In the last two months I wrote a number of posts on Navy rum. I discussed the Black Tot brand, bottled from last stocks of stored Navy rum as a commercial venture about 10 years ago and sold around the world. I mentioned Pusser’s rum, the only one that claims to follow the Navy recipe used before the rum ration ended in the U.K. in 1970.
I discussed as well various comments opining on the components of the blend used. Clearly, the Royal Navy sourced the rum from different places via a long-time broker and its suppliers, but it seems a solera-type blending system at the Deptford navy yard outside London, in place by the later 1800s, produced a complex blend.
The idea was it seems not so much to produce a connoisseur’s drink, something ostensibly at odds with the practical, even hard-edged ethos of the Navy ratings, but a drink that would hold its flavour when diluted with water. Ratings took the drink diluted 2:1, petty ranks could take it neat. Still, the long development of the drink probably encouraged output of an attractive flavour.
Even without intending it this kind of result insensibly would have resulted; this is the case in fact with many long-established products, they end by being good through a thousand small adjustments over time: Fuller’s beers, say.
Tastings of the 1960s Navy rum via Black Tot online reviews suggest a strong, dry chocolate flavour with complex overtones of fruit, spice, oils.
A credible source I documented stated in the 1960s the rum blend was Guyana, Trinidad, and 10% Aussie or Natal (South Africa).
Given though in the 1930s a witness in Parliament stated the rum was a blend of “Empire rums”, including Jamaica when price permitted, I decided to go about doing my own blend using Guyana rum as the base. Most sources agree Guyana rum was the base of the navy blend, at least in the 20th century.
I made three blends: one a combination of Myers Planter’s Punch rum (all-Guyana with an evident pot still impact), Cockspur rum (light golden from Barbados), and Screech, a rum marketed originally in Newfoundland that is probably from Jamaica. The Screech label states only Caribbean rums are used but it has a Jamaican taste, IMO. All these rums were probably at most a few years old.
The second was the blend above but in different proportions, and with two older rums added: Admiral Rodney Extra Old (St. Lucia) and Westerhall Vintage (Grenada), used for additional complexity and age. The third blend was the same as No. 2 but in different proportions again.
I found the flavour of each excellent, after tinkering to get each right. The blending really did something, the result was better IMO than each on its own, not just the taste but the texture. It’s odd how each rum might finish short or spirity on its own yet the blend acquired length and softness.
At a dinner, I asked a friend who likes beer and whiskey but hasn’t much experience with rum to blind-taste the first and second blends (the no. 2 only of the second) and I included Pusser’s rum as well. Pusser’s is apparently blended from Guyana and Trinidad rums only but from different stills. Demerara Distillers Ltd. in Guyana is famous for its numerous stills, of which some are very old including a couple built from a greenwood of the area no longer available.
The Guyana-Trinidad blend is substantially what the RN was using in the 1960s, as reported above. Pusser’s is at least three years old by all reports I have read, so roughly of the average age of my first blend mentioned, as I estimated it.
My guest chose my second blend as his favourite, he said the taste was deeper and better than the others. I feel my second blend matches up to some Navy rum in its history because the solera at Deptford (mostly destroyed by German bombing in WW II, incidentally) would have imparted some long-aged notes.
The Pusser’s is very good certainly, and was his second choice. Pusser’s has that slight rubber note good pot still rum should have, but wreathed in a molasses-like sweetness, and well, it’s just a good taste. My first blend showed some of the grassy notes of younger Demerara pot still, but was still nice and perhaps a good example of younger Navy rum in its day.
I think I got close to the Navy tradition for each of my blends. They are IMO at least as good as Pusser’s while being somewhat different. I hadn’t the advantage too to marry the blends in wood, or even in vat for a while which may have improved the mix. They just sat in the bottles for a few weeks. But they were very nice all the same.