Things have been pretty crazy lately, despite the fact that I took last week off work and went to visit my parents, who live about 5 hours away from me. I had a very relaxing time in some ways, because I could revert to non-work hours and go to bed and get up whenever I wanted (turns out I still get up early – coffee has a strong call!) and was able to eat my mom’s delicious meals instead of having to cook for myself. (Thanks Mom!) But, I am also working very hard on my next project, so it feels like I could use a few more hours per day, especially now that I’m back to work at my day job.
I’ll talk about my next project in more detail once I’ve got a bit more done, but it takes place during the Belle Époque, mostly in France and Spain, so I’m taking a bit of a departure from the 1700s Caribbean of Blackbeard’s time.
For now, though, I’ll go back to Blackbeard’s world. I did a lot of research while writing Red Sky in the Morning, not only for the historical facts and events of Blackbeard’s life, but also for details of the day-to-day life of a pirate. It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that pirates liked to drink, but some of the beverages they enjoyed might astonish/disgust you. Or intrigue you, if you have guts of iron.
Arrack: a very strong beverage made of fermented tropical fruits, often coconut. Before you start thinking that this sounds all right, maybe like a more potent Coconut Malibu, pirates also added grains, usually rice, to the fermentation process, and saps from palm trees or sugar cane. I imagine that this one could potentially be tasty, with the right proportions of fruit and the ideal amount of fermentation time, but considering the questionable containers it was likely brewed in at times, I’m betting the quality varied a lot.
Black Strap: as the name suggests, molasses was one of the key ingredients. Rum and chowder beer (made by boiling tree pitch) were mixed in water, with molasses. After it fermented, more molasses would be added. I imagine this drink being almost chewable, but I guess it could have been watered down.
Kill-Devil Rum: if that name isn’t enough to imply the drink’s villainous qualities, knowing that it could be made with nearly available type of alcohol might give it an extra boost of power to disgust. (Or intrigue, again. Your call.) It was a mixture of beer and any type of liquor, and raw eggs were added to, um, improve the texture. It could also be called rumfustian or bitter wine, but I am quite partial to the title of kill-devil rum.
Chocolate: Surprise! I threw in a good one, for fun. Made with cocoa and water and served hot, chocolate was probably not that much different from the way we make it today. Woodes Rogers apparently made a batch of hot chocolate for his crew as part of their battle preparations, since he had no ‘spiritous liquor’ to give them. Woodes Rogers is a character in Red Sky, so I found this tidbit pretty interesting.
Tobacco Rum: I think the name pretty much sums it up, and picturing little floating specks of tobacco in the rum makes me want to think of something else, preferably anything that wouldn’t have the texture of dirty sink water. Apparently, though, the tobacco gave the rum a nice, earthy, smoky flavour. Unless the tobacco was stale, in which case it was bitter. Doesn’t everybody want nice stale chunks of tobacco floating in their drink? Let’s hope they filtered it out first.
Madeira: a wine that was particularly prized by pirates in the Caribbean region, because it survived long sea voyages. Unlike many beverages, the flavour of madeira improved when stored in hot temperatures. This would have been a treat for pirates – in fact, when Blackbeard captured a ship with a plentiful cargo of madeira, he and his crew went on days-long bender, not stopping until it was all gone. Hopefully they didn’t try to cure their hangovers with tobacco rum.
So, if you ever decide to plan a pirate themed party, you know what drinks to make! I found most of this information in a wonderful book called The Pirate Primer: Mastering the Language of Swashbucklers and Rogues by George Choundas. Aside from information on drinks and currency and whatnot, it is also full of fun pirate lingo.
It seems fitting to close with a pirate farewell, so I wish you all fair winds and following seas. Or, in other words, good luck and have a great week.