018

A “Tot” of Rum

Some friends asked me why Rum is associated with the Navy (or why Navy is associated with Rum).

So – I thought it apt to write a few blog posts on the close relationship between Navy and Rum – the Sailor’s favourite drink.

Here is the first article…

THE “RUM” NAVY Part 1 by Vikram Karve

Sailors require significant quantities of fresh water on extended voyages.

In the early days of sailing – since desalinating sea water was not practical – fresh water was taken on board in casks.  

But – this stored fresh water quickly developed algae and became slimy.

The stagnant water was sweetened with beer or wine to make it palatable – which involved more casks and stowage space.

However – even this beer/wine fortified water was vulnerable to spoilage and turned into vinegar.

So – beer was carried instead of fresh water – and – each sailor was issued a daily ration of beer of “One Gallon of Beer per day” (Four and a Half Litres of Beer).

As longer voyages became more common – the Beer Ration of One Gallon (4.5 Litres) of Beer per sailor per day – for a large number of sailors – for long voyages of many days – this Beer Ration occupied a large volume – and – the task of stowage became more and more difficult.

So – Beer was substituted with Rum.

Rum was a “spirit” and did not spoil with time – in fact – the Rum improved with ageing in the oak barrels where the Rum was stored on board ships.


Part 1

Musings of a Navy Veteran

“Rum Ration” was issued to Royal Navy Sailors from 1665 – after Britain captured Jamaica.

Before the advent of Rum – the daily drink ration for a Royal Navy Sailor was One Gallon of Beer – yes – one gallon or 8 Pints of Beer – which amounts to a plentiful 4.5 Litres of Beer...!!!

Due to the difficulty in storing the large quantities of Beer on board ships – in 1655 – half a pint (around 300 ml) of Rum was made equivalent to One Gallon of Beer – and Rum was issued to Sailors in lieu of Beer.

The daily Rum Ration of Half a Pint (almost 300 ml) means around Five Large Pegs of today’s standard Large Peg Measure of 60 ml (or 10 Small Pegs of 30 ml).

The half pint (300 ml) of Rum was originally issued neat.

Sailors would check their rum had not been watered down by pouring it onto gunpowder and setting light to it, from where the term "proof" originates.

By volume – 57.15% alcohol has been calculated as the minimum required for it to pass the test.

The sailors would “prove” its strength by checking that gunpowder doused with rum would still burn – thus verifying that Rum was at least 100 Proof = 57.15 % Alcohol by Volume (ABV) or more.

A small quantity of Rum would be mixed with gunpowder (gunpowder was available on warships of those days which fired gunpowder propelled “shots” from cannons).

The Rum-Gunpowder Mixture would be ignited.

If the mixture burned with a steady blue flame – this was “proof” that the Rum contained the proper amount of alcohol (57.15% ABV [Alcohol by Volume]). 

(The term “Proof” has originated from this practice of Sailors “testing” the strength of their Rum by pouring it onto gunpowder and setting light to the mixture.

By volume – 57.15% alcohol has been calculated as the minimum required for it to pass the test – as gunpowder would not burn if soaked in rum that contained less than 57.15% ABV.

Rum that contained this percentage of alcohol was defined as having 100 degrees proof.

So – 100 Proof means 57.15% Alcohol by Volume.

Now – the term “Proof” has been extended to other spirits like Whisky, Brandy, Vodka, Gin etc as well.

The gunpowder test was officially replaced by a specific-gravity test in 1816…)

Thus – the Navy “Tot” was a substantial amount of 300 ml (10 Small Pegs) of strong 100 Proof Rum (57.1% Alcohol by Volume).

(NB: This article uses the British Imperial (UK) System. The American Standards of Proof (ABV) are different. Whereas the Imperial UK 100 Proof = 57.15% Alcohol by Volume – the American US 100 Proof = 50% Alcohol by Volume. In India we follow the British System)

100 Proof Rum was quite strong – so - later – the strength of the Rum was reduced from 100 Proof to 95.5 Proof [54.6 % Alcohol by Volume (ABV)] (American US 109 Proof)

(Present Day Rums available in India are much weaker at 75 Proof (42.8% Alcohol by Volume)

So – effectively:

One “Tot” of 100 Proof Rum was equivalent to 400 ml of Present Day 75 Proof Rum or 13.5 Small Pegs or Half a Bottle of Rum

– as we know it)

The 300 ml “Tot” of Rum was given to Sailors “Neat” and the sailors drank the “Tot” of Rum “down-the-hatch” in one go.

Imagine drinking “Half a Bottle” of Rum straight “down-the-hatch”.

