Enjoy The Maritime Tradition of Black Tot Rum

Mitch Wilson, Black Tot Global Brand Ambassador
Mitch Wilson, Black Tot Global Brand Ambassador

What do you know about the history of rum?  Where it was made, what it was made from, why it is popular with sailors?  I learned this and more from an online 50th-anniversary tasting of Black Tot rum with Mitch Wilson, the Black Tot Global Brand Ambassador.

History of Rum and the Navy

Starting in the 1700s, rum was carried aboard Navy ships so that the sailors had something to drink that would not make them sick.  In 1731 the first official naval rum rations were offered across the British fleet.  The amount was around half a pint of overproof rum.  It was watered down before being served and was known as “grog” starting 1740 after a British naval Vice-Admiral Edward Vernon, who the sailors named “Old Grog” because on deck in rough weather he wore a cloak made of a coarse weatherproof fabric called grogram. The amount you were given to drink was known as a Tot. Tot is an old British term for a small amount of a strong alcoholic drink such as whisky or brandy.

Black Tot is the rum that was served to sailors in the Royal Canadian Navy up till March 30, 1972.  March 30, 2022 was the 50th anniversary from that date.  The Black Tot company was formed as they were able to gather the remaining rum after 1972 and preserve the blend from that last consignment, plus begin to make their own rum blends for sale. 

Did you know that rum is not necessarily made by one distiller and bottled for sale?  There is a long tradition of blending rums from different countries to make a particular style for a buyer, e.g. the Royal Canadian Navy. The largest blending house is in Amsterdam.

Rum is associated with sugar cane production in the Caribbean, where the Royal British Navy would bring the sugar made at plantations back to Britain.  The byproduct of sugar production is molasses.  Molasses can be fermented and then distilled in pot or column still to produce rum.  So where there were sugar cane plantations there were rum distilleries.  Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad, and Guyana were some of the countries producing sugar and rum. Mitch noted that the rums from these different countries have different characters.  Some are richer and heavier, while others are lighter, etc.  A blending house, like the one I mentioned in Amsterdam, can take different proportions of rum from different distilleries from different countries to make a rum blend.  

As part of this seminar, we did get a chance to try individual rum blending components, followed by the blended rum made from it, plus we tasted the Black Tot 50th Anniversary Rum and the Black Tot Last Consignment Rum (for the Royal Canadian Navy).  These rums you can drink neat or on ice.  Not meant to be mixed in a cocktail with something like Coca Cola.  There are other rums that are meant for mixing.

Black Tot Finest Caribbean Rum Final Blend

Rum from four different distilleries, in 3 different countries, went into making Black Tot Finest Caribbean Rum Final Blend;  Rum from Barbados, Guyana, and Jamaica.  The components are normally not sold to the public. They are meant to be blended and the blend is sold, but for this seminar, we were given the chance to taste the components so that we could identify them in the final blend. Many of the rums are aged in the tropics, which is much hotter than if the rums were aged in Amsterdam or Britain.  I think Mitch noted that up to 10% of the rum in barrels can be lost each year due to evaporation, also known as the “angel’s share”. I believe that this would concentrate the flavours. 

I tasted each of these rums neat and then with a few drops of water, which I thought may open up the rum’s aromas and flavours more, such as happens when you add water to Scotch whisky.

Black Tot Rum samples
Black Tot Rum samples

Barbados Component

Mitch noted that Barbados rum tends to be balanced and easygoing.  This particular rum was a lighter amber colour and had a light sweet nose with caramel, sweet spice, and oak aromas.  Light body, a bit spicy and semi-sweet.  Caramel and orange, plus a touch of oak on the finish.   Adding water made the rum much more aromatic.  I picked up nutmeg and coconut aromas.  It was still semi-sweet, light body, and had caramel and orange flavours.

Guyana Component

Mitch noted that Guyana rum tends to be richer and heavier in style. This rum had a deeper mahogany colour.  Light intensity, deep aromas of vanilla, caramel, molasses and citrus, plus some nutmeg spice. Light body, round and very peppery.  Lightly sweet.  Chocolate and molasses flavours and a touch of oak.  Adding water did not change the aromas, but the rum became smoother, less peppery and drier.  The flavours were not as intense.

