A Ex-Sailor Remembers the Rum Ration

I had a series a while back on the tradition of Navy rum, specifically the British Royal Navy “rum ration”. Strong rum was offered daily to ratings and other non-officers on ship until July 31,1970 (“Black Tot” day).

I described the handling of the rum – its receipt from Caribbean ports, aging in special vats, and blending at Deptford, London – in this post.

When in France recently staying at a hotel in Arras, a group arrived in tour buses from Britain, visiting the “fields” (les champs) as the many war memorial sites are termed.

In the evening they convened at the bar around big glasses of lager. Chatting with one man, somehow the topic of rum came up.

I told him of my interest in the Naval rum ration. I met the right person as he had been a R.N. sailor in the late 1960s, and remembered the ration well.

He described the rum as dark, viscous (almost like molasses, he said) and hearty in flavour. He said some men foresook the ration for a cash payment, I think it was 3d., but most took the drink, in his recollection.

It had to be diluted with water, except petty officers were not required to do this. Even diluted the effect was plenty strong still, he emphasized.

He said he still likes rum, and buys one or two types that are similar, but not exactly the same as what he recalled from his Navy days. Unfortunately I didn’t get the details as the group suddenly left as a bolt, for dinner in town.

For him it was just a casual thing, this memory – even as the stock of men who remember these long-past days is ever-declining.

The bottle below is a prime expression of Demerara rum, from Guyana. Naval rum by my researches always had a good measure of Demerara, or in the heyday certainly. It is indeed hearty, with an oily undertone long aging doesn’t quite efface.

These oils and other “congeners”, as distillers say, are left in to confer much of the character. Single malt scotch, tequila, brandy, all share this trait among other traditional drinks. It derives from the older way these are distilled, either by batch in pot stills, or in more modern column stills adapted to similar purpose.

There is a smoky note and some cocoa from the weathered wood of barrels and warehouses, the aforesaid molasses, and finally a taste all its own.






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