Rum Review: Black Tot
On July 31, 1970 at 11:00 am, the last rum ration was issued aboard the ships of the Royal Navy, thus ending a 300 year-old tradition. This day would be come to be known as Black Tot Day.
While the last rum rations had already been given out, there was the matter of the left over rum to deal with, so the remaining rum stocks were transferred from their warehouses in Deptford, Gosport and Devonport to a government bonded warehouse. Here the large oak marrying casks were emptied into wicker-clad imperial gallon stone flagons, and there they sat for nearly forty years, save the occasional pour at state dinners and royal weddings.
Naval records indicate the rum was imported to England from Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad in oak casks by E.D & F. Man & Co., rum merchants to the Royal Navy since 1784. While the precise age is unknown, records indicate this rum was likely distilled in the 1940’s.
Fast forward nearly forty years, and Specialty Drinks Ltd acquires the remaining stock. Each flagon had a slightly different character, so they blended the flagons and bottled the entire lot at 94.2 proof (those stone flagons did a good job of securing their cargo—almost no alcohol was lost in four decades). About six thousand bottles were released for sale in 2010 to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of Black Tot Day at a retail price of ~$1,000 per bottle.
Given the rarity of the rum, the Black Tot holds a very unique place in the market, so whether or not it’s worth the price is a matter of much debate in rum circles. Does one buy a bottle as a piece of naval history or as a rum? Do you drink it or will it to your heirs? These are the questions you get into when you talk about the Black Tot.
I was recently offered a one-ounce taste of the Black Tot by a good friend who has decided to buy one bottle for posterity and another bottle for enjoyment. At about $40/ounce, I would say he is a good friend indeed!
Here are my thoughts on the brief tasting:
The color is a dark mahogany with copper highlights. The viscosity is significant—a swirl generates copious slow moving legs on the tasting glass. The nose is extremely different than any other rum I’ve encountered. Black-strap molasses leads, but is quickly followed by a dark smoke. This is truly a unique beast!
The first sip yields an immediate dose of oak and smoked maple syrup. The mouth feel is really interesting and again quite different than other aged rums I’ve tasted. The coating on my tongue and palate is long-lasting and thorough. I can only guess that the effect is due to extended oak contact.
The flavors are evocative of a London dock style rum, but one that was left in a dank warehouse for forty years or so. After the oak and smoke die down, I can detect plum and black currant. There is also a very odd undertone that is reminiscent of soy sauce. After the dark soy, the fruit continues with a hint of tangelo, after which the spice notes kick in. Black pepper and a hint of allspice are present here. The long finish is dominated by the smoke and oak, however, with a prominent note of cigar tobacco.
I feel really privileged to have tasted the Black Tot, and I can’t thank my friend enough for the taste. That said, I’m not a fan of this rum on its own merits. Is it an extremely cool piece of naval and rum history? The answer to that question is of course a resounding “yes”. Conversely, if I close my eyes and pretend this is a brand new rum on the market and ask myself if I like it, the answer would have to be “not so much”.
The reason to buy this rum is to own a piece of history, and for that reason, I fully support its purchase. I would even advocate for buying a taste at a rum bar. As an important piece of history, any rum aficionado owes it to themselves to taste it. A pour of the Tot will cost you a pretty penny, but it will be less than 90% of the full bottle price. If you’re in the San Francisco area, you can buy a taste at Smuggler’s Cove. If you’re looking for a full bottle, buy online here.
On to the scores:
- Appearance 1/1
- Aroma 1.25/2
- Mouth feel .5/1
- Taste 2.75/4
- Aftertaste 1.5/2
- Total 7/10
Have you had a chance to taste the Black Tot? What did you think? Do you think you would have enjoyed it as much if it was tasted blind along side other rums? Please share your comments below.