The Navy Grog is an enduring cocktail that Darwin himself would have been proud to drink, document, and research its evolution. Born out of necessity, revered and loathed by the British Navy, and perfected by the avant-garde, it is no wonder that the drink has climbed to Tiki cocktail fandom. If rum had a “Cocktail Hall of Fame,” the Navy Grog would certainly be in the first introductory class, and likely the first inductee.
The drink’s brilliant design is complex with multiple ingredients and is iconic because it achieves Tiki greatness without the use of flavorful syrups. This is very unlike the Navy Grog’s close relatives, the Mai Tai and the Zombie, both of which rely on savory organic syrups to achieve their unique flavor profiles. If you have prepared a Navy Grog, you will recall the presentation is over the top, the taste is undeniably striking, and the preparation immortal.
MATERIALS & METHODS
Don the Beachcomber – 1941 recipe (1)
- Rum – 1.0 oz (30 ml) light white rum
- Rum – 1.0 oz (30 ml) Demerara rum
- Rum – 1.0 oz (30 ml) dark rum
- Fresh lime juice – 0.75 oz (22.5 ml)
- Fresh white grapefruit juice – 0.75 oz (22.5 ml)
- Soda water – 0.75 oz (22.5 ml)
- *Honey – 1.0 oz (30 ml)
(* Note: To prepare: dissolve 1-part honey in 1-part warm water, and let cool)
(1) Before preparing the cocktail, the Navy Grog, an ice cone needs to be made. The ice cone can be made by one of two ways:
First, by packing finely shaved ice into a pilsner glass and running a chopstick down the middle to make a hole for a straw and then removing the packed ice from the pilsner glass. Then removing the chopstick from the cone and freeze the cone overnight.
Second, by using a Beachbum Berry’s Navy Grog ice molding tool and freezing the cone for four hours until frozen.
(2) After the Navy Grog ice cone is made, fill a cocktail shaker with some ice, and add the fresh lime juice, fresh white grapefruit juice, soda water, honey, and the 3 rums.
(3) Next shake the cocktail vigorously and strain into a rocks glass or double rocks glass containing the Navy Grog ice cone with a straw, preferably a bamboo one, running through the cone.
“To the captains of the squadron! Whereas the pernicious custom of the seamen drinking their
Admiral Vernon’s official order, which was made from necessity due to issues with sailor conduct, and the absence of beer and wine in the new world, quite frankly may have been the first documented cocktail recipe. However, the masses at the time were not as fond of Admiral Vernon’s formula. Unhappy with the order, the sailors, who to that point had been given a tot (dram) of neat rum daily, quickly labeled Admiral Vernon, “Old Grogram,” later shortened to “Grog,” after the type of fabric in the coat that the Admiral wore. The mixture of rum and water was also coined, “Grog,” and thus became the foundation for the Navy Grog cocktail today. And although detested, Admiral Vernon’s decision may have very well saved a multitude of British sailor’s lives, at least the sailor’s that opted out of salt provisions and bread and went with sugar and limes.
During this age of discovery in the 18th century, thousands upon thousands of seamen died of scurvy. The main physical symptom of scurvy is the disintegration of the body and this is because one of the major effects of scurvy is that the body can no longer produce collagen, the glue of the body’s cells (3). Starting with ulcers and blisters, the disease quickly erodes the body’s organs, while also creating intense and damaging psychological harm to the victims who often suffer from seizures. Much like the Daiquiri and the Mojito’s ability to thwart the effects of scurvy, the citrus component introduced to the Grog by the naval sailor’s that added lime were able to fight off the effects of the vicious disease. But it was not until 1746, that an official connection between citrus and scurvy was discovered, when Scottish physician James Lind proved in one of the first controlled medical experiments that citrus fruits were an effective cure for the illness (4).
Fast forward to 1941, Don the Beachcomber, also known as “The Founding Father” of Tiki
Culture, evolved the “Grog” cocktail to the “Navy Grog” cocktail in his Hollywood restaurant, and it became an instant success. However, his famous Navy Grog recipe was almost lost in time because don never shared his recipe ingredients with anyone, not even his bartenders, and wrote in code in recipe notebooks. It was not until Jeff Berry, also known as Beachbum Berry, discovered and cracked the code in the 1990’s that the classic cocktail was formally returned to mixology. The world learned that Don replaced “navy strength rum” and the other grog ingredients that were available during the Colonial area, with three distinct types of rum and more modern experimental ingredients. He also added the infamous Navy Grog ice cone which seemed almost impossible to make until Jeff Berry interviewed a former bartender of Don the Beachcomber. Tony Ramos, an ex-Beachcomber bartender, who once made Navy Grogs for Frank Sinatra in Palm Springs, recalled making the infamous ice cone by packing down finely shaved ice in a Pilsners glass and placing a chopstick down the center, removing it later to leave a hole for the straw. In the end, the evolution of the Grog to the Navy Grog and its return to contemporary Tiki culture, along with the manifestation of the Mai Tai and Zombie cocktails, became known as the Holy Trinity of cocktails. Thus, the true foundation of the Tiki cocktail movement is here to stay.
The Navy Grog’s use of a light (white) rum, a heavy (dark) rum, and a Demerara rum is fascinating, and each provides a significant physical effect on the properties of the drink! The light rum used in the cocktail, while absent of any significant esters because it is a low-congener rum, plays its part by not only adding significant alcohol content to the drink, but also by adding to the brightness of the cocktail. Light rum is transparent which means it allows light to pass through so that objects behind can be distinctly seen. However, when light rum is added with the other active ingredients to make the Navy Grog, the drink becomes translucent, which means the cocktail allows light to pass through, scattering the light just enough that images on the other side cannot been seen clearly. If light rum were not added to the Navy Grog, the cocktail would easily be opaque, which means no light would be able to pass through. However, thanks to light rum it is a wonderful contributor to the Navy Grog’s magnificent golden color.
