Forbes: "Pusser And The Story Of Navy Rum"

soleil

War Hero
"Rum has a long tradition with Britain’s Royal Navy, and with navies that grew out of it, including the Australian, New Zealand, Canadian and other commonwealth navies. The U.S. Navy also had a rum tradition, a practice it inherited from the Royal Navy, although this was phased out in the mid-19th century.

The tradition of naval rum began with the Royal Navy’s West Indies squadron in Jamaica in 1655. By 1731, it had spread to the rest of the British fleet.

There are several theories on why the practice originated. In tropical climates, beer would often spoil and water become putrid. Rum, on the other hand, had the advantage of keeping indefinitely and took up less room onboard than the daily ration of a gallon of beer. It was also cheap to buy and was being produced in large quantities in the British West Indies as a byproduct of the booming sugar industry.

Rum had one other advantage. It mixed well with the daily dose of lime juice that was doled out to British sailors to prevent scurvy. Although that practice did not start until the 18th century, well after the adoption of the daily rum ration, it provided an additional reason to continue the practice.

The original ration or “tot” was a half pint of rum per day. The rum would vary in strength, but generally averaged around 55% alcohol or 110 proof. The rum would be distributed around 4 bells during the forenoon watch—10:00 am in modern parlance.

In 1740, a Royal Navy Vice Admiral named Edward Vernon, who was then in command of the West Indies Naval Squadron, became concerned about the high state of drunkenness among British sailors. He changed the daily rum tot by mixing the half pint with water in a 1 to 4 ratio and splitting it into two portions; one in the morning and one in late afternoon.

Vernon was famous for wearing an overcoat made from a waterproof cloth called grogram during his inspections of the ships in the squadron. His signature coat earned him the nicknames “Old Grogram” and “Old Grog.”

In time, the mix of rum and water adopted by Vernon came to be called grog. The term was later also applied to the mix of rum, water, lime juice and sugar that was doled out to sailors to prevent scurvy. Grog is also the root of the term groggy. That was a pretty good description of what happened to sailors who drank too much grog.

In 1824, the rum allocation was halved to a 1/4 pint, it continued to be diluted with four parts water. In 1850, the Royal Navy’s “Grog Committee” reduced the rum portion to 1/8 of a pint, which would be served daily at 6 bells during forenoon (11:00 am).

The practice of the daily rum ration was also adopted by the various commonwealth navies that grew out of the Royal Navy.

Initially the U.S. Navy also continued the tradition of a daily rum ration. Starting in 1794, when the U.S. Navy was officially established listed, sailors were given “one half-pint of distilled spirits” per day. The Navy encouraged sailors to drink American made whiskey since it was cheaper than imported rums. American sailors also had the option of forgoing their spirit ration and receiving an additional three to six cents a day in wages.

In 1842, the spirit ration was reduced to one gill or four ounces. In 1862, during the Civil War, the U.S. Navy abolished the daily spirit ration. The Confederate Navy, however, continued the tradition; in large part because many British sailors served in the Confederate Navy during the Civil War.

Sailors, however, could still purchase alcoholic beverages for their own use, and wine and spirits continued to be available in the officers’ ward room.

Restrictions on alcohol use in the navy got progressively stricter. Finally in 1914, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels issued General Order 99 which banned the presence or consumption of alcoholic beverages “aboard naval vessels, or within any navy yard or station.” The U.S. Navy has been dry ever since.

Royal Navy rum gave rise to two enduring traditions: the concept of proof and the term splice the mainbrace.
Navy rum was supposed to be 54.6 ABV. In order to demonstrate to the crew that the rum was not diluted the purser would mix a small quantity of gunpowder with the rum and light it. If the gunpowder flashed, then the rum was overproof. If the gunpowder failed to ignite, then that meant it had been diluted. If the gunpowder burned with a steady blue flame, then the rum was at the correct strength and was considered “at proof.” Hence the use of the term proof when describing the strength of alcoholic spirits.

The mainbrace is the rope (the nautical term is line) that controls the angle of the sails (yards if you’re a sailor) on a sailing ship. These ropes were typically the size of a man’s forearm. During naval battles, ships would often use special ordinance designed to cut the lines that controlled the yards in order to cripple the ship.

When the mainbrace was cut, sailors would have to climb up the rigging and splice together the ends of the mainbrace that had been cut. Tying together two ropes the size of a man’s arm while perched in the ships rigging during a naval battle was no easy task.

Sailors that successfully completed the task were given an extra ration of rum. In time, the term “splice the mainbrace” became an order to give the ship’s crew an additional rum ration on special occasions. In the Royal Navy only the monarch, a member of the Royal family, or the Admiralty Board had the authority to give the order to splice the mainbrace.

