It’s understandable to wonder if grog is even a real drink. Most people’s association with the term involve pirates, medieval taverns or Dungeons & Dragons. While similarly historic drinks like mead have since seen an artisan and commercial revival, a grog resurgence has yet to emerge.
Nonetheless, grog is a very real, if albeit loosely interpreted, drink. By some definitions, the term grog can apply to any alcoholic drink or liquor that is cut with water. As this applies to nearly any modern drink served with ice, the history of grog paints a clearer picture.
What was navy grog?
In the 15th and 16th centuries, as European ships began to sail to the Americas, rum was introduced to and became favored by sailors, particularly those of the British Royal Navy. Though not known for its hydrating effects, rum did offer a more shelf-stable and pleasant drinking option to plain water, which had to be carried in barrels on ships over long journeys and had a tendency to become stagnant and grow algae. Some accounts speak of sailors mixing their rum ration to this tepid water to make it taste more palatable, as well as (scientifically dubiously) efforts to help mitigate bacterial infections in their water stores.
However, grog itself seems to have stemmed from an English admiral named Edward Vernon, nicknamed “Old Grog” for his heavy grogram coat, as a means to keep his men from hoarding and over imbibing their rations of straight rum. In 1740, Vernon issued an order that daily rum rations would consist of a half pint of rum mixed with a quart of water, in a 1:4 ratio. Though the proportions of the ratio would change over time, the practice of giving Royal Navy sailors a daily grog ration persisted up to 1970.
As for its colonial-era origins, watery liquor didn’t quite please the palates of British sailors, prompting Vernon to write that his men could “purchase sugar and limes to make it more palatable to them.” And so, the original grog cocktail, a direct precursor to the modern daiquiri, was born.
How to make grog
If we’ve already perfected the rum-sugar-lime formula with the daiquiri, is there still a use for modern grog? Since its Caribbean origins, the drink has seen second life as a hot cocktail, a sort of rum hot toddy that takes well to a variety of spices and aromatic ingredients like cinnamon, star anise, ginger and bitter orange.
To stand up to the addition of water, a grog needs a good navy-strength or overproof rum as a base. Smith & Cross is a standard bearer in this category, as is Pusser’s Blue Label or Pusser’s 15 Year Navy Rum for a higher-end option. Old Harbor Barrelflag is a California-produced bottling made with a blend of blackstrap rum that will also offer a deep flavor profile, while Compagnie des Indes 5 Year Navy Strength is a quality option that brings tropical notes of banana and pineapple to your drink.
Also, it’s best to mull the non-alcoholic ingredients separately from the liquor to avoid burning off too much alcohol as it simmers. Additionally, a dash of Angostura bitters, from Trinidad and Tobago-based House of Angostura, can help with a bit of depth and add some extra Caribbean flavor. And though fresh orange peels are an easy addition to your mulled base, a splash of dry curacao, like Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao, can bring a bit of extra bitter orange flavor and wood notes for those that prefer a drier drink, or find their grog base too sweet.
Hot grog recipe
While the recipe below is for a single serving of grog, multiply the ingredients evenly if creating a larger batch, and divide into mugs accordingly.
Combine sugar, ginger, cinnamon and star anise with 6 ounces water. Bring to simmer at medium heat and stir until sugar fully dissolves.
In heat-proof mug, add rum and lime juice. Top with hot water and sugar mixture, pouring through strainer to reserve solids, and garnish with used cinnamon stick. Top with dry curacao if desired.
An Alternative Iced Grog Recipe
If you’re looking for a summertime grog more suited to warm weather, the above ingredients still work with minor tweaking. Rather than boil the aromatic ingredients, double their proportion (2 sticks cinnamon, 2 teaspoons grated ginger, 4 pods star anise), add them directly to your rum and allow to steep for 2–4 days. Also, combine sugar with an equal amount of water and stir at warm temperature to dissolve into a syrup before allowing to cool. Add infused rum, syrup, lime juice, curacao (if desired) and only 2 ounces water in ice-filled shaker to account for additional ice dilution, and shake until well chilled. Serve over fresh ice.