A Day of Mourning

On this day, forty-seven years ago, the last daily ration of rum was served to sailors in Her Majesty’s Navy. Then, sailors conducted mock funerals, wore black mourning bands and ceremonial Burials at Sea, to lament the loss of the rum ration. Today, around the world, rum lovers will mark the occasion by issuing themselves a tot or two of wonderful rum… and a lucky few will even enjoy a taste of the remnants of Her Majesty’s Rum which has been rebottled and sold as Black Tot The Last Consignment, a fine 40+ year old rum which is available at the Royal sum of $800 for a 700ml bottle. Not many people know the history of this rum, and many believe other brands are the authentic rum.

A bit of Clever marketing, coupled with the fact that they bottle a nice selection of fine rums, gives many consumers the impression that Pusser’s Rum is THE Authentic Navy rum that was issued for at least part of the over 300 years of Royal Navy rum drinking tradition. It is, however only an impression.  Pusser’s is actually a Royal Navy style rum inspired by the Admiralty’s blending recipe  last used when the Royal Navy discontinued its daily ration on 31 July 1970.. Today's Pusser's brand, to my knowledge, has never been issued to Royal Navy sailors.  What makes their statement particularly curious is their hint that they may actually know the blending recipe last used in 1970. That may be true, but due to the mysterious nature of the actual recipe produced by only one supplier between 1784 and 1970, who never made the recipe public, it is more likely that Pusser’s claim is deliberately ambiguous making it, simply, a nice bit of marketing.

As an aside, I’ll  point out that even in 1986, Pusser’s was not issued to the Royal Navy upon the order to Splice the Mainbrace  At least in the ship I was serving, it was Lamb’s Navy Rum that was poured to celebrate Prince Andrew’s wedding. But if neither Pusser’s nor Lamb’s is the actual rum from the daily tot, what was?

In 1794, James Man, a barrel maker and sugar broker from London obtained the contract to supply the Royal Navy with Rum. Man founded the company which held the exclusive contract until 1970. That company, ED & F Man, produced all of the Rum for Navy consumption for 186 years. Although ED & F Man’s contract ended with the cessation of the daily ration, there was still rum left in warehouses in Deptford, Gosport, and Devonport.  The ED & F Man supplied Royal Navy Rum had been kept in soleras in each of the three warehouses. In December of 1970 those soleras were emptied into stone flagons and transferred to government Bonded Warehouses under the supervision of Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise Officials. In the subsequent years, some of the rum was used by the Crown for special occasions, but much of it remained undisturbed until 2010 when Specialty Drinks, Ltd. purchased all of the remaining stock.

Specialty Drinks discovered that the rum from the three distinct soleras were very different from each other.  By blending the rum from the three different soleras they produced a unique marque better than any of its parts. The result is estimated to have been aged in excess of 40 years. Although the unknown blends of rum aging in three distinct soleras, means that any age statement is little more than a guess, “40 year old” is not as absurd description of the quality of the Rum. Because the basic rum is no longer being produced/blended,  it’s probably impossible to recreate the remaining product making Black Tot The Last Consignment, a truly unique and special treat. 

Whether or not you’re lucky enough to commemorate the day with a taste of The Black Tot, just issue yourself a healthy measure and remember the long history of rum at sea. In a nod to the Royal Navy, you might want to make at least two toasts…  

To:  “The Queen” (in the Navy it is tradition to remain seated while toasting The Queen)
and, because it’s Monday…
to: “Our Ships at Sea”