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Sunday, 1 August 2010

Celebrating The Dark Days

Occasionally here on Caskstrength we venture into other spirits, as seen a few months ago when National Absinthe Day was observed by our cousins across the Atlantic. We also featured a brief history of rum and some of the more interesting aged bottlings on the market.

As many of you rum aficionados will know, the 31st of July has a dark and unfortunate significance in the world of rum. In fact, 2010 marks the 40th anniversary of what is known as Black Tot Day - the fateful day when legislation forced an end to the daily issue of British naval rum to our sailors. It was seen as simply an outdated custom, given the fact that the modern fighting fleets functioned on a greater degree of computer control and having a load of tipsy sailors in charge of potentially lethal arsenal of warheads at the touch of a button might have dire consequences. Shame. So as the last tot was issued on HMS Belfast, the remaining stocks of Royal Navy rum was effectively impounded and placed in bond, seemingly never to see the light of day again. Until now that is.

Speciality Drinks, headed by Sukhinder Singh managed to painstakingly track down all of the remaining naval rum stocks - some stored in stone flagons and the rest in traditional firkin barrels. The rum they discovered had taken on a spectacular quality, a proportion of it dated from the 1940's, possessing a wonderfully rich character.
Their next challenge was to produce a marriage of the rums - the origins of which could be traced back to Guyana, Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad.

So, 40 years to the day in which the last rum tot was drained from its copper drinking vessel by an inevitably distraught sailor, the rum - now bottled as Black Tot was re-launched on HMS Belfast, (now a floating museum) and we got to sample a little piece of liquid history.

At 11.30am, after a short tour of the lower decks of the Belfast, the Bosun gathered the assembled guests with the shrill blast on his pipe and the order of "Up Spirits!" and the rum was duly measured out, while the splendid (and more than able shipmate) Mr Dave Broom regaled us with a few historical naval stories. Rather than cut the rum down with water to a traditional tot measure (effectively an 1/8 of a pint) we dived straight in for a full on 'gulper'.... Permission to taste sir!!!

Black Tot - Last Consignment - British Royal Naval Rum - 54.3%

An initial earthiness, followed by thick polish notes, mahogany furniture, some burnt caramel and then creamy fudge. It's powerful, intense and certainly easy to lose yourself. One of the richest noses to a rum we've discovered.

Peppery woody notes blend effortlessly with a slight waxiness, then into a rich demerera sweetness. At first it smothers the tongue with a silkiness, but then bites you with its firey ABV- this is a rum which has to be respected. Given time in the glass, a note of Camp coffee develops, with a seriously spicy undertone giving an extra level of complexity. Pretty extraordinary.

The lingering notes of sweetened Arabica coffee remain on the palate and you're in for a very lengthy finish indeed.

This rum reaches a new level in the spirit's heritage and is aimed at the super premium end of the market- but coupled with its inevitably high price (£600) you are drinking a true piece of naval history, which is unlikely to ever be repeated again- not unless we return to the traditional ways of sailing the high seas. until then...'GENTLEMEN....SPLICE THE MAINBRACE AND STANDFAST THE HOLY GHOST!!'