Friday, July 30, 2010

The Black Tot

Yes, that's Black Tot, not Black Spot.

Back in the good old days, British sailors got a daily rum ration called the tot. In fact, from the mid-17th century through the early 18th century, they got two rations of a half pint each per day (for a total of a pint a day). To be sure that the rum was not watered down, they would mix it with gunpowder and try lighting it. It it still lit then it proved that it was still strong. This point was just over 50% alcohol which is why today's 100 proof is 50% alcohol.

In 1740 Admiral Edward Vernon started issuing rum diluted with a quart of water per pint to reduce drunkenness. This mixture, known as grog, may have been named form him. His nickname was "Old Grogram" because of the grogram cloak that he wore.

The tot was gradually reduced to 1/8 pint, once a day by the 20th century.

In 1970, the British Navy decided that even that was too much and abolished the tot. The last tot was issued July 31, 1970, known as Black Tot Day.

Don't feel too bad for the Brits. Their beer ration was increased by one can a day at the same time.

In contrast the American Navy had ended the rum ration September 1, 1862. Instead of beer, the US Sailors got free coffee.

BBC News has more here.

The tot ended before the rum stores were emptied. What was left was saved. If you have some spare cash and a desire for history, you can buy a bottle of official navy rum for 600 pounds. See here for more details.

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