Ye there, young whippersnapper. What was yer name again? Ye say ye want to be a pirate, arr? Well, me hearty, you'd best start drinking like one. Tomorrow is Talk Like A Pirate Day which is a decent pretext as any to look at the storied connection between pirates and rum. There's good reason to link the two, given that rum was beginning to make its mark on the world during the Golden Age of Piracy but the idea that the pirates of the time had a specific preference for the spirit is largely based on a rhyme from Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island:
Fifteen men on the dead man's chest -- Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum! Drink and the devil had done for the rest -- Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!
It's more likely that the assorted buccaneers and privateers of the era were largely unfussy about the particular type of booze they drank, but rum has a more solid naval connection.
According to And A Bottle of Rum, Wayne Curtis' excellent history on the subject, the British navy first issued rum to its sailors in 1655. In 1740, Admiral Edward Vernon issued an edict specifying that any spirit served to the men should be "mixed with the proportion of a quart of water to every half pint of rum" while also offering them the option of exchanging a part of their ration of salt and bread for sugar and lime to "make the rum more palatable to them". Over time this mixture became known as grog, from the Admiral's nickname "Old Grogram", itself based on his preference for a cloak made from the stuff.
Rum had often been used as a means of societal control in the colonies from which it emerged, and the rum ration was no exception. Shipboard life was a harsh existence and the ration helped maintain crews that were sober enough to work while remaining happy enough not to mutiny. The rum ration endured in the British navy until 31st July 1970 with modern, technologically advanced vessels and weapons demanding a staff of fully sober sailors.
Grog was not the only way to take a dram of rum in the colonies.
Rum was often consumed straight up, followed by a chaser of water. It could be diluted with three parts of water to one of rum to make the grog familiar to seamen, and two parts water to to one of rum to make a sling. With shavings from a sugarloaf, rum and water were transformed into a mimbo, a drink that was especially popular in Pennsylvania. With molasses instead of sugar, it was called bombo, named for obscure reasons after English admiral John Benbow.
And a Bottle of Rum (Wayne Curtis, New York, 2006) pp. 82
The last of these recipes has caught my attention before. Bombo was often flavoured with nutmeg and cinnamon to disguise the roughness of the base spirit, but the combination has always struck me as more or less perfect for modern rums. I had a play around to apply that combination to a more modern style of drink.
When I say more modern, I ended up looking at the Old-Fashioned which isn't exactly at the cutting edge, but the important point is the use of ice - none of the old pirate/colonial era drinks would have featured ice. It's the major difference between early styles of mixed drinks and modern cocktails as established since the 1800s. This may be a variation on a two-hundred year old formula, but it's also a variation on a three-hundred and fifty year old formula and y'know, ye dirty lashes, that'll be progress. Yar!
Admiral Benbow's Old Fashioned
60ml navy rum (ideally something like Pusser's or Lamb's - any dark, blended molasses-based rum will work)
1 large pinch of ground nutmeg
1 dash of homemade cinnamon tincture (a large pinch of ground cinnamon will suffice)
1/2 barspoon molasses
10ml boiling water
Stir the water, molasses, cinnamon tincture and nutmeg in the base of a glass until the mixture approaches the consistency of a syrup. Add a few cubes of ice and some of the rum and stir, gradually adding more ice and more rum until it's all gone. Garnish with a pair of cinnamon sticks and a dusting of ground nutmeg.