Sadly gone, but not forgotten
As European ships began undertaking extended voyages in the fifteenth century, the provision of drinking water for the crew became increasingly difficult. Water in casks became rancid or polluted over time. It was soon discovered that diluting the water with beer or wine would improve its palatability. Undiluted beer was also rationed by Royal Navy ships to their crewmembers in daily quantities of one gallon per sailor (if that can reasonably be called rationing). Following Britain’s conquest of Jamaica in 1655, the Royal Navy starting using rum rather than beer as its ration of choice, with the quantity reduced to 2 gills (a half-pint). Eventually, it was decided that dispensing straight rum to sailors resulted in a variety of problems. The practice of diluting the rum with water at a ratio of four parts water to one part rum was officially adopted in 1756, but had been in unofficial usage for some years. Admiral Edward Vernon, RN, added citrus juice (usually lime juice) to the mixture to reduce the water’s foulness. He was known to his sailors as “Old Grog” because he habitually wore a cloak made of grogram (a coarse fabric of silk mixed with wool or mohair and often stiffened with gum). When it was observed that his sailors tended to be healthier than others, the practice of adding lime juice to the daily rations spread throughout the Royal Navy, whose members were quickly labeled as “limeys”. The daily ration of rum, water, and lime juice became known as “grog”, in memory of Admiral Vernon. The US Navy adopted the use of the rum ration early on, but the practice was banned in 1862 in deference to the temperance movement, a strong supporter of the Union effort in the Civil War. By then, the size of the grog ration or tot in the Royal Navy had been reduced to a quarter-pint per day. The last pipe of “Up Spirits” for dispensing the grog ration in the Royal Navy was on January 28, 1970. Now, Royal Navy sailors survive on a daily distribution of beer.