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What Did Pirates Drink?

What Did Pirates Drink?

In olden times, while pirates roamed the high seas in search of treasure, they needed a drink that would help them stay alert and in control during battle. But what did these rough and tough pirates drink?

Contrary to popular belief, pirates didn’t just drink rum. They drank a variety of different beverages depending on what was available.

Here’s a look at some of the drinks they enjoyed during their voyages.

Pirates primarily drank: grog, brandy, beer, rum, rum mixed with other drinks, wine, hard cider, and sometimes a mixture of rum and gunpowder.

Different Alcoholic Beverages

Pirates drank various drinks on their voyages in the golden age. Grog was the most popular choice, as it provided sailors with much-needed hydration and nutrients, along with its alcohol content. 

Rum was also a favorite due to its high alcohol content and its use as a medicinal remedy.

Brandy was a luxurious choice reserved for captains and officers, while beer gave the crew an affordable alternative to rum on pirate ships.

Grog

Grog was a popular drink among pirates for a good reason. It was made from a mixture of rum and water with other ingredients like nutmeg or lime juice. [1]

A bottle of Pirate's Grog rum.
A bottle of Pirate’s Grog rum
BJJ86, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The word “grog” comes from the nickname given to British Vice Admiral Edward Vernon, who popularized the drink among sailors in the 17th century. Cane sugar plantations were the primary source of alcohol for pirates and other sailors, as it was the most accessible form of hard liquor.

Royal Navy grog was a popular drink among sailors in the 18th century. It was made with rum, water, lime juice, and sugar or honey. The exact ratios of ingredients depended on what was available at the time, but usually, it had two parts rum to one part water.

Lemon juice or citrus juice was added for its vitamin C content to help ward off scurvy, while sugar or honey was added for sweetness. The mix was then heated and stirred until all the ingredients had blended. The resulting drink was both refreshing and potent, providing a much-needed energy boost to sailors during their long voyages at sea. 

Brandy

Brandy was a high-end drink reserved for captains and officers. It was made from distilled wine, fruit, sugar cane juice, and refined sugar and boasted a high alcohol content to give its drinkers a strong buzz. [2]

Beer

Beer was a popular drink and was seen as a less expensive alternative to rum. It usually came in the form of ales and porters that could be stored for long periods without spoiling. 

It was thought to have some health benefits, such as aiding digestion and providing much-needed nutrients during long voyages.

Rum

Pirates have always been associated with drinking rum during long journeys at sea. The hearty and robust blend of spices made it challenging to resist, despite its high alcohol content. 

El Dorado 12 Year Old Rum and El Dorado 15 Year Old Rum.
El Dorado 12 Year Old Rum and El Dorado 15 Year Old Rum
Aneil Lutchman, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It has quite an exciting history with pirates, as the beverage was usually found on ships and often given to those who sought quick riches. During the 16th century, there were even raging battles for barrels of rum in the Caribbean because it was considered a valuable commodity. [3]

No pirate story is complete without mentioning their deep love for rum.

Rum With Other Drinks

Rum was more than just an alcoholic beverage; it was an integral liquid added to various mixed drinks.

Dating back to the 1600s, rum mixed with water, which sailors often referred to as grog, was used to ward off scurvy. Vitamin C is present in lemons and limes, so for centuries, these sour fruits were added to water or beer to make what we now know as lemonade or shandy. 

This same recipe served two purposes: it gave sailors much-needed hydration and a healthy dose of vitamin C. Therefore, rum and lemon juice were combined frequently throughout history, creating iconic mixtures like the classic Dark ‘N’ Stormy cocktail. 

With its subtle sweetness, the popularity of rum still continues because of its versatility, easily lending itself to a range of flavored concoctions useful for any occasion.

Wine and Hard Cider

Seafaring rogues found many ways of passing the time when sailing – drinking being one of them. While rum was the pirates’ drink of choice, they also enjoyed imbibing beer, wine, and hard cider from time to time. 

The variety of pirates’ drinks was likely determined by what they had access to, each vessel loaded with different provisions. Beer made out of barley could have been readily taken from ships from England or Ireland. 

Pirates also had a penchant for raiding ships carrying wine, particularly Portuguese ones. Some pirates even brewed their own hard cider onboard in wooden barrels while they sailed. 

Whatever they chose to drink while at sea, these old-time pirates were never short of choice!

Cider drinking in Germany.
Cider drinking in Germany
Dubardo, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A Mixture of Rum and Gunpowder

In the days of 18th-century pirates, it is said that a concoction called nose paint was sometimes concocted. This heady mix of three parts rum and one part gunpowder had quite an impact on taste and effect. It was also used to check the authenticity of the rum. [4]

It was a way for pirates to get drunk quickly and was also believed to offer some medical benefits – such as helping with gout, scurvy, and other ailments. Nose paint had largely been forgotten over the years until recently, when there was a renewed interest in this old-fashioned pirate remedy. 

Half a lime, a pinch of nutmeg, and a glass of rum – the pirate’s favorite way to drink! Whether it was grog, rum, brandy, or beer, pirates certainly had their pick for quenching their thirst on board.

Mug Over Glass

Pirates have been known for their love of rum and other alcoholic beverages and favored a mug or tankard over an ordinary glass. This stemmed from practicality and comfort; wooden mugs are less likely to break, while tankards are large enough to hold an entire bottle of wine.

This type of drinking vessel was sturdy enough to withstand the rigors of life at sea, and it also prevented their hands from getting cold when consuming their favorite beverage. 

Additionally, these larger containers helped keep the drink colder for extended periods. So whether they were enjoying some rum, beer, wine, or hard cider, pirates usually opted for a mug or tankard to participate in their evening revelry. 

It allowed them to drink as much as they wanted without getting up between rounds to fill their glass – something essential on long-haul voyages!

Pirate Captain Edward Low presenting a Pistol and Bowl of Punch.
Pirate Captain Edward Low presenting a Pistol and Bowl of Punch.
Anonymous 19th century artist, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Drinking and Singing: The Pirates’ Favorite Pastime!

Drinking was a favored pastime of many pirates. Beer, stout, and grog were common among them, with rum being far less popular. For most pirates, drinking was inherently social; in many cases, the entire crew would raise their pints together in song. [5]

Much like singing sea shanties to keep morale high while at sea, soon-to-be-legendary buccaneers honed their sense of camaraderie through toasting and singing drinking songs while having a pint or two. 

Groups also told tall tales, played games of chance and skill, and generally made merry on a night out together – all wholeheartedly embracing their lifestyle.

Final Thoughts

Pirates certainly had a penchant for alcoholic beverages. Whether drinking beer, wine, or rum from a mug, they no doubt consumed plenty of alcohol while at sea.

From nose paint to grog and hard cider, their beloved drinks live on in history. So if you ever feel the need to raise a glass and sing a shanty with friends, think of the pirates who made it possible.