Gin and the British Navy (Part 2)
As gin's popularity within the British Navy grew, so too did its influence on naval traditions and practices. One of the most significant of these was the daily 'rum ration' or 'tot,' a practice that had its roots in the 17th century. Originally, the ration consisted of beer, but due to the difficulties in storing beer for long voyages, it was replaced with spirits, primarily rum, but gin was also included, especially on ships patrolling colder climates.
The rum ration was more than just a daily allowance of spirits; it was a deeply ingrained naval tradition. The tot was typically issued in two servings, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. It was a moment of camaraderie among the crew, a brief respite from the hardships of life at sea. The ration was so integral to naval life that changes to it often led to significant unrest among the sailors.
Gin's role in the rum ration further cemented its place within the naval community. The spirit was not only a source of comfort and camaraderie but also a valuable commodity. Gin could be traded, gifted, or used as a form of currency, reinforcing its importance in the daily life of a sailor.
The British Navy's association with gin also had a significant impact on the gin industry. The demand from the Navy led to increased production, which in turn led to advancements in distillation techniques. This period saw the development of the continuous still, a revolutionary piece of equipment that allowed for the production of a purer, higher-strength spirit. This new method of distillation marked a significant step in the evolution of gin, leading to the creation of the style known as 'Navy Strength' gin.
Navy Strength gin, as the name suggests, is a high-proof spirit, typically bottled at 57% alcohol by volume. The term 'Navy Strength' is believed to have originated from the practice of 'proofing' the spirit. To ensure the gin was of sufficient strength, it would be mixed with gunpowder. If the mixture ignited, the gin was 'proofed' and deemed acceptable. If it failed to ignite, the gin was considered 'underproof' and not of the required standard.
The British Navy's association with gin left a lasting legacy that extends far beyond the naval community. The traditions, practices, and innovations that emerged from this relationship have significantly shaped the gin industry and continue to influence modern gin culture.
Post written by Bruce Walker of Purist Gin