The U.S. Navy has been dry for a long time. The only occasion when American seafarers are allowed to enjoy any booze is on a “beer day,” which only happens if a ship has been out to sea for 45 continuous days without a port call. And beer days, instituted by former Secretary of the Navy Edward Hidalgo in 1980, aren’t as glorious as they sound: Each crew member is permitted two measly beers, and then it’s another 45 days before the next affair. It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing.
But the Brits are a different breed of drinker, for better or for worse. When stuck onboard a ship for weeks — maybe months — at a time, most British sailors would argue that a daily pint is essential to keeping the crew’s sanity and sense of comradery intact. Plus, pubs are a staple in every British community. So why would the Royal Navy’s largest aircraft carrier, which a crew of 1,600 calls their temporary home, be an exception?
In 2017, the British Royal Navy finished constructing the HMS Queen Elizabeth, a 65,000-ton goliath of a warship complete with a pub onboard. This pub, aptly named the Queen’s Head, is located in the warrant officers’ and senior rates’ mess area. A portrait of Elizabeth I overlooks the space, and an array of beers from Wiltshire-based Wadworth Brewery flow from the taps.
Among these beers is Swordfish Ale, which clocks in at 5 percent ABV and includes a splash of Navy Rum in its recipe — an ode to the quintessential maritime spirit. Also featured on the tap list is Carrier Ale, a low-ABV, sessionable ale brewed specifically for the ship’s commissioning. For every pint or bottle of Carrier Ale sold, Wadworth Brewery donates 5 pence to the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity.
“I know how important this is for any ship,” said the ship’s commanding officer, Commodore Jerry Kyd, seconds before cutting the ribbon at the Queen’s Head grand opening. “This has been delayed far longer than I had hoped. It’s a vital component. This is our home, and this is where you relax.”
So as we look back on the old days of scurvy, Navy strength gin, and Rose’s lime cordial, we raise a pint to the HMS Queen Elizabeth.
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