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  • Writer's pictureHugo Mylecharane

Booze, Navy & Slang

Alright folks, the cat’s out of the bag so it’s time to pipe down, pull your finger out, and show your true colours.

Don’t worry A Local Beer hasn’t lost our collective marbles. We are, however, channelling our inner sailor. You see those phrases above originated on the docks and ships of The Royal Navy and other seafaring enterprises. Today, A Local Beer is revealing the nautical origins of many of our words and sayings about alcohol. So let’s try and do what school didn’t do for me, entertain you and teach you something useful!

Three sheets to the wind.

Definition: To be in a state of significant inebriation.

Example: Chris Cefala had so many Pacific Paradises last night he was giggling like a schoolgirl! He definitely was three sheets to the wind.

When I told my partner that our next blog post was going to be on naval history, she couldn’t work out what belly buttons had to do with beer. Thankfully we are all on the same page, so let’s get ready to learn some sailing terminology! On a ship, ‘sheets’ refer to the ropes that attach to the sails of a ship. If these ropes or ‘sheets’ are too loose the ship veers around wildly (just like Chris after too many Friday night beers!). There used to be a sliding scale of how drunk you were; so you could be one, two or three sheets to the wind, but it was the later that stuck firm.

Navy strength

Definition: a spirit that is bottled at exactly 57% ABV (alcohol by volume)

Example: When Nick Campbell enters his local independent bottle-shop he is drawn to the Navy Strength gins - until he reads the price tag and heads back to the ‘bargain bins.’

For much of history, it was common practice for sailors to be paid part of their wage in spirits. Before the 1800’s though there was no way to know exactly how strong this alcohol was, and so naturally sailors were worried about being ‘underpaid’ in booze with a low alcohol volume. Their solution was a simple field test where they would mix a small sample of the spirit with gunpowder to form a paste and try to ignite it. Only if the spirit was over a certain strength, (today we know that is 57% ABV or 100 Proof) would the powder light*. This was a way of ‘proving’ that spirits were at or above a certain strength and hence how the terms ‘proof’ and ‘navy strength’ entered our vocabulary.

*A Local Beer does not recommend trying this method at your local bottle-o.


Definition: Spirits (originally rum) mixed with water. Informally in Australia, it refers to any alcoholic beverage.

Example: Sam Harris has quite a few Local Beer XPAs in the fridge so we would wager that he’ll be getting on the grog tonight. Watch out Cremorne!

Alrighty, so we are all learning things today! Did you know there is a type of fabric called grogram? (I certainly didn’t!). My friends often say I should get some new material so maybe this counts? Anyway, grogram is a coarse fabric made of silk, often combined with mohair or wool and stiffened with gum (sounds comfortable). In the early 1700s this one dude Admiral Vernon, an officer of the British Royal Navy, was so fond of wearing a coat made of this fabric that he gained the nickname 'Old Grogram.' Vernon was also the man who supervised the dilution of the rum that was rationed out to the sailors. Along the way, these rations became known as grog and later it would refer to any strong spirit. Today in Australia, the word has evolved to refer to any alcoholic beverage.

Bootleg Alcohol

Definition: Alcoholic liquor unlawfully made, sold, or transported, without registration or payment of taxes.

Example: I heard Claudia Mitchell went blind when she drank some bootleg alcohol from a bald man she met on Bridge Road, Richmond.

Thank God we had alcohol to get us through this pandemic! Can you imagine what it would have been like had we been in prohibition? Well, that is what the United States was battling 100 years ago, a combination of the Spanish Flu and no alcohol. I’m not sure I would have survived quite frankly. Now I know you are all law-abiding respectful citizens and certainly not involved in the purchase of any illegally made goods (cough cough, Bali DVDs, cough) so it might be hard to imagine the crafty methods used by many to smuggle illegal alcohol during this time. A common method used by many, especially sailors, was to transport small amounts of alcohol in the tops of their boots. ‘Bootlegging’ soon evolved to refer to the entire process of brewing/ distilling, transporting, and selling of this booze. This period of prohibition led to the creation and increased influence of criminal cartels like the Italian Mafia. I think then it’s only fair to reason that less alcohol restriction by our government today will reduce all organised crime in the country. Unfortunately, the Liquor and Gambling Commissions in this country do not share my view.

Wow! what a journey and all without squeezing a cheap seamen joke in there somewhere. Stay tuned for next week’s post and responsibly enjoy some A Local Beer until then!

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