July 31, 1970 was among the darkest days in British naval history. Something greater than a battle, greater than a war, was lost forever. It was Black Tot Day, and by act of the House of Commons, the daily rum ration given to the sailors was no more. “Up Spirits!”, the official bos’n pipe to signal the ration, was heard in the Royal Navy for the last time.
For more than 300 years, the Royal Navy had issued its sailors a daily “tot” of rum. Life on the sea was hard, if not deadly, and rum was one of the few comforts afforded the Jack Tars, as the men were known. Following the conquest of Jamaica in 1655, the British replaced their daily ration of beer or brandy with rum.
Initially, this was given to the men straight — half a pint per man per day — but that was deemed excessive. In 1740, Admiral Edward Vernon, nicknamed “Old Grog” after the grogram coat he favored, prescribed that the rum be cut with water and lime juice. For reasons unknown at the time, Vernon’s men were healthier than the rest of the navy, so the drink, dubbed “grog” in his honor, spread throughout the fleet. The ration was doled out by the purser (bastardized to “pusser”), and it became accepted that the daily tot of grog was made with pusser’s rum. Simple enough.
As so it was until Black Tot Day. From Trafalgar to 1970, the same wooden stills produced the same rum under private contract to the Admiralty. If you weren’t part of the club, you couldn’t get the stuff. Then, the club ceased to be. Fortunately, there are smart, if not opportunistic, people in this world like Charles Tobias. In 1979, Tobias secured not only the recipe for pusser’s rum, he — and this is the really good part — secured the original stills. If the importance of that statement doesn’t jump out at you, let me put it another way: these were the exact same stills that make Admiral Nelson’s rum. A sip of Pusser’s is a drink of naval history.
History aside, I challenge you to this: crack a bottle of Pusser’s and take a wiff. If you don’t say “wow”, see a doctor. Then, take a sip. Taste the undernotes of vanilla and pineapple, and as you do, keep this in mind — this isn’t a flavored or spiced rum. All the notes, all the notes that you get come solely from the distillation and aging process. What you’re smelling and tasting is the history and majesty of this truly sublime product. Sugarcane, wood, and history — three ingredients to delight the palate, sooth the soul, and offer the closest thing possible to time travel. All in one sip.
Yes, it really is that good.
Esoterica: Before dinner each day, Royal Navy officers toast the reigning monarch and then offer the toast of the day. Depending upon the day of the week, the toasts are as follows:
Monday: Our ships at sea.
Tuesday: Our men.
Thursday: A bloody war and quick promotion.
Friday: A willing soul and sea room.
Saturday: Sweethearts and wives, may they never meet.
Sunday: Absent friends and those at sea.