What do Pirates Drink?

Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of rum …
(Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson)

Pirates during the sixteenth and seventeenth century were famed for their drunken brawls and lively gatherings both on ship and on land. But what did pirates like to drink during the golden age of pirates?

According to most accounts, the principal beverage that pirates drank was rum, although ale (beer) was also served on most pirate ships. Ale was usually only available on shorter journeys or at the beginning of a long adventure because it would turn bad over time.

The reason for pirates’ infamous love of rum is more practical than hedonistic. In those times, pirates and legitimate sailors could be at sea for months at a time without hitting port. Water would quickly stagnate and so alcohol such as brandy, wine or rum would be added to both “disinfect” the water as well as hide the stale taste. Therefore, the water pirates and sailors drank would be mixed with alcohol.

Rum became a popular alcoholic drink to mix with water amongst English pirates and sailors once Jamaica, a successful rum producing country, was captured by the British Royal Navy in 1655. Being that brandy was a mainly French and Spanish commodity, it made sense for the British navy to switch from brandy to rum to avoid having to buy from the French and Spanish, with whom they were frequently in and out of war. Rum therefore became an evermore popular disguise for the taste of putrid water.