The earliest record of rum being given out on British ships was in 1655 when they won the battle for Jamaica against the Spanish. As they didn’t have enough of any other spirits, Admiral William Penn decided to give the crew a measure of rum as a reward – however this is not when the official rum rations on the Royal Navy ships started.
It was in 1731 when the daily rum tot became official – or more exactly, the daily half pint of overproof rum. Even I, as a professional rum chugger, find that a bit over the top, and so did Admiral Edward Vernon – nicknamed Old Grog after his silk and mohair Gorgham coat. He declared in 1740 that the rum given the sailors, daily I might remind, be cut in half and diluted with water, a drink that was aptly named Grog. Some of us are familiar with the Navy Grog drink which, according to tale, was the said Grog “spiced up” with limes and sugar, and while a good story, it’s not entirely verified.
Because of this practice, the Royal Navy unintentionally became one of the biggest rum blenders in the world, having approximately 4 million gallons stored in large wooden vats at any time which were continuously refilled with cane spirit from different countries, depending on the availability. The main ones were Guyana, Barbados, Trinidad and Jamaica although not limited to them, making the navy rum a continuous evolving world blend with no set recipe.
After Black Tot Day, on the 31st of July 1970, all the remaining stock of the Royal Navy was stored in stone flaggons (4.55 litres each) and put away in the Navy Victualling yards. Sukhinder Singh, The Whisky Exchange founder, managed to get his hands on some of these flagons which were blended together and released as the Black Tot Last Consignment in 2010 on the 40th anniversary of the Black Tot Day.
Nowadays a bottle of the Last Consignment can make a considerable dent in the wallet and given that the stock is down to the hundreds of bottles available, the price will only go up. I am very happy to be able to taste and share my review of this legendary tot, so here we go.
Black Tot Last Consignment is molasses based, a blend of pot and column stills distillates from around the world (Guyana is quite clearly prominent) that have been aged for an unspecified amount of time. It’s bottled at 54.3% ABV, just 0.2 points away from the Navy strength and I believe it has a considerable amount of caramel added from the Guyanese component.
On the nose it feels really dark and moreish. Old furniture, liquorice, aromatic coffee and old leather. Rich stout, tobacco and dark chocolate. The two main profiles I feel are those of Diamond Distillery (Guyana) and Caroni (Trinidad). Intense caramel, overripe bananas and charred wood staves. Dusty paper bank notes, engine oil and Luxardo cherries. Raisins, cinnamon, maple syrup and black pepper. Black tea, pencil shavings, dried oranges and a pinch of sea salt. There’s a lot to take in.
On the palate the “darkness” continues. Dark chocolate, black coffee, molasses and burnt wood. Toasted pineapple, peppermint, stout and liquorice. Cloves, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Brown sugar, creme de casis, canned prunes and walnuts. I might be wrong, but the palate seem to reveal a bit of Jamaican funk. Banana flambe, stone fruits and a touch of nail varnish. Oxidised red wine, burnt orange zest and cacao nibs. The finish is long with caramel, black pepper and blackberries.
Black Tot Last Consignment is the final version of this world blend I was previously talking about and it holds a lot of historical value. Even if you ignore its ties with the Royal Navy, it’s still a vintage rum that was blended at latest in 1970 and definitely contains even older distillates. The profile definitely fits and I can see how this can be the inspiration for all the Navy rums on the market.
I really enjoyed sipping this, it has complexity and flavour, especially that I really enjoy rums from DDL and Caroni. I feel like the caramel drowned the rum a bit, but again, it’s the style and it works. That being said, I prefer the modern Black Tot limited releases (reviews here, here and here), they have more going on and at a more accessible price.
Nowadays you can buy a bottle of the Last Consignment for £850 (The Whisky Exchange) or £770 (Amazon) for which you get a wooden display case, a cork stopper (as the bottle comes with a cork similar to wines), a bronze cup that measures half a gill, a small book about the history of the Navy rum, a rum ration card and of course a 70cl bottle of historical navy rum.
Sailors back in the days had the choice to be paid or have the rum, and now I can understand why they were predominantly choosing the rum – I would be more than happy to sip on this every day, but unfortunately the budget wouldn’t allow for such a bottle. The value for money here is really hard to score as it has, as I said, a lot of historical value and the rum itself is really good, just not £850 good…
Many thanks to Mitch Wilson and the Black Tot crew/website for providing a sample and all the information I needed for this review!
Black Tot Last Consignment score:
Value for money: 7/15