Black Tot Rum Tasting Notes

10 Comments on Black Tot Rum Tasting Notes

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.
Up Spirits! Black Tot Royal Naval Rum

Up Spirits! Black Tot Royal Naval Rum

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.” 

The Tot Ceremony on board HMS Belfast

The Tot Ceremony on board HMS Belfast

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…
A Grog Tub and one of the original rum flagons

A Grog Tub and one of the original rum flagons

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.
You can read more about Black Tot here on the official website.  If you want to buy one, click here.
Posted in Other Tasting Notes, Rum / Rhum


aw says:

There’s also a 5cl mini available:-

Steve Rush says:

It sounds like an amazing drop of rum!

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Brian Cook {ex RN Victualling CPO}. says:

Having served in the Royal Navy for many years and drawn a daily Tot of 95.5 Proof, rum, why is Black Tot rum not at regulation issue strength? Once in the sealed flagons the rum would not change.

Surely the value of original R.N. rum lay in retaining it in the original stone flagons? In your earlier press release, you said that the rum was being reblended. If this is the case, how can Black Tot rum be the original Royal Navy blend?

In The Times report, David Broom, stated that the blend of Navy Rum was achieved by accident. This is not correct, the blend was the formula preferred by the men. {See Hansard, 1933}.

In the late 1990’s the Ministry of Defence brought back a consignment of Army rum, which had been stored in Germany, for 40 years, during the Cold War.

Unlike Navy rum, rum for the Army was purchased by tender on the open market and kept in separate vats in the Admiralty victualling yards, where it was filled into identical 1 gallon flagons.

Do you have documentation to support your claim that this is original Royal Navy rum and not Army rum returned from Germany, in the late 1990’s?

I await your response with interest.

Tim F says:

Hi Brian,

Many thanks for your comment. Let me address your points individually:

1. The stoneware flagons and corks are slightly porous and the flagons were not filled to the brim, so only losing 0.2% abv from regulation strength over the course of forty years is pretty amazing in my opinion.

2. The ‘blend’ of Black Tot is an amalgamation of flagons of Navy rum that had already been blended in soleras. If you open ten bottles of Macallan 10yo and pour them into a bath, it’s still a bath of Macallan 10yo. If you pour a load of orange juice cartons together it’s still orange juice, and if you vat together a large quantity of flagons of original navy rum, it’s still original navy rum. Incidentally the rums from each flagon tasted different to each other, even the flagons from the same source, due to the passage of time and the interaction of the rum with the air in the flagons. They would be similar but not the same, but they would both be original navy rum.

Black Tot is an amalgamation of original navy Rum from three different soleras. All of those soleras were original Navy Rum, yet the rums themselves were slightly different, so in that sense there were three originals. Black Tot is a blend of all three.

With regard to keeping the rum in the flagons, those flagons were on sale for many years from their previous owners, but because of their size the prices were in the thousands and so they were almost unsellable as they were out of reach of all but the most wealthy.

3. I have spoken to Dave Broom about the Times article and he has kindly provided the following full explanation: “What I recall saying to the journalist was that the original blend was achieved by chance – ie it was due to a set of circumstances that various rums arrived in London and were then blended by Man to make the Naval style. He didn’t start from a position of saying he would like specific rums from the Caribbean, he used what was available. Chance or simply fortuitous timing.
I went on to say that once the formula was arrived at then blending as quality control started. In the book [that accompanies Black Tot – Ed.] I clearly state that the influence of the men’s tastes was taken into consideration – and specify that this resulted in the low percentage of higher ester Jamaican rums being used and the aversion to rums from Natal and Australia.”

4. Yes we have documentation.

Brian Cook {ex RN Victualling CPO}. says:

As an avid collector of Royal Navy memorabilia, especially rum items, I acquired 4 ‘Imperial Britsh Navy Rum’ flagons. Did you purchase similar flagons?

If so, 2 of my flagons are packed in a wooden case, marked ‘BIELEFELD’. Bielefeld was a British Royal Army Service Corps stores depot, in Germany, which closed in the 1990’s. Army rum stored in Germany, was shipped back to the UK, for disposal in the 1990’s.

Whilst I believe that you are acting in the good faith, I also believe that you may be mistaken, in believing that you purchased the last stocks of Royal Navy rum.

As to David Brooms comments that the Admiralty rum blend was created by accident, may I refer you to a statement by the First Lord of the Admiralty, at Westminster, on 2/3/1933. “Navy Rum, as issued to the Fleet, was blended in such proportions as long expeience had shown to produce the flavour preferred by the men.”

David Broom is correct when he says that Natal and Australian rums were not popular, but they were only used during WW2, when sustaining supplies was difficult.

You say that the price of your rum flagons had become almost unsellable “as they were out of the reach of all but the most wealthy.” Surely the cost of decanting, reblending and rebottling, only served to increase the pro rsta costs?

[…] in 2010 our sister company Speciality Drinks used the occasion to launch Black Tot, a rather tasty blend of original naval rum, and last year we held our own celebration with a rum […]

[…] To celebrate, we’re running a terrific prize draw; simply buy any two different full-size bottles of rum before 20 August from our selection – there’s more than 400 to choose from – and you’ll automatically be entered into a prize draw to win a bottle of Black Tot, made by blending the last consignment of Royal Naval rum, a bottle worth more than £600. To find out more about the prize, read our post here. […]

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