Why is the Rum Always Gone?

Photo by Wine Dharma on Unsplash

Pirates get a bad wrap. We love to vilify them, whether it is Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and the notorious Long John Silver or the devilish mates of the Black Pearl; however, the image invoked by writers and directors is often far from the reality of life on the poop deck.

Still, the idea of sword fights, swashbuckling, and treasure chests is too much for the imagination, and when the myth becomes fact, print the myth.

As infamous as a pirates love for buried treasure is their taste for rum. And while Grog was typically extremely low in alcohol, and a mix of rum or gin and lime, it had nothing to do with getting drunk.

Rum rations were more about preserving water than getting a buzz. Imagine, if you will, a stagnate, open, wooden barrel of water sloshing around in confines of a wooden ship sailing from one port to the next. What’s the best way to keep the bugs and mold away? Drop in a dash of rum to keep out the bugs, and a splash of lime to prevent scurvy, and suddenly you have a cocktail.

Likewise, sailors operated on democratic charters with an elected captain. For anyone who has spent anytime on a small boat in the ocean, it’s hard work. Just keeping a little schooner afloat is backbreaking work, and running a massive ship and operating sails is a beast unto itself. Therefore, a common agreement among shipmates was no drinking because anyone who has tried to sail with a hangover knows it is no fun.

Eight to twelve parts water to one part gin or rum is typically what made up grog.

“And it’s all for me grog, me jolly, jolly grog, it’s all for me beer and tobacco” — Traditional Folk Song

Where would rum be without heroes like Trader Vic’s and Don the Beachcomber, who’s drinks were as notoriously hard to recreate as the mysteries of One Eyed Willie? Much like the drinks themselves, Tiki drinks are a misnomer, and are more of a reference to an idea.

Tiki drinks took the world by storm. Parrotheads and pirates alike can agree on the deliciousness of drinks like the Navy Grog, the Painkiller, and the Queen’s Park Swizzle.

Navy Grog

Much like how the speakeasies of today capitalize on people’s desire to recreate an idea, Tiki bars created an aurora of mystery, intrigue, and island culture. The outpouring of cocktails that emerged from this era are a vivacious blend of balanced, fruity, complex, spirit forward connections that still entertain the palate today.

Mixing multiple rums, juices, and syrups, this classic cocktail is a long haul away from it’s origins.

Navy Grog was part of the rum ration and was typically one part rum to as much as 18 parts water with a little lime juice to prevent squirvy. Likewise, the Caribbean dauiquiri is the same recipe, just with no water and much more rum, with a little simple syrup.

The cocktail as made famous by Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s was a favorite of men such as Frank Sinatra and Richard Nixon. Along with the Mai Tai and the Zombie, Navy Grog and it’s cone shaped ice garnish are a part of the core of Tiki, and just like it’s counterparts there is a lot of rum. In fact, Trader Vic had to testify to the strength of the drink in court during the trial of Phil Spector.

Below is Don’s recipe since he was the inventor of this beverage; however, Trader Vic’s variation is amazing as well with it’s subtraction of the honey syrup and the addition of an Allspice dram.

1 oz Light Rum

1 oz Dark Jamaican Rum

1 oz Demerara Rum

1 oz Honey Simple Syrup (1:1 ratio)

¾ oz Fresh Lime Juice

¾ oz Fresh Grapefruit Juice

¾ oz Club Soda Water

1 Ice Cone with Straw (or, you know, just use a ton of ice)

Garnish 1 Mint Sprig

Garnish 1 Lime Wedge

The Painkiller

Wade out into the water in the Bahammas at the Sandcastle Hotel on Little Thatch Island and float on over to the Soggy Dollar Bar where the Painkiller is waiting for you.

The Painkiller is so named by the Soggy Dollar Bar (the perfectly named bar because you have to wade out into the ocean to go to the bar, hence getting your money wet) because it can be made for the amount of pain you are in.

Later, this drink became one of two cocktails to actually be patented. So, for those of you who like to break the law as you drink, this one’s for you.

Legally speaking, a painkiller is:

2 oz Pusser’s Rum

2 oz fresh pineapple juice

1 oz fresh orange juice

1 oz coconut cream

Garnish with nutmeg

The above is the officially licensed Painkiller by Pusser; however, you will be hard pressed to find anyone who actually makes it this way. This one also is a dealer’s choice sort of cocktail, since it is supposed to be adapted to the drinker. Home Bartenders can sub in whatever rum they wish, and the pro’s have even been known to sub in Bacardi 151 and add a float of Myer’s Rum as well.

For a different variation closer to the original try this one:

1 oz Navy Strength Rum

1 oz Dark Rum

1 oz Orange Juice

4 oz Pineapple Juice

1 oz Cream of Coconut

1 Pineapple Wedge

Garnish with Nutmeg and Cinnamon

It has been described as the drinker’s Pina Colada, but both are amazing drinks. The Pina Colada is light on the booze and heavy on the cream meant to dazzle the taste buds and lead to brain freeze. The Painkiller is more about harnessing those island flavors into a potent potion.

Lastly, the nutmeg really makes this drink. The mix of pineapple and coconut blend perfectly with a kick of nutmeg. For our lactose intolerant brethren out there this is a great substitution for Egg Nog as well (just a thought in case we are still in quarantine in December).

Queen’s Park Swizzle

Mint, rum, and bitter sweet flavors make the Queen’s Park Swizzle an island favorite. Akin to the Mojito or the Mint Julep, this drink is a little less sweet and a more like a robust. Best matched with a Demerara Rum and Syrup, this drink was invented in the 1920s Trinidad hotel of the same name.

Hotel bars are unique places. While their golden age has faded to the footnotes of bar books, there is still a mystique and aurora around an amazing, grand hotel bar. These are the sort of establishments that make appearances in Agatha Christie novels, the kind where Poirot would take dinner before someone being murdered.

To truly be a Swizzle one would need to make this drink with a swizzle stick, but a spoon or shaker will do fine. Furthermore, this drink highlights the House of Angostura bitters, the salt and pepper of cocktails.

The choice of alcohol and the sugar make all the difference here as does the process of making the drink.Go with a clear rum and you may confuse the concoction with a bitter mojito. Find a decent gold rum or something funky and the drink truly shines with the bitters.

Lastly, muddle the mint in the lime juice and simple syrup first to mix the oils and make the drink more aromatic. Fill the glass with as much finely crushed ice as it can take. Pour that sexy rum over ice, and swizzle the hell out of it. This dilutes the drink as the finely crushed ice melts into the drink. Once it dilutes, add more crushed ice and top with bitters.

Mint, a lot of it

2 oz Gold Rum

.75 oz Lime Juice, tenderly squeezed with love

.5 oz Demerara syrup,

8 dashes (what the hell is a dash) Angostura Bitters

Like all alcohol, rum carries a beautiful mix of cultures and histories. The story of cocktail is far greater than Lemmy ordering a Cuba Libre often enough to potentially rename it (however that is a story in and of itself).

Each one of these drinks has a story. What makes them great is not only what is in the glass, but how it got there. Don the Beachcomber, Trader Vic, House of Angostura, the Soggy Dollar Bar, the Queen’s Park Hotel, as well as the Caribbean, Spain, America, England, and glass after glass from bartender to drink has lead to the mug in your hand.




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Brock Vickers

Brock Vickers

I am an actor and writer who loves creating content and telling stories.