During the 18th century, many navy ships carried a quantity of gin, as it was seen as a panacea to many things encountered by those sailing the high seas. Alcohol at the time was an essential in the cabinet of any doctor, not only to include in medicines but also as an antiseptic to clean wounds and – at times – anaesthetic to knock out wounded sailors prior to undoubtably brutal surgery.
‘Navy Strength’ gin has to be above 57% ABV. As well as being a particularly strong liquor for consumption, that level of alcohol also wouldn’t ruin gunpowder if it was spilt in the ship’s stores. Below 114 proof (or 57% ABV as we now term the alcohol by volume content), the affected gunpowder wouldn’t light which obviously posed serious risks for a ship in battle.
Suffice to say, if a captain found his onboard gin wasn’t 57% then his crew’s heads would roll.
That’s not to say that gin wasn’t still imbibed onboard for more pleasurable reasons. What we now know as the Gimlet cocktail (2 parts gin to one part lime juice, sugar optional) is attributed to Surgeon Admiral Sir Thomas Gimlette who is said to have first added lime cordial to the daily gin tot of the men of the British Royal Navy to help combat the ravages of scurvy on long voyages.
Today, Navy Strength gin is popular with bartenders as the liquor still holds the botanicals with which its been infused, meaning that in any cocktail or G&T, the flavours of the gin are still at the fore of the drink. Cheers to that!