PUSSER’S RUM AND THE SAILOR’S FUND
Contributed by Bro. Robert E. Burtt, PM
Worshipful Brother Robert E. Burtt, author of A Guide to Modern Freemasonry and contributor to From the Mentor’s Mouth, commented about Pusser’s Rum and the Royal Navy Sailors Fund, so I gave him an assignment to cover that. He accepted the challenge! Here is his report. Enjoy!
Rum has a proud history. It fueled pirate crews on the Spanish Main. It was used as money in many parts of the world. It was a vital part of the “Triangular Trade,” the backbone of the British Empire in the Eighteenth Century. It was an important part of everyday life in colonial America. The Sugar Act, passed by Parliament in 1764, helped inflame passions and set the stage for the Revolution. This tax on one of the basic components of rum’s manufacturing process created a real hardship for the colonists. It is estimated that consumption of rum totaled 3 gallons a year for every man, woman, and child in America. In 1789, Brother George Washington was careful to ensure that a barrel of Barbados rum was available for the festivities attending his Presidential inauguration. Most Lodges of the era met in taverns, and Brethren were known to enjoy the “festive board” over a glass. Rum could almost have been said to be the “fourth great light!”
The most important role that rum has played was as a basic food ration for sailors in the British Royal Navy for over three hundred years. The first recorded instance of rum being issued was in 1655. Life at sea is—and always has been—hard, dangerous, boring, wet—and cold. Spirits tended to, well, keep up the spirits of “the people,” as they were called. The captain and his officers could afford their own private refreshment. It only seemed fair that the Board of the Admiralty make some provision for all who served the Crown.
During his career overseeing the Navy, Samuel Pepys set standards for supplying his Majesty’s warships and establishing professional standards for ship’s Pursers (supply officers). If a word can be possibly mispronounced, a sailor will find a way to do it. “Purser” was soon transmogrified into “Pusser” by the jolly tars who lapped up their daily “tot” of rum with gusto. Actually too much gusto. By the 1740’s, drunkenness at sea was a serious problem. Admiral Edward Vernon came up with a solution. He cut the daily ration of rum with water, lime or lemon juice, and sugar. It stretched supplies of alcohol, and helped to combat scurvy. The admiral liked to wear a grogram cloak in dirty weather. His nickname was “Old Grog,” and this new concoction was soon named after him.
In 1970, after 315 years, the Admiralty decided that daily rum rations at sea and nuclear weapons did not mix, so the issuing of Grog was discontinued. The semi-public company that made the product shut down for business since its only customer had ceased buying its product. In 1979, Charles Tobias obtained permission from the British government to revive the company. He bought the original navy recipe and—most importantly—the original wooden stills that had been used since time immemorial.
Pusser’s Rum is distilled from molasses made from sugar cane grown in the Demerara River valley in Guyana. Although aged for three years, Pusser’s gets added flavor from the wooden pot stills used during production. The result is a taste of history that cannot be equaled. Unlike many other commercial rums, sugar, or other additives are not used. This gives Pusser’s the ability to stand up to any ingredient in a mixed drink, although why one would experiment with its taste is beyond this writer’s understanding. Aside from drinking it “neat” (straight), the only proper way to consume Pusser’s is in grog—the way Admiral Vernon intended. Two parts water, one part rum, raw, brown cane sugar, and a dash of unsweetened lime juice will do the trick. After a few of these you might feel like looking for the nearest “Press Gang” and running away to sea.
As part of the original deal with the British government, Charles Tobias insisted that a generous slice of the company’s profits go to charity, specifically to The Royal Naval Benevolent Trust, more popularly known as “The Sailor’s Fund.” Historically funded from involuntary donations out of enlisted men’s pay, it cares for indigent ex-servicemen and their families. With every drink you can comfort yourself that you are helping deserving veterans.
I urge all Brethren to try a bottle of Pusser’s. If you like rum already, you’ll never buy another brand. If you’ve never tried rum before, you may become a convert. Finally, you’ll be helping someone who needs your support. Even though they sailed up the Chesapeake in 1814 and burned the White House, isn’t it time to let bygones be bygones? Fraternally yours, and “Bottoms Up!”