Black Tot Day – Navy Rum Splice Off

BlackTotDay31st July 2016 will mark the 46th Aniversary of Black Tot Day.  31st July 1970 was the final day a “daily tot” of Navy Rum was given to British Royal Navy Sailors and personnel.

The ration was originally introduced not as rum but as beer and not just a pint but a gallon or 8 pints!

No wonder there were sea shanties about Drunken Sailors, such as this

“What shall we do with a drunken sailor?
What shall we do with a drunken sailor?
What shall we do with a drunken sailor?
Early in the morning?
Way-hay, up she rises
Way-hay, up she rises
Way-hay, up she rises
Early in the morning

Put him in the long boat ’til he’s sober

Pull out the bung and wet him all over

Put him in the scuppers with the deck pump on him

Heave him by the leg in a runnin’ bowlin’

Tie him to the taffrail when she’s yard-arm under”

Over time the ration evolved.  Storing so much beer aboard ship took up a lot of space, which could be used for other more profitable cargo.  It also went bad very quickly causing sickness on board.  In 1655 a half pint ration of rum was introduced and quickly gained popularity with sailors.  Not surprisingly with half a pint of rum inside them and little else other than meagre food rations – drunkenness on board navy vessels became an increasing problem.

In 1740 Admiral Edward Vernon aka “Old Grog” demanded that all rum rations must beVernon diluted to the ratio of 1 part rum to 4 parts water and a little lemon or lime juice added, if available to ward off Scurvy.  The ration was divided into two daily servings.  This diluted rum concoction became known as Grog.  Vernon’s nickname “Old Grog” is believed to be as a result of his fondness for Grogram coats.

In 1824 the size of the rum ration was once again called into question.  Indiscipline and insubordination by inebriated sailors continued and the rum ration was duly halved again to a quarter of a pint.

In 1850 calls were made to remove the rum ration all together.  In the end the tot was once again halved to an eigth of a pint a day.  This meant sailors received only one tot per day.  In 1881 officers had their ration removed and in 1918 warrant officers no longer were entitled to a their daily tot.

On December 17, 1969 the Admiralty Board issued a written answer to a question from the MP for Woolwich East, Christopher Mayhew advising that “The Admiralty Board concludes that the rum issue is no longer compatible with the high standards of efficiency required now that the individual’s tasks in ships are concerned with complex, and often delicate, machinery and systems on the correct functioning of which people’s lives may depend”. A debate in the House of Commons on the evening of January 28, 1970, now referred to as the ‘Great Rum Debate’, started by James Wellbeloved, who believed that the ration should not be removed. The debate lasted an hour and 15 minutes and closed at 10:29pm with a decision that the rum ration was no longer appropriate.

On July 31 at 11am (6 bells in the fornoon) the final rum ration was issued in the Royal British Navy.  From that day forward the anniversary of 31 July has become known as Black Tot Day.

So, how is best too celebrate such an important event in the Navys and rums past? Well it would seem only logical to me to celebrate with a tot of Navy Rum.  So let us see what is available.

Black Tot Last Consignment British Navy Rum

Black TotThis is the authentic Navy Rum as issued aboard Navy Vessels circa 1970.  For more information see Black Tot webite.  This piece of history has been beautifully bottled at 54.3% abv and comes with a Tot cup, similar to those used in the days of daily rum rations, a wooden display case, a rum ration card and a book about the history of Black Tot, written by rum expert Dave Broom.  Unsurprisingly the price tag of even a “tot” of this rum which can also be found as a 50ml miniature, will mean for many they will look for an alternative to raise their glass with this Black Tot Day!

However, do not despair as other variations on British Navy Rum are available.  Whilst they might not be 100% bona vide examples, most are more than acceptable for usage on Black Tot Day.

Lamb’s Navy Rum

Lamb's Navy Rum review by the fat rum pirateArguably the most recognisable rum on this list.  Especially in the UK (and perhaps Canada).  A mainstay of pubs and clubs the length and breadth of England.  This is the rum you will get 99.9% of the time if you ask for dark rum.

Quite where it gets the “Genuine Navy Rum” claim I’m not so sure as I cannot find any conclusive evidence that Lamb’s was ever issued aboard a British Navy ship which is what the bottle alludes too.

Whilst not the best rum on this list, in my humble opinion it is easy to find and due to its sweetness won’t cause anyone to many problems if asked to down a tot.  Unlike our next rum on the list………

Ancient Mariner Navy Rum

Ancient Mariner Navy Rum CaroniThe eye catching presentation of the Ancient Mariner is equalled by the historic rum held within this 50cl bottle.

A true Overproof (54%)  Navy Rum.  Ancient Mariner was produced to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubille and was released in 2011.  Sourced to be as accurate to the Original Navy Rum as possible, it may come as a surprise to many rum conniseurs that the Hebridean Liquor Company have bottled up a 16 year old Caroni rum.  A rum that will put hairs on the chest of any would be sailor!

Pusser’s 15 Year Old

Pussers 15 Years Nelsons Blood review by the fat rum pirateA bit of a Red Herring this, if I’m being 100% honest.  Pusser’s 15 Year Old unlike the other Pusser’s rums is not made to the same recipe as the Original Navy Rum.  It is a 100% Demerara Rum from the Port Morant still at DDL.  It is significantly more aged than regular Pusser’s and gives a more refined flavour.

Personally whilst it looks very Naval and I certainly wouldn’t turn down a tot of it on Black Tot Day.  It wouldn’t be my first choice.  It’s simply just a little bit too posh for my liking……it’s bottled at only 40% as well.

Wood’s 100 Old Navy Rum

Woods 100Another popular and relatively inexpensive Demerara rum.  Woods Navy Rum is another rum which I cannot find evidence of ever being issued aboard Navy ships……..

However, it offers a better naval experience than Lamb’s as it is a 57% ABV Overpoof Rum.  Despite its proof this is a very sweet and highly enjoyable mixer.  Taken as a tot this will burn quite a bit but again it’ll do a good job.  In the UK this is pretty widely available in most Supermarkets.  Probably the best Navy Rum you’ll find unless you can find a specialist wine or spirits merchant.

Pusser’s Gunpowder Rum

rum_pus1Don’t be alarmed.  Despite the new name and the new Black Presentation this is still the good stuff.

Although Pusser’s revamped their line up in 2014 it is only now that the old 54.5% ABV Blue Label rums are going out of circulation and being replaced by the Black “Gundpowder” labels.  Different label same juice. No worries!

To create an “authentic” grog you can also get Pusser’s Grog Mix a syrupy lime flavoured concentrate which is certainly an acquired taste!

But not so the rum.  Available now as both 54.5 and 40% ABV the original mix of Trini and Demerara rums are the best Navy Rums around.  Truly exceptional.  For Black Tot Day a tot of the warming 54.5% Gunpowder Rum is where it’s at!  Excellent stuff! Available easily online.

Other notables mentions are Skipper Rum (an unremarkable nautically themed Demerara – worth a mention as it is easy to find in Sainsbury’s for example) and whilst not particularly Naval Smith & Cross Jamaica Rum does offer an Overproof example at least.

Splice the mainbrace!

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