They actually asked the medical officers in the field which of the two was better:
Camp, 1st Division, 23d November 1855.The doctors, as you can see, mostly went for rum. How many would dare say that today?
Medical officers of the staff and regimental medical officers in charge of regiments, are requested to give their opinion respecting the proposed change of serving out porter three days in the week, instead of the present ration of rum, as required by the accompanying letter (see Lord Arthur Hay's letter, 22nd November), which is to be returned.
(Signed) J. E. Williams,
Deputy Inspector General.
Dr. Sail, 1st Class Staff Surgeon, recommends old rum, and not porter.
Dr. Skelton, Coldstream Guards, recommends porter, if of good quality, which it has not recently been.
G. E. Blenkins, Battalion Surgeon, Grenadier Guards, old rum during the winter season.
Win. Thornton, Surgeon, 9th Regiment, rum as rations ; a limited portion of porter to be sold to the troops.
Dr. Barry, Surgeon, 13th Regiment, decidedly in favour of rum.
T. J. Atkinson, Assistant Surgeon, in charge of 31st Regiment, good old rum much preferable in cold weather to some porter.
W. Deeble, Surgeon, 56th Regiment, good old rum during the winter months.
"Report of the Commissioners Appointed to Inquire into the Regulations Affecting the Sanitary Condition of the Army, the Organization of Military Hospitals, and the Treatment of the Wounded, Appendix LXXIX", 1858 , page 210.
But, no matter what they were supplied with officially, the resourceful British soldiers knew how to get hold of hard liquor:
11th March 1855.
Proceedings of a board of medical officers assembled by order of Field Marshal Lord Raglan, G.C.B., Commanding in Chief, to inquire into and report on the sanitary condition of the army encamped before Sebastopol.
1st, Diet and Water. — So far as the Board have been able to ascertain, the rations at present furnished to the troops by the Commissariat appear ample, more than sufficient in quantity, and good in quality; indeed, so far as the quantity is concerned, it is well known that a great waste of food takes place,—the biscuit and salt meat is not only thrown away, but frequently sold to our allies for spirits, which, owing to the absence of any camp police, cannot be prevented. This may be attributable to two causes, a distaste or dislike for food which affords little variety, and the well-known penchant of the British soldier for spirits.
"Report of the Commissioners Appointed to Inquire into the Regulations Affecting the Sanitary Condition of the Army, the Organization of Military Hospitals, and the Treatment of the Wounded, Appendix LXXIX", 1858 , page 119.
"the well-known penchant of the British soldier for spirits" How wonderfully put.
Now I come to think of it, shouldn't they have been drinking Russian Stout? The Crimea was part of Russia after all. And what better to keep out the cold?