by Darcy O'Neil on November 11, 2013
(First published in December 2006) While I was reading my morning newspaper, I came across a drink from 1943 called the Ortona cocktail. This drink was created during World War II by the Royal Canadian Regiment while they were fighting German forces to take control of a strategic junction near Ortona, Italy. Two days before the regiments 60th birthday, they fought a considerably difficult battle with a great loss of life. But being war the regimental brass decided that it was still proper to celebrate the 60th anniversary. They mixed up a cocktail made of dark rum, brown sugar and water and served it in white china mugs found in a partly destroyed farmhouse.
One of the few drugs that was permitted during war was alcohol. Sometimes referred to as the politically incorrect term “Dutch courage” for the courage acquired from drinking liquor. Anyway, the Canadian forces adopted many traditions from the British military and one of them was providing a soldier with a “tot” of rum before battle. A Canadian “tot” is 2 oz of over-proof rum, but is generally served with an equal part of water. The “tot” can be a variable volume depending on circumstances. On rare occasions the rum was served neat, usually before battle, if you were injured or after a harrowing event. The rum was dark, alcoholic and hot, but it had the desired effect and very few soldiers turned down the offer of a tot.
Obviously, British Navy grog is one of the most popular military cocktails and the Ortona Cocktail is the first Canadian military cocktail that I’ve come across. The recipe for the Ortona Cocktail requires one ounce of dark rum, one ounce of water and one teaspoon of brown sugar. As to what type of rum was used, that is unknown, but military rum is usually over proof and dark and sometimes referred to as thick. For this article I made the cocktail using a Canadian bottled rum that most people have heard of, Newfoundland Screech. Screech is a 3 year old Jamaican rum that has a bit of a kick. It tends to be fairly hot and can be an acquired taste. I personally don’t find it as bad as people think it is, but that is part of the lore about Screech.
The only thing I did not have was a white china mug, but a standard cup worked. When I first tried the Ortona it actually tasted quite good, not surprising though, because an Old Fashion is similar. Sometimes simple cocktails are better than the more complicated brethren. Please note that this cocktail doesn’t use any ice because finding ice in a war zone, circa 1943, would have been just about impossible. If you like rum I would recommend you try this cocktail and if you really want, you can add ice.