How Sailors of Old Shaped Contemporary Drinking Habits

We tend to love stories about and insight into our drinks when we sit down to enjoy a few. In that vein, I’ve found some fun stories about how sailors in the olden days—both pirate and legitimate alike—have influenced the way in which drinks are enjoyed to this day.

SUGAR CANE was introduced to the Caribbean by Christopher Columbus, from which rum ultimately came to be distilled.

SPICED RUM resulted from impatient sailors receiving rations of high-proof and unaged rum. Instead of choking down the rum equivalent of rum-moonshine, they opted to enliven it with spices.

RUM AND COKE: let’s face it, it’s rum with a pile of sugar and garnished with a lime. In 1740 British Admiral Edward “Old Grog” Vernon for some reason decided that taking sailors into battle who had been issued rum-moonshine wouldn’t be as effective as if their rum-rations were diluted with water. To make this rum & water more palatable he suggested adding sugar and lime. This sweetened & lime flavored rum concoction took on his nickname and came to be called “Grog”.

JUNGLE JUICE is descended from grog that evolved into punch when sailors returned to Europe. In France they spiked it with brandy, in Holland and England it was gin, and back to rum again when the British navy took over the West Indies.

GIN AND TONIC actually originates in preventative medicine. Quinine is the ingredient in tonic water that makes it taste different from soda water. It also helped the British navy ward off malaria in the tropics. When you combine this with the limes that also helped them prevent scurvy—along with the fun of drinking gin—you get history’s first gin & tonic!

There you have it. Several cocktail staples ubiquitous in bars throughout the world today can trace their roots to the daily life of 18th century tall ship sailors.

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