hist-brewing: Naval Brewing

Dennis Walker ansel at hom.net
Sat May 17 11:09:29 PDT 1997

Barnacle Bill wrote:
> I went round the replica of the Endevour last Saturday. (Captain Cook's
> ship for his first expedition.)  As a passing comment one of the guides
> said that they brewed beer whilst they were on the ship.  Is this
> correct?   Looking at the galley it would have been a hell of a job at
> sea.

	Ansel to all, Greetings

	I found an explanation of this in _The Brewing Industry in 
England, 1700-1830_, Peter Mathias, Cambridge University Press, 1959.
	In discussing the growth of public contract brewing, and 
specifically brewing for the Admiralty, Mathias cites records of 
the Admiralty Victualling Office during the eighteenth century to show 
that the Admiralty was experimenting with various types of 
"beer concentrate", "malt spirits", or "inspissated Juice of Malt" which 
would allow ships to extend their cruising range without resupply of 
beer: "The introduction of malt spirits into the Victualling was intended 
to enable H.M.Ships employed at home service to lengthen their Cruizes, 
they not being able to stow a proportion of Beer answerable to their 
other provisions." There is a lengthy discussion of the economics of 
resupplying the fleets, difficulty in finding sufficient merchant 
vessels, cost of foreign purchase, etc.
	On 8 January of 1772, Henry Pelham, Secretary to the Admiralty 
Commissioners of Victualling, conducted an experiment in which he 
'simmered' both beer wort and already-fermented beer in double boilers 
until they were 'thick and viscid'. He described to the Victualling 
Commissioners how beer might be made at sea from 'inspissated Juice of 
Malt': "this Juice might...be afterwards made into Beer at Sea without 
any other Trouble than the mixing of it with the necessary quantity of 
warm water and letting it stand to acquire a proper spirit and 
	On 16 January 1772 the Admiralty ordered six weeks' supply be 
prepared for Captain Cooks' sloops Resolution and Adventure, then fitting 
out 'for remote parts'. In October of that year, more essences, of spruce 
and molasses, were taken on board the Endeavour and the Penguin fitting 
out for the Falklands.
	Captain Cook himself wrote: "it was probable this inspissated 
juice would keep at sea, and, if so, a supply of beer might be had at any 
time..." Beer was brewed from it in New Zealand, Kamchatka, and the west 
coast of America. Cook claimed that it was one of the best anti-scurvy 
medicines available. (Cook, _Voyages towards the South Pole_, 1777).
	As Mathias details, the significance of all this from the 
Admiralty's point of view was that acceptable beer could be brewed on 
board ship at a considerable savings in space, by using water obtained 
locally. Larger scale trials continued and in 1779 the Admiralty ordered 
'essence of wort' for normal issue to all H.M. ships on channel or 
foreign service. Captains were to distribute it at the rate of 1/4 pound 
of essence in lieu of one gallon of Beer, "which will save the Beer, 
preserve the health of the Men and not increase the expence of 
victualling them". 
	Unfortunately, two years later the Commissioners of Victualling 
had to admit that their grand experiment had failed: "We find from 
repeated trials that the said essence, though universally acknowledged to 
be extremely salutary for the purposes recommended [ie, as an 
anti-scorbutic] will not be accepted on board H.M.Ships but as a 
	The provision of essence was scaled back to medicinal ration 
proportions. The Admiralty ultimately solved its supply/volume/alcohol 
ration problems by going to the 'grog' system fans of the Hornblower 
novels will be familiar with, whereby alcohol in the concentrated form of 
rum was carried on board and served diluted with water.
	Dennis Walker

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