The Story of Navy Strength Gin

The story of this type of gin is another interesting chapter in the fascinating and warlike story of Gin. We can thank the British Navy, not only for navy strength gin. We also should say thanks also for gin as we know it today.

what is navy strength gin

British navy has played a key role in the production, consumption, and distribution of gin. The use of exotic herbs in gin was made possible by the import of spices from Africa and Asia. Gin joined the world as British sailors came to new cities, countries, and continents.

We’re all heard of the rations in the Navy. Less well known is that while the enlisted forces were having room allowances, the Royal Navy’s officers drank gin.

The practice of giving alcohol rations in the navy began in the 18th century. It started with beer, sometimes wine, rum, and gin. The practice of alcohol rations in the British Navy lasted until 1970. But the Royal New Zealand Navy did not depart from it until 1990.

So, What Is Navy Strength Gin?

Technically, navy strength gin is all gin with an alcohol content of more than 57.15%.

The high alcohol content is for practical reasons. Both gin and rum were stored in wooden barrels along with black powder under the deck. This meant that if the barrel were to leak, the gunpowder could get wet. Wet gunpowder is not known to burn unless the alcohol had a strength above 57.15%. Practically thought out, and the problem solved. This is how the story of navy strength gin came to be!

May You Have Heard the Term “Alcohol Proof”?

The term “alcohol proof” comes from the British Navy’s “proof” test. This involved emptying alcohol over the black powder. If the gunpowder burned after being moistened, it meant that the alcohol content was high enough. The gin was “gunpowder proof” – and the gin was allowed to be rolled on board.

This means that in England a spirit with 57.15% alcohol content is 100% “proof”. A spirit with 40% is 70 degrees «proof».

To make this even more complicated, the American definition of “proof” is very different. Alcohol proof in the United States is defined as twice as much as alcohol per volume. That is, 100-degree proof contains 50% alcohol. Please be confused, the story of this gin type is pretty amazing!

The Main Characteristics

All gin is diluted with water to reach its desired alcohol content. Gin is made by adding juniper berries, herbs, fruits, and spices to the spirit. This means that a navy-strength gin not only has more alcohol but also more of the original flavor.

What you need to be aware of, however, is that since the way alcohol affects the taste, you can not only assume that a navy strength gin tastes more of the same compared to its more diluted version, you have to taste it to find out if you like it, just like you have to with any other gin.

How Do You Use a Navy Strength Gin?

You can use most navy strength gin both in Gin & Tonic and in a Dry Martini. The high alcohol content will make a Dry Martini very strong – and dangerous. If you thought to keep the hold clear. In a Gin & Tonic, the alcohol is more masked. But you can consider using a little more tonic than with a standard gin. Start with the same amount of tonic as usual. As always I would recommend starting with a 1: 2 ratio between gin and tonic. Test out with this and see if you feel you need to have more.

Plymouth Gin – The Beginning of the Story

One cannot write about navy strength gin without mentioning Plymouth Gin, it would be like writing about mathematics not to mention a single number.

Black Friars Distillery in Plymouth, England has been producing Plymouth Gin at the same location since 1793. This makes them the oldest distillery still in operation in England. Before 1793, the building housed a monastery. You can read more about Plymouth Gin here.

Plymouth Gin has deep roots in the British Navy. In over 200 years, a British naval vessel never left port without the Plymouth Navy Strength gin on board! A long tradition eventually came to an end. One can probably assume that partially paying with alcohol was no longer socially acceptable.

You could almost say this was the end of the story of navy strength gin – but since you and I continue to drink it – it’s not quite over!

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