Review: Black Tot Master Blender’s Reserve 2023

Finally doing a review of this year’s Black Tot Master Blender’s Reserve – better later than never. I have reviewed all the previous editions and I also did an interview with the Black Tot Master Blender, Oliver Chilton, so feel free to have a look if you’re looking for some more insight.

Black Tot is the name of the brand that bottled a number of remaining Navy rum flagons that were left over after the abolition of the daily rum tot in the British Royal Navy on the 31st of July 1970 – the date was aptly named the Black Tot Day, hence the branding of this rum. While bottles of the original Navy rum (Black Tot Last Consignment) are still available, Elixir Distillers decided to create a modern take on the Navy blend as a continuous release called Black Tot Finest Caribbean.

Following that, 3 years ago on the 50 year anniversary of the Black Tot Day they launched a special limited edition blend called Black Tot 50th Anniversary… but did they stop there? Nope! A part of that blend was kept away in barrels and used as a base for next year’s blend to which Oliver added even more rums and so the Master Blender’s Reserve range was born. The same process was repeated every year so far, creating a perpetual blend similar to what the Royal Navy was doing with their own rum, just maybe a little more technical.

This year Oliver took last year’s blend to which he added rums from Barbados, Guyana, Trinidad, Jamaica and a 28 year old rum from Grenada – with the latter being a new rum producing country added to the mix.

Our fourth evolution of Master Blender’s Reserve is a return to the denser, more traditional style of Black Tot 50th Anniversary Rum. With a larger focus on older rums from Guyana and the addition of 28-year-old rum from Grenada, a real sense of maturity and status has developed. It is such a privilege to be able to keep back stock from each blend to mature on and use as the heart of next iteration of Master Blender’s Reserve, re-imagining a blending technique used for so many decades by the rum blenders of the Navy.” says Master Blender Oliver Chilton.

Unfortunately Master Blender’s Reserve 2023 has way too many components to break it down on here, but you can find out about everything that went inside from the Black Tot website, or by scanning the QR code on the back label. Still, I have to say, this is becoming some mad scientist kind of rum – I can just imagine Oliver with a pair of goggles and a pipette trying to figure out how to baffle us each year with his releases.

Given this contains a small amount of the original Navy rum, trying to accurately describe the age range of the rums in the bottle is pretty much pointless, but what I do know is that it contains distillates from unaged up to at least 31 years old.

Black Tot Master Blender’s Reserve 2023 is (at least mostly) molasses based, pot and column distilled and aged for an indefinite amount of time in (mostly) ex-Bourbon and some ex-Sherry casks. Bottled at navy strength, 54.5% ABV, without any sweeteners or chill filtering, but it’s likely it contains a small amount of caramel from some of the Guyanese components and/or the original Navy rum.

On the nose it really feels dark and spicy. Tar, black pepper, sandalwood, cloves and treacle. Luxardo cherries, cocoa biscuits, pears, dried figs and sultanas. It does smell closer to the original Navy rum, but with more intricate layers. Liquorice, black tea, peaches, dusty old books, nail varnish and cola. Walnuts, burnt orange zest, allspice and pencil shavings. It has a Pedro Ximenez sherry aroma as well.

On the palate it gets even darker in profile. Toasted cacao biscuits, nail varnish, dark chocolate, rich tobacco and liquorice. Overripe bananas, black peppercorns, pomegranate molasses and Luxardo cherries. It has quite a bit of a Caroni rum influence, I feel like I’m drinking tar – but in a delicious way! Allspice, apples, caramel and blackberries. Toasted walnuts, dried fruits and a layer of aromatic smokiness. Marmalade, prunes, burnt marshmallows and a sprinkle of ground nutmeg. The finish is long with treacle and black tea.

This year’s Master Blender’s Reserve is very complex, peppery and aromatic – not so much fruity, but I don’t hate that, I very much enjoy its chocolaty taste. All the rums and flavours are incredibly well integrated and amount to a very complex, layered rum that needs a sit down to be enjoyed properly.

It seems like it gets a “darker” profile every every year now, it’s more Caroni-like than the 2022 which was more Guyana forward. That being said I can’t really pick between the two of them, I absolutely love both.

You can get a bottle for around £140-£145 (House of Malt, Master of Malt, The Whisky Exchange) and, while it might be a bit of a budget splurge, it’s perfectly worth it.

Black Tot Master Blender’s Reserve 2023:
Flavour/taste: 63/70
Value for money: 15/15
Transparency/purity: 15/15
Overall: 93/100


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