It wasn't just pirates who guzzled rum. In the early days of sailing, there were four shipboard essentials: food, water, weapons, and alcohol. The alcohol had less to do with easing soul- (and often life-) crushing sea voyages, and more to do with making water stored in casks safe to drink. Palatable, too, since storage casks were like huge petri dishes for algae (and worse), as water sat stagnant in ships' hulls. Mixing in alcohol ― along with citrus and a sweetener ― made the water safe to drink, warded off scurvy, and made life a little more bearable. The resulting brew: the tiki bar staple, grog.
On British ships, each sailor received an unmixed "tot" of rum (about a half-pint) several times a day, but this led to all the problems you might expect. After much fuss and rowdiness, they premixed the grog, although petty officers were still allowed to have rum served up, made by Pusser's at "Navy Strength" (defined at 95.5 proof, or 47.75 percent alcohol). This continued until July 31, 1970, when the rum ration ended.
Aye-aye cap'n: Pusser's "Navy Strength" rum.
The Royal Navy put all the remaining spirit into stone flagons and stored them in warehouses, then auctioned them off. Recently, a large number of those old flagons were purchased, blended, and capped up into 750ml bottles (about $750 each, available from distributor Haus Alpenz) and appropriately named Black Tot rum.
In what promises to be a truly historic night tomorrow, Smuggler's Cove will feature the West Coast release of Black Tot authentic navy rum, real British Royal Navy Imperial Rum poured from its original ceramic jug, and other vintage rums. Come Sunday morning, don't be surprised to find us in the brig.
Black Tot Day Celebration
When: Sat., July 31, starting at 5 p.m.
Where: Smuggler's Cove, 650 Gough (at McAllister), 869-1900.