Tag Archive for 'Pink Gin'

Victorian Boat Drinks

Victorian Boat Drinks

Ah yachting in the Caribbean.  Blue sky, sun-drenched ocean, warm breeze through the sails, and something lovely in a coconut with an umbrella.  This is the life…or it will be this decade next century.  For now we’re in the British Navy of Queen Victoria (god bless her) sailing in a tall ship and our boat drinks are a bit more utilitarian.  Now get up those rat lines and reef the top gallants; there’s a blow coming.  Or you now, something like that.  Moving on.

Navy sailors generally had enough to eat and drink and it wasn’t all ship’s biscuits and salt pork, either.  Most ships spent from a third to a half of their time close enough to land to get fresh food and drink.  Everything from loading to maintenance to docking was done by hand and took a good deal longer than today’s landing of a container ship with the aid of a couple of diesel tugs, emptying out the holds with giant cranes, and warehousing the containers by computer management.  During the times they were close to shore, they made every effort to get fresh food, even carrying live cattle for eating en route to avoid dipping into preserved food a bit longer.

But when ships did put to sea, they could be out of touch with shore supplies for quite awhile.  By the Victorian era, marine chronometers were routine equipment aboard Royal Navy ships.  This meant navigation improved to the point that getting lost was unlikely.  Even so, 2 months sailing to cross the Atlantic wasn’t out of the ordinary.  In addition to sailing time, we’re talking about warships, which means when they get to their destination, there still may not be fresh food.  If they’re going to blockade a port or if the captain gets into a diplomatic tiff with the locals, re-supply from shore may be cut off, and they might still be eating salt pork.

While at sea, food could be stored without too much trouble.  Here’s a list of supplies Loaded onto the frigate Doris in the early 1800s:  “…the Doris was loaded with beef, pork, bread, flour, tobacco, butter, raisins, sugar, cocoa, peas, oatmeal, lime juice, lemon juice, red wine, brandy, and rum.” But water was a different matter.  After two months in a barrel, algae and slime will grow.  Might as well drink out of the fetid pond.  But mix in rum and lime juice and you’ll hardly notice the horror you’re consuming.  At least that’s the theory.

Grog was a combination of lemon or lime juice, water, rum, and cinammon.  It was served at noon every day as a 1/2 pint of rum mixed with a quart of water, for a 1:4 ratio.  Lauchlin Rose (of Rose’s mixers) had patented preserving citrus juice in 1867, and the vitamin C in the juice was added to the grog to prevent scurvy.  I imagine it helped with the whole tastes-like-drinking-out-of-the-pond-problem, as well.


19th Century Gator Aid

Grog was for ordinary sailors and ratings, though if I was an officer, I imagine I’d have had some.  But the midshipman and officers had at least one drink peculiar to themselves.  Pink gin was a mixture of Angostura bitters and gin.  The bitters was a cure for seasickness.  However the taste was, well, bitter.  Mixing with gin makes an interesting pinky-orange drink with the bitter taste mostly submerged underneath the feeling that you just bit a Christmas tree which is what drinking gin always reminds me of.

pink gin

Close-up of Pink Gin

After trying the pink gin and the grog, I definitely prefer the grog.  The gin was like a bitter martini, but the grog was a lightly alchoholic, mildly spicy thirst quencher.  Sort of a gator aid for 19th century.  Of course, I didn’t make it with pond water.