It’s that time of the year again, today (31st of July) we celebrate the day when the British Royal Navy stopped issuing the daily rum rations to its sailors in 1970. Also known as Black Tot Day, this year is its 52nd anniversary and it brings us yet another limited edition Black Tot Master Blender’s Reserve from Elixir Distillers, the founders of the Black Tot rum brand.
I have written about the previous editions 50th Anniversary and Master Blender’s Reserve that was launched for the 51st Anniversary as well as their continuous release, the Black Tot Finest Caribbean, where I covered pretty much everything about the brand’s background – so I won’t repeat myself too much here.
What I love about these annual releases is that they retain a part of the 50th Anniversary. Long story short, a portion of that blend was kept and aged in sherry casks to be used for the next release, the 2021 Master Blender’s Select and subsequently, a portion of the MBR 2021 was furthermore aged in sherry for 9 months and used for this 2022 release. It’s sort of a Solera system, or simply a perpetual blend that keeps evolving every year by using the previous blend as a base to which more rums are added.
Surely, if every country has its own national drink then the world should have rum as its drink!Oliver Chilton
Because of the complexity of the blend, unlike the previous years where a very detailed list of rums making up the recipe was on the back label, this year is generalised and split into countries alongside a QR code that takes you to their website where you have all the information.
The general blend make up is as it follows:
- Guyana blend – pot & column distilled and aged between 2 and 30 years – 29%
- Jamaica blend – pot still distilled and aged between 22 and 27 years – 7%
- Trinidad blend – column still distilled and aged between 10 and 24 years – 22%
- Barbados blend – pot & column distilled and aged between 7 and 19 years – 25%
- Perpetual blend – 17% (which is 96% MBR 2021 Sherry Cask Finished and 4% Original Navy Blend)
If you’re looking to blame anyone for how complicated this release is – over 20 different rums used – then Oliver Chilton is your guy. Oliver is the Master Blender of the modern Black Tot rums and also a big rum enthusiast. I got to meet him in person at the Rum Show and this opened an opportunity for me to get back in touch in order to do a little interview – thankfully he accepted, and in time for the Black Tot Day as well!
- Introduction about Oliver Chilton – how long have you been working for Elixir Distillers and what’s your involvement in the Black Tot rum brand?
Well, I started working with Sukhinder and his brother Rajbir back in 2011, starting off in their original shop, The Whisky Exchange, Vinopolis. I started working with cask bottling side in 2013, looking after everything from buying the whisky/rum and packaging, selecting the casks to be bottled, organising the bottling, and then selling them to our customers. Essentially a jack of all trades and master of none! As the company has grown, I have specialised more and more and today I look after all the buying of our whisky and rum and the selecting and blending of these for our products like Black Tot. Largely I mess around with lovely tasting things.
- What does Black Tot mean to you and what’s the inspiration/idea behind the modern continuous release, the Black Tot Finest Caribbean?
We have had the very rare opportunity to get very close to something that played a massive part in global history – the Navy Tot, and also think about how we can continue a part of that story and tradition. The more I have learnt the more I have felt that Black Tot is a great opportunity to celebrate the wonderful blending tradition first pioneered by the British Navy. It is an opportunity to understand different views on the distillation and creation of Rum and brining that together to make a drink you want to enjoy every day (Maybe that sounds a little corny…). More than anything, it enables us to be part of a warm and welcoming community both in terms of the different producers as well as the wonderful array of customers and I hope we have bottled a rum that gets people talking and enjoying each other customers.
- What about the annual limited expressions, the 50th Anniversary and The Master Blender’s Selects – what’s the inspiration behind them and what are you trying to achieve with each release?
In many ways these have been an expression of the development of my own understanding of rum. With 50th, we aimed to bring the very modern style of rum in Black Tot Finest Caribbean and balance that against the traditional style of Last Consignment. It had to properly mark 50 years since the last Tot was poured. Master Blenders Reserve 2021, though it has a nod to the tradition with a percentage of 50th in the blend, it was more about how we could use Rum to create flavours we loved. We aimed to create a cacophony of citrus and an explosion of flavour which I feel like is where we ended up. More than anything we wanted to show that Rum is a wonderfully divers and complex spirit that can have layers of flavour that develop with the drinker. With Master Blenders Reserve 2022 it was more about extending our understanding of blending and flavour creation while creating a more defined style with flavours of chocolate and coffee – indeed the inspiration for this was some rums bottled in the 1970’s. Who know what next year will bring but I know we have loads more to learn and discover.
- I know each of the limited expressions, starting with the 50th Anniversary, contain a very small amount of the Last Consignment, the original navy rum blend – what was the reason behind this and how did it affect the final blend(s)?