The addition of a heavy-bodied (dark) rum to the Navy Grog was much more strategic for taste
than aesthetic beauty. Heavy rums, like the dark rum added to the Navy Grog, are rich in flavor and contain a fair number of esters which contribute to the fruitful aroma of the cocktail. Although there exist low-congener dark rums by simply adding caramel for coloring, for the most part dark rums attain their color through the process of aging and being stored in charred oak casks.
The resulting flavor of the rum from this process becomes more complex and adds a more sweet and pleasant essence to all cocktails, including the Navy Grog. Like the addition of a high-congener dark rum to the Navy Grog, the addition of Demerara rum to the cocktail equally adds sweet and rich aromas. Demerara is a rum loaded with complex flavorful esters and made from sugar cane located on the banks of the Demarara river. If rum were jewelry, it would be the pearl of the Guyana. Some of the rum from this region is still manufactured today using wooden stills, which add arguably in some part to the unique flavor profile of the rum, along with the coastal ecosystem where the traditional fermentation, distillation, aging, and blending processes are still conducted today in the same manner as hundreds of years earlier.
But as important as the different rums are to the Navy Grog cocktail, equally important are the ingredients that Don the Beachcomber used to craft the cocktail. The addition of lime juice, grapefruit juice, and honey to the drink add multiple layers of complexity:
• Lime juice, a citrus juice with a ph of 2.8 is an acid which adds tartness to the cocktail and contains nearly twice as much citric acid than a grapefruit.
• The grapefruit, which can also be quite tart depending on the time of the yearit is picked and the variety of grapefruit used, has ten times the amount of sugar as a lime and adds nice balance of sweet and sour to the Navy Grog
(5). Further adding to flavor profileof the Navy Grog, grapefruit juice also contains a terpene, an organic compound produced by a plant that gives off an odor to protect a plant from predators, called grapefruit mercaptan that influences the taste and odor of grapefruit juice the most, and thus the cocktail as well.
• Honey is a potent natural sweetener, especially when added to a cocktail with ingredients that are not as sweet. Composed primarily of the sugar’s glucose and fructose, it is the fructose content in honey that is the largest contributor to sweetness and influences the taste profile of the cocktail significantly.
Long gone are the days where the Navy Grog’s predecessor, “The Grog,” was needed to enhance the preservation of drinking water on British ships during colonial times, as well as maintain a sailor’s health to prevent scurvy. Today, the navy grog is a fanciful and strong Tiki cocktail, and yet relatively healthy. The cocktail contains a reasonable 283 calories per 7.5 oz iced cocktail (6). But beware, many modern versions of the Navy Grog now include simple syrup to build and enhance sweetness. This will account for a higher sugar count in the cocktail than the traditional recipe required, and due to the strong alcohol content of the
navy grog, this can play tricks on your body’s blood sugar levels. drinking rum, or alcohol in general, may cause your blood sugar to either rise or fall depending on volume consumption. obviously adding simple syrup will increase blood sugarand drinking alcohol in general will dothis as well. however, excess alcohol, and cocktails like the navy grog, may lower your blood sugar causing hypoglycemia (7). so always make sure to understand what ingredients are being used in the preparation of a navy grog if blood sugar level is important to you.
(Amount Per 1 Fl oz)
Total Fat: 0 g
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Sodium: 0.27 mg
Total Carbohydrates: 2.8 g
Dietary Fiber: 0 g
Sugar: 2.13 g
The Navy Grog stands tall amongst both modern-day craft rum cocktails and traditional Tiki cocktails. The drink is an example of how a cocktail, deeply-rootedin history from the colonial era and once known as “The Grog”, can be pulled from obscurity to contemporary critical acclaim. Thanks to the Tiki movement and its redefinition of the cocktail with one light (low-congener) rum and two heavier (high- congener) rums, this almost forgotten cocktail was resurrected. The Navy Grog is not only an important part of rum history, but a timeless cocktail that will continue to be enjoyed by many for countless years to come.
- Berry, J. (2015). How to make a Navy Grog Ice Cone. Beachbum Berry’s. Retrieved from: http://beachbumberry.com/recipe- navygrog.html
- Jeffreys, H. (2015). A Rum Tale Aboutthe Navy’s Favorite drink. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian. com/lifeandstyle/2015/apr/17/rum-drink- history-how-grog-got-its-name-empire-of- drinks-henry-jeffreys
- Worrall, S. (2017). A Nightmare Disease Haunted Ships During Age of Discovery. National Geographic. Retrieved from: https://news. nationalgeographic.com/2017/01/ scurvy-disease-discovery-jonathan-lamb/
- Higgins, C. (2010). How Scurvy Was Cured, then the Cure Was Lost. Retrieved from: http://mentalfloss.com/article/24149/ how-scurvy-was-cured-then-cure-was-lost
- Liu, K. (2013). Cocktail science: 8 Tips and Tricks For Getting the Most Out of Citrus. Serious Eats. Retrieved from: https:// drinks.seriouseats.com/2013/07/cocktail- science-using-citrus-smarter-techniques- for-better-lemon-lime-flavor-drinks-acidity- twists-citrus-peel-oils.html
- Wilson, J. (2009) Navy Grog. The Washington Post. Retrieved from: https:// www.washingtonpost.com/recipes/ navy-grog/10712/
- Turner, B., Jenkins, E., Kerr, D., Sherwin, R., Cavan, d. (2001). The Effect of Evening Alcohol Consumption on Next-Morning Glucose Control in Type 1 Diabetes. Diabetes Care. 24(11): 1888-1893.