In an ironic twist of fate, the man who built a career on his image as a carefree bum is now one of the busiest people in the cocktail world. Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, who will be making appearances Thursday through Saturday at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale, is simultaneously promoting his sixth book, a new cocktail app, and an ingenious bar tool … all while planning the opening of his first bar this fall in New Orleans.
Berry will also be a whirlwind of activity this week at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale, where he’ll be making his ninth appearance at the annual Polynesian Pop extravaganza. His symposiums on cocktails and culture are always the hottest ticket at the event, and this year’s presentation (“Tiki’s Dark Ages: From Fern Bars To Rebirth”) was sold out months in advance.
The Navy Grog (aka Yeoman’s Grog, Captain’s Grog, et al.) “was one of the most popular drinks until the Mai Tai came along,” Berry said during a symposium at The Hukilau in June 2013. “It’s a lovely combination of three rums, two fruit juices, a little spice, a little syrup.” But just as much as its taste, it’s distinguished by a cone of ice protruding from the glass, neatly encasing a straw. The cocktail emerged in the early 1940s and was a mainstay of Tiki bars well into the 1970s. But as mixology in general, and Tiki cocktails in particular, devolved during the ensuing decades, the ice cone disappeared.
When Berry began gathering recipes for his first book, this technique had been long forgotten. As far as Berry knew, only the historic Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale was still serving a drink with a traditional ice cone (a descendant of the Navy Grog called the Yeoman’s Grog) when he put together Grog Log, released in 1998.
Some 15 years and five books later, Berry teamed up with Cocktail Kingdom to create a metal mold that perfectly re-creates a vintage ice cone. The finished product works not only in the Navy Grog, but any drink that fits in an 8-ounce rocks glass as well as a larger Mai Tai glass.
It goes without saying that The Atomic Grog is a big fan of any traditional “grog,” and the Yeoman’s Grog at The Mai-Kai is one of the best. But where exactly does the term “grog” come from? And what’s the story behind the Yeoman’s Grog?
In the British Navy, it became tradition in the mid-1600s to grant seamen a daily ration of rum, often replacing the traditional beer, wine, arrack and brandy. In 1731, an official Navy declaration was made granting a daily ration of wine or rum while on foreign stations. The Cocktail Wonk blog features several deep dives into the history of rum in the British Navy.
In 1740, Admiral Edward Vernon – nicknamed “Old Grog” because of the cloak made of grogram (a silk fabric) that he always wore – sought to cut down on rampant drunkenness. So he ordered what by then had become the official daily rum ration of an imperial half-pint (10 U.S. ounces) be diluted with four parts water.
Some years later, when it was believed that citrus fruit prevented scurvy, lime juice was added to the mix along with sugar to improve the flavor. The world’s first proper tropical drink was born, named the “Grog” after Old Grog himself. In the James Beard Award winning book Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum and the Cult of Tiki (2016), Martin and Rebecca Cate pay tribute to a Grog from the 1700s with a recipe featuring 1/2 ounce lime juice, 1/2 ounce Demerara syrup, and 2 ounces of rum. Shake with cubed or cracked ice and strain into an ice-filled old-fashioned glass.
* More on Navy rum: When men were men, and sailors drank Daiquiris
Roughly 200 years later, when tropical drinks were all the rage in the mid-century, so were “Grogs.” There was the Colonial Grog from Tiki bar pioneer Don the Beachcomber, Voodoo Grog from Don’s competitor Trader Vic, the Captain’s Grog from the Captain’s Inn (Long Beach, Calif.), and many versions of the Coffee Grog.
But the most famous was easily the Navy Grog, popularized by Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber) and Victor Bergeron (aka Trader Vic), its name and flavor profile paying tribute to the original quaffed on the high seas. Beach is credited with serving it first, dedicating the drink “to the gallant men of the American Navy.” The influence and reach of this classic cannot be understated. Just ask Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, the author and Tiki cocktail archaeologist who dug up most of the aforementioned recipes and published them in his six seminal books and app.
In the introduction to Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them (2014), the influential writer talks about the life-changing moment he had 30 years earlier, “sitting in a restaurant I couldn’t afford while sipping a drink I didn’t understand. The restaurant was Trader Vic’s, the drink a Navy Grog.” The self-described “Tiki nerd” became obsessed with finding out why he liked the drink so much and figuring out where it came from. The rest is Tiki revival history.
But Berry was just one of many famous (and infamous) figures who were smitten with the Navy Grog. It was believed to be one of Frank Sinatra’s favorite drinks (even though ‘Ol Blue Eyes preferred Bourbon). President Richard Nixon was a fan, sneaking away from the White House to quaff a few after hours at Trader Vic’s in the Capitol Hilton. Not coincidentally, Nixon was a Navy lieutenant who served in the South Pacific. In 2003, record producer Phil Spector enjoyed several Navy Grogs at the Beverly Hills Trader Vic’s the night he murdered actress Lana Clarkson. Court testimony by a Vic’s bartender included reference to the drink’s robust 3 ounces of rum.
Don the Beachcomber’s version also features 3 ounces of rum, and both employ grapefruit and lime juices. The only major difference is the sweetener: Donn Beach preferred his signature honey mix, while Trader Vic used an allspice syrup. Trader Vic’s restaurants use a proprietary “Navy Grog Concentrate,” but Berry has revealed (and taste tests confirm) that this is indeed just a fancy syrup.
Which of the two classics is best depends on who you ask. They’re roughly equal in our estimation. So we checked The Grogalizer, the Tiki home-bartending site that features ratings of some 500 cocktail recipes from Berry and Cate, plus more. With 81 votes, Don the Beachcomber’s version rates 8.2 (out of 10), while Trader Vic’s version scores 7.5 on 22 votes.