Gin and the British Navy
The relationship between gin and the British Navy is a fascinating chapter in the spirit's history, intertwining maritime tradition, global exploration, and medicinal practice. This connection was established during the late 17th century and continued well into the 20th century, leaving an indelible mark on the culture and customs of the British Navy.
The introduction of gin to the British Navy can be traced back to the Anglo-Dutch wars of the mid-17th century. During this period, English soldiers were exposed to Dutch genever, which they had observed their Dutch counterparts consuming before battle. This practice led to the term 'Dutch Courage,' a phrase that is still used today to describe the bolstering effects of alcohol.
Impressed by the spirit's versatility and the Dutch soldiers' fondness for it, English soldiers brought genever back to England, where it was eventually anglicised to 'gin.' The spirit quickly gained popularity, not just among soldiers, but also among the wider English population. However, it was within the confines of the British Navy that gin found a particularly enduring and influential role.
In the late 17th century, the British Navy was a formidable force, with its ships traversing the globe. Life at sea was harsh, with sailors facing numerous challenges, including scurvy, poor sanitation, and the constant threat of disease. In this challenging environment, gin served multiple purposes. It was a morale booster, a form of currency, and, most importantly, a perceived medicinal remedy.
Gin's high alcohol content made it a practical choice for naval voyages. Unlike beer or wine, gin could be stored for long periods without spoiling, making it an ideal provision for lengthy sea voyages. Moreover, the spirit's antiseptic properties were believed to offer protection against diseases, a significant concern in the close quarters.
The medicinal use of gin in the British Navy was not limited to disease prevention. The spirit was also used as a treatment for various ailments. For instance, gin was often mixed with lime juice to combat scurvy, a common disease among sailors caused by vitamin C deficiency. This practice not only helped to improve the sailors' health but also contributed to the development of one of the most iconic gin-based drinks: the gimlet.
In the next section, we will delve deeper into the role of gin in the British Navy, exploring its influence on naval traditions and its impact on the gin industry. We will also examine the enduring legacy of the Navy's 'rum ration,' a daily allowance of spirits that included gin and played a significant role in shaping the drinking culture of the British Navy.
Post written by Bruce Walker of Purist Gin