Jamaica Component

Mitch noted that Jamaican rums tend to be fermented longer, making lots of esters, which are volatile components. Reminds me a bit of Scotch whisky or cognac with their estery aromas. This rum was a light lemon colour. Light intensity nose with citrus, butterscotch and oak aromas.  Dry, light-body, smooth and not as flavourful.  Light oak and citrus flavours.  But adding water made this rum quite aromatic with floral, lemon, vanilla, and butterscotch aromas.  The flavour profile did not change.

The Final Blend

The final blend for Black Tot Finest Caribbean Rum is:

  • 35%, 5-year Barbados pot/column still,
  • 20% unaged Guyana pot/column still,
  • 40% 3-5 year Guyana pot/column still, and
  • 5% 3-year high ester Jamaica pot still.

The blend was a medium amber in colour.  A sweet nose with light caramel and chocolate aromas.  Lighter body and is very smooth.  Medium pepperiness.  A touch of woodiness toward the finish.  I picked up the ester component from Jamaica.  With a touch of water, added nutmeg to the aroma profile.  The rum still was light-bodied, smooth and dry.  The pepperiness lessened and had more caramel flavour.  I really enjoyed this rum blend.

Black Tot 50th Anniversary Rum

Black Tot 50th Anniversary Rum
Black Tot 50th Anniversary Rum

Only 5000 bottles of this rum were made. The blend of this rum is:

  • 28% 12-year Demerara Distillers Savalle column still (Demerara is from Guyana)
  • 27% 9-year Demerara Distillers Savalle column still
  • 6% 10-year Demerara Distillers Port Mourant wooden pot still
  • 15% 11-year Barbados pot/column still
  • 11% 10-year Trinidad Distillers column still
  • 4% 23-year Trinidad Caroni column still
  • 8% 9-year Jamaica Hampden pot still
  • 0.5% world blend original Royal Navy blend

This rum had a deeper amber colour.  Light aromas, sweet aromas of caramel.  Dry, light-body, with caramel and chocolate flavours.  Quite peppery and gets hot mid-palate.  A woody finish.  Adding a few drops of water made the aromas quite pronounced; caramel, raisins, oranges, and petrol.  Medium body, round with medium-minus pepperiness.  Smooth with caramel and a touch of citrus flavour to start then chocolate and woodiness on the finish.  

Black Tot Last Consignment Rum

Black Tot Last Consignment Rum
Black Tot Last Consignment Rum

This rum was released in 2010 and the blend is from the Caribbean, continuously blended in wooden vats from the early 1800s through to 1970.  It has a deeper mahogany colour.  Light molasses, black pepper and oak aromas.  Dry, light body and very peppery.  Chocolate, oak, toast, and citrus flavours.  A touch of sweetness on the palate. With some water added I detected chocolate and smoky/peaty aromas. Dry and light body, but not as peppery.  Toast and light caramel flavours.

A true honour to taste this rum and my gratitude to all the Canadian sailors that had their daily tot while they sailed and fought to keep us safe from harm.

Where Can I Buy These Rums?

The individual components are not for sale, but you can purchase Black Tot Finest Caribbean Rum, Black Tot 50th Anniversary Rum, and Black Tot Last Consignment Rum, with this last rum being in very short supply.  In the UK it is about £750 a bottle. The Black Tot Finest Caribbean Rum sells in BC for $199.99 a bottle and is in 11 BC Liquor stores. Black Tot Finest Caribbean Rum is available at Marquis Wine Cellars in downtown Vancouver and sells for $96.87.   I am not sure where in BC the Last Consignment Rum can be purchased, but if I find out, I will update my article.

Author: mywinepal
Drink Good Wine. That is my motto and I really want to help you drink good wine. What is good wine? That can be a different thing for each people. Food also loves wine so I also cover food and wine pairings, restaurant reviews, and world travel. Enjoy life with me. MyWinePal was started by Karl Kliparchuk, WSET. I spent many years with the South World Wine Society as the President and then cellar master. I love to travel around the world, visiting wine regions and sharing my passion for food & wine with you. Come live vicariously through me, and enjoy all my recommended wines.