Initially it was never the plan to use any flagons. As we got to the end of the process on 50th we felt it was missing a component to help bring in the feel of old, traditional rum. We added a few drops to our blend to see if it made a difference and it was quite remarkable how powerful those flagons are. We now always create the blend without and then add in the sample room to see if it will deliver the same effect. For me it adds a notes of old cask staves that creates this feel of age. It is subtle but when it is not there you really notice.
- Are there any plans to add another permanent expression to the Black Tot range? Maybe a Navy Strength one?
We have lots of plans though none I can share with you at the moment!
- Where do you see the rum category heading and what role do you think the Black Tot rums will play in it?
I hope that Black Tot is part of the journey of Rum being appreciated as the truly remarkable and full flavoured category that it is. For me, similar to Whisky 20 years ago, it is a massively undervalued category and it is one that can truly capture the imagination. I also think it is one of the only categories that can properly celebrate global diversity and continuity all at the same time. There are very few consumable goods in this world that properly embrace how wonderful each part of it is while also tasting great when blended together. Surely, if every country has its own national drink then the world should have rum as its drink!
- Given that Navy Rum is not a well defined category, what conditions do you consider should be met in order for a bottling to be labeled as a Navy Rum?
We have been having this conversation for a few years now and for me Navy Rum should be a blend of rums that people can enjoy together (maybe everyday… responsibly of course) and creates conversation. The original Navy blend changed over the many years it was issued and took in Rums from almost every rum producing country. It was, however, always the heart of the community on board ship.
- Could you tell us about the latest release, the Black Tot Master Blender’s Select 2022?
Master Blenders Reserve 2022 is in some ways a lot more complicated than the previous year, while also being a lot more linear in terms of taste profile. We have used over 20 different rums to create it, creating 4 individual country blends to give ourselves a flavour palate to work from. In terms of the profile, we concentrated on chocolate, coffee, and baked banana though there are lots of flavours that relate to these along the way such as honey, raspberry leaf, and liquorice. The base of the rum was our Master Blenders Rum 2021 which we have had in refill Sherry Butts for 9 months so there is still a touch of that citrus which comes out as orange oil.
- What’s your favourite Black Tot expression from the range and what’s your favourite setting in which you would enjoy it?
I don’t have a favourite, but I am very proud of the work that went into this year’s expression. I still feel that I have so much to learn both about blending and about Rum but MBR 2022 was a wonderful opportunity to continue that personal journey. I do love the juxtaposition of the rums we have made and that there is hopefully a rum everyone will love at a different part of the day!
For now, I will simply say that I will be enjoying a glass of MBR2022 with some family and friends, at my house on the 31st July at 11am!
- Any last words for anyone reading this interview?
Just to say thank you to all the lovely people who have been supporting Black Tot and to the amazing people in the Rum world who have opened up and shared so much knowledge and understanding – one day I hope I am able to the same for others.
Many thanks to Oliver Chilton for taking his time to answer my questions! Now I’m definitely keen to try the new blend!
Black Tot Master Blender’s Select 2022 is molasses based, pot and column distilled and aged for an undefinite amount of time in ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks – the perpetual blend which contains a small portion of the Original Navy Blend makes it hard to track its true age. Bottled at 54.5% ABV and without and sweeteners.
On the nose it feels dark and tropical. Ripe bananas, peaches, new leather, tobacco and burnt vanilla pod. Strawberry jam, allspice, stone fruits and black tea. I can definitely feel some Caroni standing out, even if it’s a very small mount of it in the actual recipe. Engine oil, dusty furniture, cacao nibs and brown sugar. Some coconut cream and overripe apples as well. After Eight, black pepper, marmalade and a touch of liquorice. Very much inviting!
On the palate the dark flavours are more prominent. After Eight, liquorice, rich stout and aromatic tobacco. Cocoa biscuits and burnt orange zest. Canned pineapples, ripe bananas, English Breakfast tea and some cinnamon. There is a lovely charred wood smokiness to it as well. Cardamom, caramel and raspberries. Has a lovely bouquet of flavours that keep evolving. Pears, stone fruits and almonds. The finish is long with dark chocolate, mint and smoke.
This rum definitely takes onto a journey through the Caribbean, I can almost taste all the countries that are in the blend individually. My tasting notes are not enough to cover the complexity and balance of this rum, it feels darker than previous limited editions in a charred wood kind of way and I really enjoy it. This is my favourite Master Blender’s Reserve so far – well done, Oliver!
Now just raise a glass in the memory of the last tot!
Black Tot Master Blender’s Reserve 2022 score:
Value for money: 15/15