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What is Grog?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 16, 2024
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Grog is, most simply, a mixture of water and rum, with more complicated versions adding spices, citrus fruits, or sugar. Grog dates from the mid-18th century, when it was introduced as a way of reducing drunkenness on ships in the British Royal Navy.

Historically, the problem of liquid on board ships during long trips has been a difficult one for sailors to deal with. Water tends to grow algae and other plant life, and beer tends to spoil on long journeys. As a result, when rum was introduced in the mid-17th century, it quickly became the drink of choice for navies throughout the world. The British Navy particularly depended on it, and after 1655, a daily ration of ½ pint of rum was given to sailors. Unfortunately, many sailors became intoxicated and unruly from drinking rum, a problem that was exacerbated by men saving up their daily rations until they had a significant quantity stored that they could drink all at once.

In 1756, an Admiral Vernon came up with the idea of diluting his men’s rum with water. This not only made it less alcoholic, but the water also made the rum susceptible to spoiling if sailors chose to save it. From 1756 until 1970, the British Royal Navy served a daily ration, or tot, of grog on board each ship at 11 a.m. Admiral Vernon, the inventor of this practice of diluting the rum, was known not only as a friend to the sailors, but also for the waterproof cloak he wore, which was made from grogam wool. This cloak earned him the nickname Old Grog, and after his invention of the new ration, the nickname was transferred to his creation.

In later years, citrus was added to the traditional Royal Navy grog in order to ward off scurvy among sailors. Since sailors on board Royal Navy vessels often had to go for many months without fresh fruits or vegetables, adding lemon or lime juice to their grog helped to keep their vitamin C intake at sufficient levels. Another take on grog, popular on board pirate vessels, was known as bumbo or bumboo. Since pirate vessels tended to stay out for shorter periods of time and they kept themselves better fed, the lime and lemon juice could be left out of their mixture. Instead, they added sugar, nutmeg, and occasionally cinnamon to help flavor the grog and make it more palatable.

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Discussion Comments
By tolleranza — On Sep 01, 2011

I used to work in a coastal town that is known for its pirate history (Blackbeard's ship was recently found there). They even have a pirate invasion weekend where people dress up as pirates and galavant about town in the costumes from morning till night.

Yet... I have never heard of grog... but then again I wonder if that is because pirates were probably less likely to drink watered down rum or rationed rum. I don't remember part of Blackbeard's legacy being that he rationed his liquor!

Yep pirates were probably the definition of un-grog drinkers.

Either way - I will have to the pirate invaders know about grog so they can prevent scurvy for the weekend!

By Almita — On Aug 31, 2011

@MissCourt - Sounds like my college Halloween party. We mixed up eight gallons of bumbo. We poured it all into a huge cauldron and floated little gummy spiders and things in it. It was easy to drink and we managed to drink most of it over the night. It was a pretty big party.

We used per gallon:

A half gallon of water, a quarter of a gallon of rum and a quarter of a gallon of lime juice mixed with grenadine. I'm not sure of how much grenadine and lime juice each, but I know that it filled up the last part of the gallon.

We shook it really well, dumped in a cup of sugar and a tablespoon of nutmeg. We rolled the gummy creatures in cinnamon before we floated them.

Over all, the party was awesome and the grog tasted great!

By minthybear19 — On Aug 31, 2011

@MedicineBall - There are lots of types of grogs, with all kinds of flavoring. It was a "anything goes" kind of drink. I like grog because it is a tastier way to drink rum. Regular old rum is hard to choke down. Yes, you can use vodka if you like – but it kind of takes away the authenticity of the grog that way. Here are the two recipes I use, though of them has cinnamon in it.

For "Bumboo" (you can leave out the cinnamon):

2 cups rum, 1 cup water, 2 teaspoons sugar, half teaspoon of nutmeg and half teaspoon of cinnamon.

Boil it all together and multiple as needed. Serves two people!

