Black Tot “Last Consignment” British Royal Navy Rum – 54.3%
Background: July 31st, 1970 is known as Black Tot Day, marking the abolishment of the British Royal Navy’s several hundred year tradition of a daily rum ration. While the sailors daily allowance had been radically reduced over time before it was finally outlawed, it’s worth noting that sailors were still consuming a couple ounces of high proof spirit each day during the age of nuclear submarines.
The Brits began colonizing Caribbean territories in the first half of the 17th century, promptly planting sugar cane and amassing great fortunes on the backs of slave labor. They discovered that another valuable commodity could be created using the waste product (molasses) from the crystallization process of sugar making and, hence, rum as we know it today was born. (Please note: this is a dramatic over simplification)
The Navy sourced massive quantities of rum during their period of occupation to bring aboard their ships. Presumably enough barrels to sustain a crew for its voyage would have been purchased at the source of production when respective ships docked, but eventually an expansive vatting system was created to ensure consistency across all ships.
Rum stocks from different regions would be blended together in massive open topped wooden vats that were all connected. To support the crown’s economy, rum would have primarily been purchased from British territories such as Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad and Barbados, all of whom had their own production processes, stills, and styles to create a distinct flavor. In times of war or when enough product was not available from the usual sources, the Royal Navy has been known to purchase rum from Martinique, Cuba, Australia and other domains.
The majority of rum purchased would likely have been unaged “new make,” the most economical option, although the Royal Navy did pay a premium to obtain Port Mourant distillate for its unique characteristic. The blend evolved over time depending on factors such as price, availability, and trends (i.e. it was determined in the mid 20th century that Jamaican rum was not to the liking of sailors and omitted). Other conditions contributing to the blend changing over time include advancements in distillation methods and technology, distillery consolidation/shutterings, war, politics, and other social and economical events.
Stats: “Last Consignment” refers to the final stocks remaining after the last rations were issued. Thousands of imperial gallons remained in the vats, so they were transferred to stone flagons to be preserved and stored in a warehouse, finally seeing the light of day 40 years later when the surplus was auctioned off. Black Tot “Last Consignment” is the bottling of those 1970 reserves, blended with small amounts of Navy rum from 1950s flagons that were also acquired. 3,000 bottles were produced at issuing strength, 54.3% ABV and are sold for around $800 a bottle. They come in a nice wooden box with copper “half gill” (a 2 oz handled cup, the size of the last issuing ration), and a nice booklet with history on the British Royal Navy.
While we don’t assuredly know all the distillates and proportions that are in this blend, it is suggested the final proportion of rum administered to the vats was 60% Demerara, 30% Trinidad, and 10% from multiple islands including Barbados and Australia.
Conditions: Enjoyed neat over several sessions, drank from a ½ gill (~2 oz) copper tin.
Nose: Molasses, brown sugar, rubber raft, an earthy green note. Dirt. Tobacco. Dates. Worn Leather. Automotive parts store, like a blend of old grease and new rubber floor mats. Also get new carpet. The air in Lubbock, TX (oil refineries, cattle and cotton plants). Crackling campfire. Cinnamon sugar pretzel. Eucalyptus. Disinfectant. Grape cough syrup. Heat is non-existent.
Mouth: Super rich with funky notes of overripe fruits and rotting vegetables. Sweet chocolate banana milk. Grape juice. Green grassiness. Mild rubber raft. Briny vegetable broth. All manner of dried fruit. Pipe tobacco. Slight coffee bitterness. Mouthfeel is silky, almost like a light simple syrup. Leaves a mild lingering burn in the throat but the proof is super manageable. Pool toy remains in the mouth long after completion, along with cocoa beans, some menthol cigarette that turns to an overfull ashtray and slightly past expiration pineapple juice.
Final Thoughts: Wow! Such a roller coaster of flavors. Wonderful balance of rich and savory and a little weird at a dangerously sippable proof. Complex, ever-evolving character. The influence of Caroni from Trinidad and Port Mourant from Guyana is unmistakable but this is so well integrated and unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. Truly a special specimen.
My Rating: 5/5
1 – I don’t want this in my mouth ever again
2 – Best used for mixing
3 – Decent sipper
4 – Very enjoyable
5 – I’m buying a back up bottle