(Dear Reader – try it – open a bottle of Rum – put it to your lips – and drink half the bottle in one go – straight “down-the-hatch – and tell me how you feel. Now wonder – the sailors are known to be hard drinkers)

The “Rum Ration” was issued to every sailor at mid-day (between 11 AM and 12 Noon) and this Rum Ration was announced with the pipe (Bosun’s Call) “Up Spirits” – on hearing which – the  Sailors would exclaim “Stand Fast the Holy Ghost” – and rush to queue for their “Tot” of Rum.

The Rum Ration was served from a barrel also known as the “Rum Tub” made of oak and ornately decorated and reinforced with brass bands with the brass letters saying “The Queen, God Bless Her”.

Tot “tumblers” were kept separate – and they were never washed from the inside – in the belief that the residue from previous “Tots” would make the subsequent “Tots” even stronger.

The “Tot” of Rum was consumed as soon as it was issued – straight “down the hatch”.

This style of drinking “Tots” – the massive sudden intake of incredibly strong Rum – caused discipline problems due to drunk and disorderly behavior of some sailors who could not “digest” the huge “Tot” of Rum.

Also – some hard-drinking sailors “bartered” Rum Rations from others and hoarded the Rum below decks to drink and this caused drunkenness and disorder below the decks.

As drunkenness on board Naval Ships increasingly became a problem – in 1740 – Admiral Edward Vernon ordered the Rum Ration of One “Tot” (300 ml of Rum) for Junior Sailors to be diluted with two parts of water to make it 900 ml of Rum-Water Mixture.

Also – the Rum Issue was split into two servings per day – one at mid-day before lunch and the other after work in the evening.

Admiral Vernon was nicknamed as “Old Grog” – because of his habitual waterproof Grogram Cloak which he always wore on board ship.

So – the diluted Rum Ration introduced by Admiral “Old Grog” Vernon was nicknamed as “GROG”.

Admiral “Old Grog” Vernon opined:

“The pernicious custom of the seamen drinking their allowance of rum in drams and often at once is attended with many fatal consequences to their morals as well as their health…many of their lives shortened thereby…besides stupefying their rational qualities which makes them heedlessly slaves to every brutish passion…”

On August 21, 1740, Admiral “Old Grog” Vernon issued his “infamous” Order No. 349 to Captains which stated inter alia:

“The Rum should be every day mixed with the proportion of a quart of water to a half pint of rum, to be mixed in a scuttled butt kept for that purpose, and to be done on the deck, and in the presence of the Lieutenant of the Watch who is to take particular care to see that the men are not defrauded in having their full allowance of rum…and let those that are good husband men receive extra lime juice and sugar that it be made more palatable to them…”  

The addition of lime and sugar was prevent scurvy which was prevalent among sailors due to “Vitamin C” deficiency during long sailings.  

(The “Lime” in the “Grog” may be the origin of the term “Limey” to describe an Englishman)

However – this dilution of Rum with water was not appreciated by the hard-drinking sailors.

So – to express their displeasure – the sailors christened the weakened beverage “Grog” after the Admiral who was known as “Old Grog”.

However – Senior Sailors (Petty Officer and above) still received their “Tot” of Rum neat – straight from the barrel – whereas “Junior Sailors” were issued the “Grog”.

Yes – the “Petty Officers” were served first and were entitled to take their rum undiluted – whereas the “Ratings” drank their “grog” in one long gulp

Later – “Pusser’s Rum” – created in 1784 – and approved by the Admiralty – was a popular brand of Rum – available only in the Navy.

Pusser’s Rum was a blend of 3 Rums from Guyana and 2 Rums from Trinidad, blended by traditional techniques and matured for 3 years in barrels, before bottling.

Rum was safely stored on board ships in the hold (below decks) – with an armed Royal Marine on guard round the clock.

Dear Reader – I will end this “Rum Tale” here – but post some more Navy “Rum Tales” in subsequent blog posts – and tell you more about the “Rum Bum Lash” Navy.

Meanwhile – if you are a Rum “aficionado” – Pusser’s Black Label Rum is arguably as close as you can get to drinking what the Royal Navy Sailor once drank.

This “Gunpowder Proof” Rum is supposed to be 95.5 proof (54.6 % Alcohol by Volume (ABV)) (US 109 Proof) – which was issued to the Sailors in the “Grog” after 1740 – a little less strong than the original “100 Proof” Rum (57.15% ABV [Alcohol by Volume]) issued in 1665.

Here is a picture of a bottle of British Navy Pusser’s Rum which I found on the internet.

They say that this elegant, extremely hard to find Rum comes from the last remaining kegs of Royal Navy Rum – the same stuff the sailors drank... 

British Navy PUSSER'S RUM Gunpowder Proof

Dear Reader – Do tell me if you liked this “Rum” Story. 

In Part 2 – I will tell you a bit more about the “Rum” Navy... 

End of THE “RUM” NAVY Part 1 (A “TOT” OF RUM)..

Continued in Part 2...

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