Review: Pusser’s 15 (2019) vs Ancient Mariner 16

While they’re both navy style rums (one more well known than the other), the Pusser’s 15 new blend comes exclusively from Guyana’s Diamond Distillery and the Ancient Mariner 16 is sourced from Trinidad’s Caroni Distillery which makes it quite special since it stopped production in 2002.

In the mid 1600s the British Navy discovered rum, “courtesy” to the West Indies and from 1731 was issuing rations of rum to their sailors on a daily basis (Thank you Matt from the CocktailWonk for the correction). While later on the rum ration (tot) was cut with water (+ optional lime and sugar) and the quantity diminished over time, there is one day that marks the end of Royal Navy rum ration – July 31st, 1970 – The Black Tot Day. In 1979 Charles Tobias managed to get the rights and the recipe for the navy tot blend and in 1980 he started selling it under the name of Pusser’s – slang for “purser”, the ship’s supply officer.

Their standard, the Pusser’s Gunpowder Proof, might arguably be the closest rum you’ll get to the original tot without breaking the bank. While Pusser’s 15 is still a navy style, it doesn’t follow the “Admiralty blend” and it aims to be a more premium refined version of what navy rum could be. The label of the new blend states that 15 year old is “heavily influenced by rum from the double wooden pot stills of Port Mourant, Guyana”.
The Port Mourant along with the Versailles single wooden pot still are unique in the world, being the only two working wooden pot stills in the world, both owned by Demerara Distillers Limited, Guyana. The DDL website states these pot stills were originally used to make the Demerara Navy Rums.

I mentioned “new blend” when talking about Pusser’s 15 so I’m going to touch on that a little bit. Pusser’s changed the blend and the presentation of the 15 year old in the latter part of the last year. While this seems just an improvement, it was done more out of necessity. The old blend had rums from Guyana and Trinidad (Angostura), but Angostura stopped selling their aged stock so Pusser’s had to switch to fully Guyanese – which is definitely better if you ask me. Also (unlike the old blend) this is claimed to have 0 sugar added and some online hydrometer tests back it up.
So Pusser’s 15 is a blend of 15 year old rums aged in charred oak barrels from Diamond Distillery, Guyana. Along the Port Mourant in the blend I believe there is some French Savalle Still distillate too in order make up for the lack of Angostura. Bottled at 40%

On the nose the Pusser’s 15 is sweet and dark, as expected – molasses would be the easiest way to describe it. The Port Mourant definitely comes through with sweet notes of liquorice. Coffee liqueur, figs, burnt vanilla pod and blackcurrant notes all come through almost at the same time. It’s rich and mouthwatering. Quite oaky with notes of rubber, cigars and baking spices as well.

On the palate the sweetness is dialed down and the bitterness goes up. There’s a creamy oaky mouthfeel to it. Raisins dipped in dark chocolate, the liquorice and cigar make a big comeback complemented by notes of leather and dark cacao. Some sweet fruits like strawberries in syrup and ripe pears followed by big caramel notes and some citrus to balance it. The 40% ABV makes this almost too easy to drink. Rich and warming, makes me wish I had a fireplace. The finish is quite long with oaky spices, and a slight anise flavour. A touch of charred wood too.

Caroni Distillery was estabilished in 1923 on the site of the old Caroni sugar factory in Trinidad and Tobago. Caroni could produce distinctively heavy rums and so it did until 2002 when Angostura Limited managed to buy 49% holding in Caroni’s Rum Division and closed them down. Not cool, eh? A few different bottlings marketed as navy style rums were released from Caroni’s remaining stocks and Ancient Mariner 16 would be one of them. This is a great joy for me as this is my very first Caroni – excitement.

I also reviewed Ancient Mariner 10 (Guyana) here.

The Ancient Mariner is part of a Scottish company called The Hebridean Liqueur Company. Unfortunately I don’t have much information on the bottling, but from what I could find apparently a sample of the original Royal Navy Rum Ration was used to faithfully recreate the Daily Tot and apparently this 16 year old Caroni fit the bill. I’m not sure where the ageing occured, or in what kind of barrels – I’ll assume it was the standard ex-Bourbon. Bottled at 54% ABV in a 50cl bottle.

On the nose, as soon as I opened the bottle a burst of candied raspberries flooded my nostrils, but the closer I got the more it got overwhelmed by a damp cardboard-like flavour. Earthy and floral notes come out as well, almost agricoleish. Black pepper and dust (?). Tobacco and brown sugar. Old oak and spices. Other seasoned rum drinkers would probably be better at pinpointing some of the specific Caroni flavours, but this is new and odd to me. I’m loving it and I want to taste it!

On the palate the Ancient Mariner 16 is even more floral. Dusty old furniture and hints of Fernet – molasses and dark chocolate – think After Eight with some fusel oil. A touch of savoury with salted caramel and black olives. Cane juice, lemon zest, candied banana and cloves. This is all over the place but it works and the 54% ABV is well needed to carry everything. The tobacco and black pepper from the nose are back. There s a fruity wineish sweetness to it, if someone would tell me this has been partially aged in an ex-Sherry or ex-Cognac cask I would not hesitate to believe them. The finish is a combination of oak and earthy pungent flavours.

While the Pusser’s 15 is dark and rich, the Ancient Mariner 16 is dark and drier. The AM16 is more complex and it keeps giving, also the extra ABV gives it an edge in here. Guyana rum is definitely a guilty pleasure for me and P15 does deliver, and while it is my favourite Guyanese rum commercially available at the moment, the 40% ABV makes it a tad too soft. If I would be to ignore the price point (£65 for Pusser’s – 70cl/£135 for Ancient Mariner – 50cl) and availability, the Ancient Mariner 16 would win this one. I still recommend Pusser’s 15 to all of you out there even if the price is up compared to the old bottle, so is the quality. And I recommend myself to try and get ahold of more Caroni’s as the Ancient Mariner 16 was more than a pleasant surprise.

Pusser’s 15 (2019) score:
Flavour/taste: 56/70
Value for money: 13/15
Transparency/purity: 15/15
Overall: 84/100

Ancient Mariner 16 score:
Flavour/taste: 59/70
Value for money: 10/15
Transparency/purity: 14/15
Overall: 83/100

Cheers!

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