Getting Screech’d In: A History of Kissing Cod in Newfoundland | AMA Travel

Getting Screech’d In: A History of Kissing Cod in Newfoundland

Travel to Newfoundland, and if you end up with the right Newfoundlander, in the right bar, you may become an honorary member of The Rock. It just takes someone screeching you in, which requires a poem, a dead fish, and a shot of rum named after the sound it inspires in its imbibers – screech.

Screech: Rum in Newfoundland?

Obviously, rum is not a natural export of Newfoundland, so how did it become not only a central feature of the country’s (admittedly unofficial) swearing in ceremony, but even the source of the ceremony’s name?

Well back in the day, Newfoundland and Jamaica were trading partners: Jamaica received cod from Newfoundland (which, in turn became Jamaica’s national dish of ackee and cod fish), and Newfoundland received rum in exchange. But there was something special about this rum: Specifically, it was shipped at a very high alcohol content – 140 proof, or 70%. This was so the alcohol could be diluted when it made landfall, making it so you could ship more rum in each trip.

However, given how lax the government was on ensuring spirits were market safe, the sailors were fine drinking it as it arrived. Which brings us to the name.

What’s in a name?

Now, it should be mentioned that the following story is mostly conjecture. However, it is shared widely enough that, while it’s likely not true, it is popular enough to have lived on.

The fable goes that American soldiers during WWII stopped in Newfoundland before they heading off to Europe, and, as you do, they visited the bars before they shipped out. On one such night, a visiting captain was drinking with a native Newfoundlander. The two cheers’d, and the Newfoundlander took a gulp of screech. The captain, trying to match his acquaintance’s bravery, took a straight shot of the 140 proof rum, and immediately shreiked in horror. This called forth a nearby general who asked, “What was that screech?” to which the Newfoundlander responded: “The screech? T’is the rum, me son.”

And so a legend, and ceremony, was born.

The Ceremony Itself

Step 1: The Poem

The ceremony has changed over several decades, but certain aspects remain consistent. The first is a short recitation, typically lead by a born Newfoundlander. There are variations, but a popular one goes:

From the waters of the Avalon, to the shores of Labrador, We’ve always stuck together, with a Rant and with a Roar. To those who’ve never been, soon they’ll understand, From coast to coast, we raise a toast, we love thee Newfoundland!

Step 2: Kissing the Fish

Next, the fish kiss. This is typically a frozen cod – however the more squeamish can kiss the bottom of a puffin plushie. This is to show an appreciation for the fish that was the economic engine of the area for centuries.

Step 3: The Question

Next, you are asked, in a thick Newfoundlander accent, “Is ye a Screecher?!” To which you must respond: “Deed I is, me old cock! And long may your big jib draw!” (This roughly translates from sailor to English as, “Indeed I am, old chum, and may there always be wind in your sails!”)

Taking the Shot

Finally, the prospective Newfoundlander must take a shot of screech. These days screech has been brought down to an acceptable 40% alcohol content – the same as most rum you can find today. Swallow, and know that, though once ye were a come-from-away, you stand as a proud and true Newfoundlander!

Screech Recipes

If you happen upon a bottle of screech for yourself and don’t wish to drink it as-is, feel free to add a little Coca-Cola to make it easier to down. We’ve also provided two recipes to… smoothen out the taste.

Metropolitan (take on a Cosmopolitan)
-2 oz Screech Rum
-2 oz Cranberry Juice
-½ oz of Orange Liqueur (Triple Sec or Cointreau)
-Juice of 1 lime
-Splash of club soda

Mix the rum, cranberry juice, orange liqueur, and lime over ice and shake together. Pour into a glass and top with a little club soda for effervescence and enjoy!

Muffled Screech 1 oz Screech
¼ oz Triple Sec or Grand Marnier
2 oz cream or milk

Fill a glass with ice, then pour – in order – the Screech, Triple Sec (or Grand Marnier), then cream (or milk).

About the Author
Caleb Caswell
Caleb Caswell is the digital copywriter for AMA Travel. When travelling, he enjoys not making plans and expanding his wardrobe. His top travel recommendation is trying Japan’s raw-chicken tataki. C’mon, live a little.