In the early 1800’s, there wasn’t any way to determine the specific percentage of alcohol in high spirits, such as rum or gin. They were famous amongst troops on land and sea.
Gunpowder, as well as spirits, was one of their allies in battle. And they worked together to create an even deadlier combination. In these early days, the volume of alcohol in a spirit was measured the following way: mix gunpowder with the spirit, and place it under a magnifying glass in direct sunlight. If the mixture was ignited instantly, it was ‘proof’. However, if it didn’t, the volume was too low. And if it went of with a ‘bang’ – it was ‘overproof’. Easy.
The spirits also kept the gunpowder explosive, and in case of spillage, protected if from being made unusable by water. This is why gunpowder was always stored right next to gin barrels.
In the following years, a dude by the name of Bartholomew Sykes invented a hydrometer. His scale measured 100% proof just over 57% volume of alcohol.
The navy, of course, had their own agenda, and conducted their own tests. They measured their ‘on board’ spirits ‘the old way’ and then with the Sykes’ hydrometer. It came down to 95.5 on the scale, which equated (we won’t bother you with the math here) to 54.5 % alc./vol. Nevertheless, in today’s industry, the minimum concentration required for a gin to be defined as navy strength gin remained 57 % alc./vol. defined by Sykes. Who knows, when things start to roll at Luftbremzer Distillery, maybe we will also produce our own navy strength gin version.
Now that the origin of this name is clear, we can go and relax with a cooled down glass of Luftbremzer gin, amongst friends, hoping we’ll be as cool and as brave as those navy dudes.