The history navy strength gin is just another chapter in the fascinating and war thorn history of gin itself. We may thank the British navy, not only for navy strength gin but for gin as we know it today.
There is no doubt that the Royal British Navy has played a key role in both the production, consumption, and prevalence of gin. The use of exotic spices in gin was made possible by imports from Africa and Asia. Gin’s prevalence around the world is due to sailors setting foot in new cities and on new continents.
We have all heard about the rum rations in the navy. Unknown to a lot of people is the fact that, while the enlisted men subsisted on rum, Royal Navy officers drank gin.
The practice of issuing alcohol rations in the navy started sometime in the 16th century. It started with beer, and sometimes vine and ended up with rum and gin. The practice of issuing alcohol rations was abolished in the Royal Navy in 1970. However, the Royal New Zealand Navy abolished the practice as late as 1990.
What is navy strength gin?
Technically, all gin with more than 57.15% alcohol is a navy strength gin. The reason for the high alcohol content turns out to be a very practical one.
Both gin and rum were stored in wooden barrels together with the gunpowder below deck. In case the gin or rum barrels started leaking and soaking into the gunpowder, the alcohol content had to be at least 57.15%. Anything below that and the gunpowder would not burn.
The term “proof” stems from the British Royal Navy’s “proof” test. This involved pouring the spirit onto gunpowder. If the powder would burn after being soaked, it indicated that there was sufficient alcohol content – or that the gin was “gunpowder proof” – and the gin was allowed on board.
This means that in the UK, a spirit with 57.15% is 100 degrees proof. A spirit with 40% is 70 degrees proof.
To make matters more complicated, the American definition of “proof” is very different. Alcohol proof in the United States is defined as twice the percentage of alcohol by volume. Consequently, 100 degrees proof gin contains 50% alcohol.
The characteristics of a navy strength gin
All gins are diluted with water to reach their desired level of ABV (Alcohol By Volume.) Since gin is made by adding juniper, herbs, fruit, and spices to the spirit, this means that navy strength gin not only has more alcohol but also more of the original taste.
However, because of the way the alcohol influences taste, you cannot assume that a navy strength gin is just a gin with more of the same taste compared to its diluted version, you have to taste it in order to determine if you like it, just like any other gin.
How to use a navy strength gin
Most navy strength gins can be used in both in a Gin & Tonic, and in a Dry Martini. The higher alcohol content will make for a stronger Dry Martini. In a Gin & Tonic, the alcohol is more masked, but you should be prepared to use a bit more tonic then you would use with a standard gin. Start by using the same amount of tonic that you would normally do. (I would recommend 1:2 between the gin and the tonic.) Play around until you reach the desired taste.
Writing about navy strength gin without mentioning Plymouth Gin would be like writing about math and not mentioning numbers.
The Black Friars Distillery in Plymouth, England has been producing Plymouth Gin in the same place since 1793. This makes it the oldest working distillery in England. The building housed a monastery prior to 1793.
Plymouth Gin has deep roots in the British Royal Navy. For almost 200 years, a navy ship would never leave port without a bottle of Plymouth Navy strength Gin onboard.