Set Sail for Cocktail History with the Navy Grog!

When Admiral Edward Vernon of the British Royal Navy issued his Captain’s orders regarding rum rations in 1740, little did he know the historical influences his edict would have. The addition of water to the sailors’ rum was originally intended to lessen the “fatal effects to their morals as well as their health” that came from drinking a pint of rum neat. Go ahead, try it yourself a few times a day and see how many sheets you can actually set to the wind. In addition to that command, he advised to “let those that are good husbanders receive extra lime juice and sugar that it be made more palatable to them”. This line would prove to be effective not only in medical history as the first step in reducing scurvy, but for us rum imbibers, was the first instance of combining rum, sugar, lime, and water to create something palatable.

Many years later, Old Grog's advice still rang for sailors and rum runners alike. Donn Beach took this old term and Naval tradition and on his first menu placed the Kona Grog,  a mix of Demerara rum, spices, and kona coffee. Also found on the list were a Hot grog, and Don’s Own Grog, each quite varied from the original Grog combination of sugar, lime, rum, and room temperature water. Still, Grog certainly had marked its place in the pantheon of tropical drink categories.

The most famed of Grogs gracing tropical drink menus is undoubtedly the Navy Grog. This drink, which originally landed on Don the Beachcomber’s menu in the 1940s, took the Grog concept even further than before, with an assortment of rums, honey in place of sugar, and grapefruit in addition to the lime. The Navy Grog was famously served with a cone of ice with a straw through the middle, helping keep reduce dilution (much to Admiral Vernon’s chagrin) while keeping the drink quite frosty!

Now of all the drinks that Trader Vic “borrowed” from Donn that got their names changed, this one remained the Navy Grog at Trader Vic’s establishment. One subtle difference that Trader Vic made was removing the honey, as it wasn’t used much by Vic, and replacing it with a hint of allspice dram, which gives Vic’s Mai Tai a much drier, spicier profile. Of course, this is also the drink that Phil Spector famously imbibed prior to shooting actress Lana Clarkson, so maybe a little of Donn’s original sweetness could’ve mellowed Phil’s temper.

At any rate, as much as I love Donn and Vic’s Navy Grogs independently of the other, I find a combination of the two to be the superior product. Using one ounce of honey mixed with water, combined with a quarter ounce of allspice dram brings in all the texture and sweetness of the honey, with all the bold spice and funk of the allspice dram.  To make honey mix, simply stir honey and warm water in a 1:1 ratio. To make it like Donn would have, be sure to use Orange Blossom honey for its distinctive citrus flavor, which really comes in to play with the rest of the ingredients. Please note in the recipe included with this article that the club soda is shaken with the rest of the ingredients. This is a nod to Admiral Vernon, in that it makes the drink a bit more readily drinkable without having to wait for dilution to tame its potency.

If you’re looking to bring in that touch of allspice, a few wonderful products have hit the market in the past few years, the first being the St. Elizabeth Allspice dram, a brilliantly flavored product using production methods and rum originally developed in Jamaica. For a lower proof version, you can try B.G.Reynolds’ Don’s Spices #2, which contains allspice as well as hints of vanilla and clove. Even Trader Vic’s has its own Navy Grog mix available, though it’s more of an all-in-one product (without the rum) than a pure spice flavoring.

So a naval toast of UP SPIRITS to the continued imbibing of our Grogs, be they Kona, Navy, Don’s Own, Sailor’s, Pirates, or Admiral Vernon’s original combination.

Navy Grog as served at Hale Pele:

  • ¾ oz lime juice

  • ¾ oz grapefruit juice

  • 1oz honey
  • ¼ oz allspice liqueur
  • 1 oz light Puerto Rican rum
  • 1 oz dark Jamaican rum
  • 1 oz Demerara Rum
  • ¾ oz club soda

Mixing instructions: Combine all ingredients in a mixing tin and shake with crushed ice. Pour into a 15oz Double old-fashioned glass and fill with more crushed ice. Garnish with an ice cone, or a rock candy swizzle and mint.