July 31: Black Tot Day

Black Tot DayA great injustice was committed today in 1970 when an over 300 year old maritime tradition came to an end. For you see, July 31, 1970 was Black Tot Day, the last day the Royal Navy issued sailors their daily ration of rum (the daily tot).

The rum ration began in the middle of the 17th century. Originally, English naval orders said that sailors were to receive a gallon of beer daily to help keep morale up. However, it was difficult to store so much alcohol, plus the beer would often go bad inside the barrels. So, in 1655 the Royal Navy declared that a half-pint of rum would be equivalent to the gallon of beer. This new ration became quite popular with sailors and the old beer ration was essentially done away with. However, some thought it was a little too popular.

In 1740, an admiral cited increased naval drunkenness and ordered that the rum be mixed with water. (We’ll have more on that later.) Over time, the daily tot would be reduced from a half pint to a quarter pint, and then finally an eighth of a pint. In fact, by the start of World War II, officers and warrant officers were no longer given a rum ration. Finally, in 1969 the Admiralty Board proposed that the rum ration be done away with, saying that liquor had no place on modern naval boats that had so much complicated machinery. A fierce debate was held in the House of Commons on the issue and in January of 1970 it was announced that the rum ration would come to an end at the end of July of that year.

So, at 11 AM on July 31, 1970, the last ever cry of “Up spirits” was made and sailors reported to the bridge for their last tot of rum. Some sailors wore black armbands, others poured part of their drinks into the sea as part of a proper burial at sea. One naval training camp even held a faux funeral procession to mourn the “Black Tot.”

Today, as you solemnly mark the anniversary of the final tot, I suggest you make some Grog. Grog owes its name to Admiral Edward Vernon, nicknamed Old Grog after his cloak made of grogram fabric, who ordered the daily tot of rum to be mixed with hot water, along with a bit of lime to ward off the scurvy and some brown sugar to make it palatable. Let me warn you, this is far from the most delicious drink you’ll ever try. I mean, there’s some tasty stuff in it, but the Royal Navy was not exactly known for having an interest in mixology.

Grog

  • 2 ounces Dark Rum
  • 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 4 ounces hot water

Mix all ingredients together in a mug, and garnish with a cinnamon stick and an orange slice.

Tomorrow: In my mind and in my car, we can’t rewind we’ve gone to far.

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