Untangling All the Modern Navy Rums

Who doesn’t love the story of British Navy Rum? With the 50th anniversary of Black Tot Day coming up on July 31st, 2020, liquor store shelves are awash in “navy rum”. As someone who’s spent the last 18th months intensively studying British navy rum, I’m quite excited about all this!

But, in a cruel twist of fate for consumers, it can be hopelessly confusing to keep all the players straight. Which bottle is which? Is this $50 bottle the same juice that used to cost $1000? It’s all so convoluted!

I’m here to help.

Here’s the story: As we race towards Black Tot Day, two players co-headline the navy rum space. Both have more than one expression, and both have 50th anniversary editions, which muddies the waters.

Let’s look at each.

First up, we have Pusser’s Rum, which has made a replica of British Navy rum since 1979, based on a recipe provided to them. They have two primary expressions of interest here:

Pusser’s Blue Label: This is the standard, long-standing version of Pusser’s, bottled at 42% ABV, at least in the U.S. market.

Pusser’s Gunpowder Proof: The same blend as the Blue Label, but bottled at 54.5% ABV, the true and correct navy issuing strength.

Pusser’s also has 15-year aged and spiced versions, but we shall not dwell on them here.

Recently, Pusser’s came out with a special Black Tot Day Limited Edition. It’s a different blend than the Blue Label and Gunpowder proof. Only 5,000 bottles were made. It’s available in the U.K. but not imported into the U.S.

Although not in the game quite as long as Pusser’s, Elixir Distillers, part of The Whisky Exchange, have been in the navy rum market since 2010. Their first expression was:

Black Tot – The Last Consignment. This rum is blended from flagons of actual navy rum, made by the British admiralty prior to 1970. At around $800/bottle, it’s a pricey pour, but you’re drinking history.

Should that not be rich enough for your blood, there’s also:

Black Tot Rare Old 40 Year Demerara rum: It rings in at £1,500, and is described as “Distilled in Guyana in 1975, Black Tot 40 Year Old has been matured in casks for more than four decades.”

In 2019, Elixir capitalized on the Black Tot’s brand recognition and released a rum simply known as:

Black Tot Finest Caribbean: Priced at about $50 in the U.S., it’s a blend of tropically aged rums. Unlike Pusser’s Blue Label, it does not claim to replicate the British navy’s recipe, but instead focuses on making a high-quality rum in the navy style, including the all-essential rum from the Port Mourant still in Guyana. It’s bottled at 46.2 % ABV, which is not navy issuing strength.

Needless to say, the this caused some about of consumers. Both rum named “Black Tot”, one costing 20 times more than the other.

Just to further confuse matters, Elixir distillers will soon be coming out with their own 50th anniversary blend:

Black Tot 50th Anniversary Rum: A custom blend, quite different than Elixir’s normal Black Tot blend. The label has been hailed as a model of transparency, listing every component rum and its percentage in the blend. This rum is bottled at navy issuing strength: 54.5% ABV. It will be available in the U.S. It will undoubtedly be more than $50.

There you have it! Seven rums, all worthy of consideration as Black Tot Day approaches. Just remember to keep “Pusser’s” and “Black Tot” separate in your mind, and you’re 90% of the way there.

Until next time — Up Spirits!