The history of Navy Strength Gin

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As our July cocktail box contains some Navy Strength Gin, we take a look at the history behind the bottle.

You may have noticed one of our July cocktail box bottlings is a little stronger this month, with Tarquin’s Cornish Navy Seadog Gin racking up at 57% ABV.

If you’ve come across the term Navy Strength when browsing the gin shelves, you may have wondered what the naval connection is.

The term Navy Strength dates back to the 18th century when legislation stated that a certain quality of gin must be on board every vessel, as this was believed to help towards illnesses including scurvy and malaria.

57% was the strength that the Navy demanded when buying spirits from purveyors but, before the invention of the Sikes hydrometer in 1816,  there was no way to test if the gin they were receiving was of a higher ABV.

Often, gin was stored below deck adjacent to the gunpowder and sailors soon discovered a knack to discover if the gin was at the required strength.

If the gin spilt onto the gunpowder, only if the gin was 57% would the gunpowder still light. From this, a simple test was concocted - if the supplied gin could light gunpowder, the gin was ‘navy strength’.

Despite its 18th century origins, the term was not penned until much later by Plymouth Gin to remind drinkers that the brand was the official gin for the British Royal Navy.

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