Navy Strength Gin is quite simply, one of the best ideas ever. Sure, it wasn’t borne out of necessarily good times, but sometimes the end justifies the means…
Let’s go back to the 18th century. Gin is immensely popular in the United Kingdom and the Royal Navy actually legislates that a certain quantity of gin must be on board every vessel as they tootle about the globe colonising most corners, twirling their moustaches, being rude to the natives and possibly catching the odd bout of scurvy or malaria on the way.
Gin was thought to be panacea to many things encountered by those sailing the high seas. The gimlet was invented by a doctor in the Royal Navy to ward off scurvy – a simple drink: gin to fortify and Roses Lime cordial to immunize. Genius, and delicious to boot. And it seemed only logical for those prone to the ravages of malaria to mix their quinine, the basis of tonic water, with gin for the same purposes. And thus, the gin and tonic was born.
But (not unsurprisingly) there were nefarious activities aboard these vessels, and on the docks, and several of the more gin-savvy officers of the Royal Navy began to suspect their supplies of gin were being diluted by avaricious distillers or dodgy wholesale merchants.
Sub-standard gin was not acceptable (these officers had their priorities dead right). As it turned out, often the gin was stored below deck adjacent to the gunpowder and some savvy officers began to realize a simple fact: if the gin spilt onto the gunpowder and the gunpowder smoked or failed to light at all, it was diluted gin. Only if the gunpowder still lit was the gin at least 114 proof (or as we know it today, 57% ABV).
And so it became known as Navy Strength. After a time the officers of the navy used this simple test to ensure they were getting gin of the proper strength. In fact, it was gunpowder proof.