For lime grog:

You need a cup and a half of rum, five cups of water, 4 teaspoons of sugar (or sweetener of your choice) and 4 tablespoons of lime juice concentrate.

Boil it in a pot for a few minutes before cooling. Serves four people!

Try these out, they are my favorite recipes so far!

By MedicineBall — On Aug 30, 2011

I tried making my own cinnamon grog before -- it was disgusting! I used half of a bottle of rum and a gallon of water, then added in a tablespoon of cinnamon. The recipe I was following said to heat it up to blend it better, so I did.

I guess I should have known better since I didn't care much for cinnamon. I didn't want to waste it, so I made my roommate drink it. He was happy to.

I was thinking that I would try making citrus grog instead. Does anyone have a good recipe for it? Nothing with cinnamon please. Also, can I use something other than rum?

By MissCourt — On Aug 29, 2011

Since grog seems to be so popular -- there is a festival named after it. There is a huge grog fest get together of bands in Virginia every year. I went to it last year -- very loud and very fun. Sadly, they don't serve grog.

@gravois - Sounds like fun. Yeah, grog's one of those sneaky alcohols. The only grog I've ever drank was at a college pirate party. We mixed up a small wooden keg worth of grog and sang (badly) loud drinking songs late into the night. It was fun, but the last half of the party is sort of a blur. I blame the grog for it.

By chivebasil — On Aug 29, 2011

Its kind of funny to read that pirates lived an easier life than the members of the British Navy. They had better food, shorter trips at sea and, from the sound of it, better tasting grog. I think if I was a British guy 200 years ago I might have thrown my Navy uniform into the ocean and jumped on a ship with the Jolly Roger flying from the mast.

By lighth0se33 — On Aug 28, 2011

I can’t believe that the sailors didn’t get angry with Old Grog for diluting their drinks! They viewed him as their friend, even though they knew he was watering down their liquid happiness.

One would think from the nickname that maybe the sailors viewed him as a buzzkill, but the article seems to paint him as someone they felt fondness for. Maybe they all knew that they had a drinking problem, and maybe some of them even wanted help.

By kylee07drg — On Aug 27, 2011

I have only ever tasted rum as part of a mixed drink and once in a cake. I got a feel for the flavor of it, but it is hard to imagine citrus juice tasting good with it.

I can definitely see how cinnamon and nutmeg would complement the flavor, but it seems that lemon or lime would clash badly with it. I guess if you are on a ship in the middle of the ocean with nothing else to drink, it might taste just fine after awhile.

By Ivan83 — On Aug 27, 2011

There is a bar close to my house that serves a grog cocktail. I have never ordered it myself but I have had sips out of friends glasses. It is actually a really delicious drink and it makes me intrigued to try grog on its own.

I'm not sure exactly what is in the cocktail but it tastes like a dip of ocean water from a tropical island. You can taste the rum and the spices but there is something else in it that gives it a vague coconut flavor. They call it the Caribbean mist.

According to the bartender it is one of their most popular drinks and one that the owner apparently imported from the last bar he owned. I'm surprised that it is not more common because it goes down really easily and doesn't taste like any other drink I've ever had, including drinks with rum.

By gravois — On Aug 26, 2011

A friend of mine threw a party about a year ago where she served grog as the signature drink. She made a huge bucket full of it and served it to party guests with a ladle.

It ended up being a pretty wild party because grog is a sneaky drink. First, it tastes great, especially if you mix in citrus and spices. Honestly, you might never know that it was full of alcohol.

Second, when you tell people that grog is just watered down rum they expect that it will not be that strong. When you combine the great taste with the hidden amount of alcohol that is inside you get a recipe for disaster (or fun depending on your tastes).

Long story short, just about everyone at the party ended up falling down drunk. The next morning the living room and backyard were littered with the bodies of people who has passed out where they stood. It was fun on the whole but I don't think grog is going to be served again any time soon.

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