Something a bit different today: I’m delighted to announce that our sister company Speciality Drinks Ltd has just launched their first proprietary rum brand – it’s called Black Tot, and it’s a bit special.
Black Tot is the last consignment of official Royal Navy Rum, which Speciality Drinks have found, bought, married and bottled for sale to the general public for the first (and last) time. The rum was stored in small stone flagons for forty years, ever since the abolition of the daily tot in July 1970.
We had the launch last Wednesday on HMS Belfast, which was superb – we got a tour hosted by ex-servicemen who’d served on the ship many years ago, before a ceremony re-creating the rationing out of the tot itself and a very interesting talk by Dave Broom. Even the weather was great, although as a result I was a tad warm in my blazer (photos of me dripping in the officer’s mess not included below). Here’s a few highlights from the press release, followed by my tasting notes.
“Black Tot – Last Consignment is a unique rum that represents over 300 years of Royal Naval Tradition. It is effectively, a piece of history. Since 1970 the rum has sat silently in ceramic flagons in bonded warehouses, and was only brought out for State occasions and Royal weddings [Editor’s Note – The rum was served at Andy & Fergie’s wedding, bless ‘em].
… The name ‘Black Tot’ stems from July 31st 1970 when a 300 year-old Royal Naval tradition ended at precisely 6 bells in the forenoon watch (11am) when the last rum ration was issued aboard ships of the British Royal Navy – a day to be forever remembered as Black Tot Day. Forty years on and, as a mark of respect to this wonderful tradition, Speciality Drinks have decided to release the last remaining Royal Naval rum stocks from 1970. This last consignment of the original rum has been bottled from the original imperial gallon stone flagons into which it has been filled and sealed under HM Customs & Excise supervision in December 1970.”
A word on the packaging before we crack on with the tasting notes. I’m not one to be swayed by fancy packaging (much), but I do like the rather handsome Black Tot box – not just because it’s REALLY heavy, but because it contains a book on rum and naval tradition written especially for Black Tot by Dave Broom; and a ½ gill silver-lined copper tot cup, so you can re-create the rum ration all to yourself (although in this case, turning your measure into ‘grog’ with double the amount of water is probably not the best idea – it’s far too good for that).
Anyway, enough waffling – here’s the official tasting notes, written by Dave Broom:
The Colour – Bright, yet deep mahogany cut with flashes of ruby.
The Nose – Initial treacle notes precede dark chocolate with super-ripe black fruits, muscovado sugar and walnuts. A drop of water releases notes of black banana, liquorice root, tamarind paste with and exotic edge of balsamic.
The Palate – Starts off thick and sweet, becoming light and oaky before a burst of cassis / crème de mûres then espresso & cacao.
The Finish – Very long with light scented wood, black fruits and cigar tobacco.
The Strength – Remarkably, after 40 years Black Tot will be introduced at 54.3% (94.2° proof), almost exactly original issuing strength.
..and here’s my rather less concise and unbiased notes. Apologies in advance for the excessive verbiage and the slightly embarrassingly gushing floweriness of these descriptions – yes, I got a bit carried away: but what a ride it was…
Nose: Big hit of treacle and baked over-ripe banana with brown sugar, then a rubbery note like bicycle inner tubes. Develops very noticeable coffee notes: first freshly ground, then freshly-brewed coffee, as rich, jammy damson and plum notes reveal themselves. Another minute or so in the glass and now it’s very high cocoa dark bitter chocolate aromas appearing in the foreground. The earlier notes of fruit, treacle, coffee etc are still present, but extra layers of aroma keep being added, like more instruments joining into a musical theme. Liquorice toffee. Black cherry yoghurt. Treacle fudge. Dried oak timbers. But despite the developing complexity and an array of little glissandos (bitter orange here, super-concentrated cassis there, long-aged balsamic vinegar dragging her skirts across the stage), despite the nuances and changes of emphasis, the dominant harmonies remain. It’s not necessarily an easy ride, but the depth and structure of this aroma is formidable. A challenging, but captivating bouquet. In a word: Pungent.
Palate: It’s the fruit that hits first for me, with those damsons and kirsch-soaked bitter dark cherries, then the cocoa, swiftly followed by the treacle and coffee. These elements build a fortress on a bed of solid oak, then send the troops out to perform a wardance that completely overwhelms the tastebuds. As before, there are cameos by the other players from the nose, with dark, bitter chocolate and some sweeter fruit playing a larger part as the mid palate fades towards the finish. In a word: Immense.
Finish: The baked bananas are back. Hints of sandalwood and resin, then a whirl of cappuccino and damson jam, with cocoa and cinnamon lurking. Very long, becoming drying towards the death. In a word: Multi-faceted.
Comment: Remarkable stuff. Tantalising, really – was it always like this? Surely not. Has the headspace of air in those gallon flagons over forty years created this beautiful thing, or was it the marrying of stock from three different locations during the assemblage of Black Tot? Either way, I find it difficult to believe that enlisted men ever had it this good – what on earth were they giving the officers?!