As I approached Adam Kanter’s Rum Bar and saw my name in lights (well chalk, actually) under “40 Years since Black Tot Day,” Sergeant Pepper began to run through my head.
“It was 40 years ago today
The Navy took the rum away.
But it’s never gone out of Style
Black Tot’s been around a while.”
A reverent group of aficionados including Robert Burr and Mike Streeter, the survivors of Adam’s excellent Rum on the River fest, gathered from round the country at the bar, and were so eager to sample the bottle of Black Tot, that they were prepared to listen to my disquisition on how Britannia had lost all pretence of ruling the waves once the Grog had stopped.
And then, carefully we stripped the wax from the bottle top and took out the cork, worried as one is at a mishap with a bottle costing close to a $1,000. Speciality Drinks had obligingly provided a more conventional stopper to replace the one designed to keep the rum for posterity.
This was genuine Navy rum, guaranteed to be at least forty years old. It had been matured and blended in wooden casks, to a formula chosen by an Admiralty committee, (membership of which was one of the most hotly contested postings in the Royal Navy). And then it was decanted into the large stone flagons intended to preserve its flavour before being dispensed daily at Spirits Up on ships around the globe. Speciality Drinks bought the lot at auction and bottled it, packaging it memorably and stylishly.
However, I have always defied conventional wisdom, that bottling spirits “freezes” the process. Those long chain molecules slowly break down and recombine in the bottle or flask, smoothing out the sharper edges of the spirit, bringing new complexities and subtleties, in this case to a strong rum whose flavour and aroma was designed to last dilution by 100 to 200% addition of water.
There was a touch of irony: W. C. Fields (Of British parentage) came from Philly and one of his catch phrases was “on the whole, I’d rather be in Philadelphia,” but he famously eschewed water because, he alleged, fish did unspeakable things in it.
But nonetheless, we added water, and as it was suspected, so it came to pass. Sniffing the bottle produced blissful smiles all around, as did judicious sipping by the assembled worshippers at the altar of Great God Grog.The molasses was there, but restrained, a faint hint of licorice, and then all the good things we associate with rum. In keeping with tradition, we tried it mixed with water, and, “Lo! A miracle!” It was like turning water into rum. The flavour and nose were enhanced if anything.
As a follow-up Adam dispensed a tot of Pussers to all participants in the ceremony, and even a miniature commemorative takeaway flask of Pussers. I wonder what it will taste like in forty years? Unless I’m pickled in the stuff, I suspect I will not be around for the experiment.