Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum - What Pirates Drank


As with any rogue worth his salt, pirates loved to drink, especially rum. Why is that? Well, besides the fact that it warms the belly, boosts courage, instills camaraderie when sharing with mates, and tastes yummy, there was a practical reason, too. Rum and other alcoholic beverages had a long shelf life, essential for long voyages at sea.

Being at sea for long stretches of time was problematic for seamen diets, both in what they ate and drank. Health problems and sometimes death were common due to improper nutrition, contaminated food, and spoiled drink.

A man needs water to survive. Freshwater, also known as sweet water, was a precious commodity because stagnant water soured in their casks. The hotter the temperature, the faster the water soured. Think slime in the ice machine. Gross! Rainwater would be collected, but it could be weeks or months before a ship saw a raincloud. So to make the water more palatable, alcohol like rum was added. The mixture was called grog and was rationed out to crewmen daily.

Other common drinks pirates had in their mugs included ale, wine, brandy, and sometimes tea, though tea, along with chocolate and coffee, was often used as a commodity to sell or trade in port.

Pirates were quite creative in their spirit concoctions.

Bumboo was an alcoholic beverage of rum, sugar, lemon and lime juices, and nutmeg. Drink this, mate, and you may stave off a bout of scurvy.

Arrack was made from fermented fruits, grain, and sugar cane.

Toke was liquor made from fermented honey. I’m not entirely convinced that these drinks were sweet to taste.

Black strap consisted of rum, lots of molasses and chowder beer, which is a fermented brew of water, molasses, and black spruce tree pitch. My stomach hurts just thinking about this drink.

Punch was anything goes. It was a medley of liquors, rum, wine, fruit juice, that was sweetened with honey or sugar and often spiced with nutmeg. I’d give it a shot.

Kill-Devil rum included booze, beer, and raw eggs. Eww!

Hangman’s Blood, a potent medley of various strong liquors, could knock even the most hardened fellow on his arse. It was probably best not to smoke while drinking this mixture for fear of igniting. Whoosh!

Pine drink was a sweet alcoholic drink of fermented pineapple juice.

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Tobacco rum had, you guessed it, rum mixed with tobacco. The tobacco gave the rum a smoky, earthy flavor. If the tobacco was stale, the rum would also be a bit bitter.

Another odd liquor blend had nabbed my inspiration. Indulge me for a moment. In The Siren’s Song,  the 3rd full-length novel in my Romancing the Pirate series, pirate Captain Thayer Drake’s rum drinking is one battle he can’t seem to win. Perhaps Gilly, the beautiful songstress he saved from drowning, will help him kick the habit. But not after one particularly exasperating evening with her. Instead, he hits the bottle harder than usual, stirring gunpowder into his rum. Gunpowder rum? Yes, pirates did do this. Gunpowder contains saltpeter which was believed to deaden sexual desires. It was also thought to inspire courage and aggression before heading off into battle.

Oh yes, pirates loved their sauce. Perhaps it was pirate Richard Hains who said it best with this sentiment. “A life without liberty is not worth living. But a life with liberty and no beer mug ain’t much better.” Hear! Hear!

About the Author                                                
Jennifer is the award-winning author of the Romancing the Pirate series. Visit her at www.jbrayweber.com or join her mailing list for sneak peeks, excerpts, and giveaways.





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