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(reprinted from The Contemplator - visit them from our Grog Links page)

From the earliest days of sail, men have had need of liquid during voyages. The most readily available were water and beer. As there was no method of distillation, water was taken on board and stored in casks, to be replaced at the end of the voyage or at ports of call. Beer was also stored in casks and the ration for seamen was a gallon a day. Water would quickly develop algae and turn slimy, and beer would turn sour. 


So the custom was to drink the beer before it soured and then turn to water. Stale water could be sweetened to make it more palatable, and was often sweetened with beer or wine. As the British Empire grew and longer voyages became more common, the problem of spoilage and shortages increased. 

 

The origin of grog lies with Vice-Admiral William Penn, father of the founder of Pennsylvania, during his campaign for Cromwell in the Indies. In 1655 Penn arrived in Barbados and captured Jamaica. 

Unfortunately Jamaica had few stores of beer or wine. Jamaica did, however, have rum. Penn, therefore, began the use of rum as a ration.

 

In the seventeenth century, an early form of rum was known as "rumbustion." In Elizabeth I's time, privateers and pirates traded in rum, and it was a liquor well-known to sailors. After 1655, as the Indies became an increasingly popular port, the use of rum increased. Although it became common, rum was not part of the "Regulations and Instructions Relating to His Majesty's Service at Sea" until 1731 at which time a half a pint of rum was made equal to the provision of a gallon of beer. In the early days this was specific only to ships in the West Indies, and rum was not diluted.(1)

 

Vice-Admiral Edward Vernon is known as the father of grog. Vernon was a noted seaman, and victorious at Porto Bello, but he was a constant critic of the Admiralty and a supporter of better conditions aboard ships. He derided pressment and advocated better treatment of sailors. His sailors gave him the name of "Old Grog" because of a waterproof boat cloak he wore. (Grogam being a thick material that was a combination of silk, mohair and wool which was often stiffened with gum.)

 

By Vernon's time straight rum was commonly issued to sailors aboard ship - and drunkenness and lack of discipline were common problems. On August 21, 1740, Vernon issued an order that rum would thereafter be mixed with water. A quart of water was to be mixed with a half-pint of rum on deck and in the presence of the Lieutenant of the Watch. Sailors were to be given two servings a day, one between 10 and 12 AM and the other between 4 and 6 PM. To make it more palatable it was suggested sugar and lime be added. In 1756 the mixture of water and rum became part of the regulations, and the call to "Up Spirits" sounded aboard Royal Navy ships for more than two centuries thereafter. 

 

If the use of grog was common practice, the mixture was anything but standard. Vernon ordered a quarter of water to a half a pint of rum (four to one), others ordered three to one, and Admiral Keith later issued grog at five to one. Seamen mixed their grog by compass points. Due North was pure rum and due West water 

alone. WNW would therefore be one third rum and two thirds water, NW half and half, etc. If a seaman had two "nor-westers," he'd had two glasses of half rum and half water.(2)

 

Rum acquired the nickname "Nelson's Blood" after Trafalgar (1805). To preserve Lord Nelson's body, it was placed in a barrel of rum. Legend has it that when the sailor's learned of this, they drank the rum. From that time on, grog was also known as "Nelson's Blood."

 

Grog did not solve the problem of lack of discipline. In 1823 the Admiralty conducted an experiment cutting the daily rum ration in half, to one quarter pint (gill). In compensation they issued tea and cocoa, increased pay two shillings a month. In 1824 the experiment became permanent with the added bonus of an increased meat ration. However, as a gill at that time was equal to four double whiskies today, it was still a very strong mix.(3)

 

In 1850 the Admiralty's Grog Committee, which had been appointed to investigate problems associated with the ration, released a report which confirmed the relationship between drunkenness and discipline problems, and recommended the ration be eliminated altogether. As before, they recommended giving seamen compensation by way of of increased pay. 

However, Effective January 1, 1851, the Admiralty rather than ending the rum ration, merely decreased it. The rum ration became one half gill, or one eighth of a pint. Because of the decrease in amount, an effort was made to improve the quality. Rum brokers experimented with blending and blending formulas eventually became closely guarded secrets.(4)

 

Although the American Navy ended the rum ration on September 1, 1862, the ration continued in the Royal Navy. However, toward the end of the nineteenth century temperance movements were beginning to change the attitude toward drink. The days of grog were slowly coming to an end. Finally, on January 28, 1970 the "Great Rum Debate" took place in the House of Commons, and July 30, 1970 was "Black Tot Day," the last pipe of "Up Spirits" in the Royal Navy.(5)

The history of grog does not end there, however. An American purchased the rights to the formula for grog and royalties from the sale of grog go to the Royal Navy's Sailor's Fund.

(1)Pack, 21., (2)Ibid., 46., (3)Ibid, 69., (4)Ibid, 85., (5)Ibid., 123.
James Pack, Nelson's Blood: The Story of Naval Rum
Naval Institute Press, 1982. 


Visit our Grog Links page to see more from The Contemplator.

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The Grog Shoppe celebrates a storied past.  Located along what was once the Erie Canal, we are centrally located at the corners of State Street and Erie Boulevard in Schenectady, New York.

From 1825 to 1925, the thoroughfare now known as Erie Boulevard, was actually a section of the Erie Canal system.


This photo depicts the Erie Canal, looking south towards the State Street bridge.  Later, The Grog Shoppe building would be located to the right along the canal towpath.

In later years, the Wedgeway Professional Building was built, housing businesses, living accommodations and the State Theater and Erie Theater arcade.


The Myers Building (constructed in 1868, later replaced by the Kresge Building), and the Wedgeway Professional Building.  The  current location of The Grog Shoppe can be seen to the far right with window awnings.  The Erie Canal runs in front of the building.

In 1925 the Erie Canal was filled in and named Erie Boulevard.  Since that time, there have been many businesses at the current location of The Grog Shoppe.  First there was Richard's Rendevous, then Petrolle's Grill, next Henry's Tavern and finally The Grog Shoppe.


Looking north on Erie Boulevard you can see Petrolle's Grill on the left, just before the Erie Theater.

After the Erie Canal was filled in, the corners of State Street and Erie Boulevard became a major thoroughfare for automobiles, buses and pedestrians..


A 1955 view of the corner of State Street and Erie Boulevard featuring the State Theater and Erie Theater Marquee.

Moviegoers were also drawn to the Wedgeway Professional Building and the State and Erie Theaters.


A happy crowd from the 1950's exiting the State Theater after viewing their favorite stars on the big screen.

Now, the State Theater and Erie Theater are both gone, but the Wedgeway Professional Building and The Grog Shoppe remain a fixture in the downtown landscape of Schenectady.


The demolition of the State Theater auditorium in 1985.

The Grog Shoppe is located within a short walking distance of many landmarks and sites of historic significance.

Nearby is the General Electric Company (founded in Schenectady), the historic Stockade District, Union College, the GE Realty Plot and the site of the old Alcoa Plant.  Each site celebrates its own unique contribution to the history of Schenectady and our nation.

All visitors are welcome at The Grog Shoppe and if you are planning a visit to the area, you should consider stopping by.

You never know who may show up at The Grog Shoppe!  One surprise we had was in the late 1950's when Roy Rogers and Trigger stopped in.


Roy Rogers was a perfect guest, but Trigger was a
nasty drunk!  To everyone's chagrin, Trigger, as smart
as he was, could not get the hang of using the men's
room urinal.  Roy, mop in hand, was busy all night!  

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Copyright 2001, The Grog Shoppe
Web Design by James E. Meyer

Music: Here's To The Grog by John Renfro Davis

Updated: 5/12/2007