In 1969, the Admiralty Board concluded that the daily rum tot was not compatible with the “complex and often delicate machinery and systems found aboard modern ships.” The final rum ration aboard Royal Navy Ships was served on July 31, 1970, henceforth known as “Black Tot Day” in the Royal Navy. After the pipe of “Up Spirits” the final tot was poured at 6 bells on the forenoon watch (11:00 am).

The Royal Canadian Navy followed suit on March 31, 1972, and the New Zealand Navy carried on the tradition until February 28, 1990. The Australian Navy had done away with the rum ration in 1921.

That was not, however, the end of Royal Navy rum.

In 1979, American entrepreneur Charles Tobias reached an agreement with the Royal Navy to produce “navy rum” in the same style as traditional Royal Navy rum. Tobias secured the recipe, hitherto a secret, in return for a royalty paid to the Admiralty. Pusser’s Rum Ltd was set up in Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, to bottle and distribute the rum.

Tobias called his rum Pusser’s Rum. The term pusser was Royal Navy slang for the purser aboard ship. It was the purser that was responsible for the rum store on the ship and for supervising doling out the daily rum tot.

Pusser’s rums consist of rums sourced from Trinidad and Guyana. Each of the rums in the core range are different blends of rums. These are all, rich, powerful, full-bodied, robust rums with a substantial palate weight and texture. All three rums have sugar and caramel added to them. Below are tasting notes on the core range of Pusser’s rum offerings.

Pusser’s Rum, Gunpowder Proof, Original Admiralty Strength, NAS, 54.5% ABV, 750 ml

Pusser’s Gunpowder Proof is an authentic recreation of the high proof rum served on Royal Navy ships for more than three centuries. It is a blend of rums from Trinidad and Guyana. The expression is blended in Barbados, although it does not appear to contain any rums from that island. The rum carries no age statement (NAS).

On the nose, there are pronounced molasses and dark sugar notes, followed by a creamy, almost buttery aroma, vanilla and dried fruits notes of dates, prunes and figs, along with tropical spices of nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, pepper and just a touch of clove and a hint of furniture wax.
On the palate, the rum is sweet, with distinct molasses and caramel flavors, followed by tropical fruit notes of melon and banana, along with flavors of raisin, a bit of prune and date and some dried orange peel. There are also some licorice/anise notes and a hint of coffee. The rum is very peppery. The higher alcohol is evident. Think of a liquid ginger-molasses cookie.

The finish is long, with a lingering caramel sweetness, some prune, a touch of bitterness and a slight pepperiness.

British Navy, Pusser’s Rum, Original Admiralty Rum, NAS, 42% ABV, 750 ml

This expression is Pusser’s entry level rum. It’s less intense, even though it is based on the same blend, with slightly less alcohol by volume than the original strength, Gunpowder Proof expression.

On the nose, there are the predictable molasses and brown sugar notes, followed by tropical notes, especially banana. There is a waxy, furniture polish aroma that hangs in the background.

On the palate, the rum is sweet, more cotton candy like, and peppery. Although it’s less peppery then the Gunpowder Proof version, there are also cooked, tropical fruit notes and a creamy custard-like quality.

The finish is long, sweet and peppery, with lingering tropical fruit notes.

Pusser’s Rum, Original Admiralty Rum, 15 YO, 40% ABV, 750 ml

This Pusser’s 15 YO is the company’s only aged expression. Historically, it was a blend of rums from Guyana, Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad. Lately, it appears that the rums have been drawn entirely from the Demerara Distillery in Guyana. Around 50% of the blend is from the wooden pot, double distilled rums from the Port Mourant still, and the balance is from column stills at Demerara. The 15 YO is a different blend of rums than its siblings.

Unlike its siblings, it is much drier on the nose, with more pronounced tropical spice notes of nutmeg and cinnamon and a touch of vanilla. There is a waxy, furniture polish like aroma in the background.

It’s sweeter on the palate, with more pronounced brown sugar rather than molasses notes. There are tropical fruit notes of melon and mango, along with prune, caramel and milk chocolate. The rum is smoother, with a more pronounced palate weight, and is less peppery than its brethren. The extended aging is evident in the more noticeable oak notes.

The finish is long, initially dry and peppery, with tropical spice notes, followed by lingering dried fruit sweetness and a bit of bitterness.

Pusser is an excellent rum—an authentic representation of traditional Royal Navy rum. If you are a rum enthusiast it definitely one to add to your collection. If you are new to rum, it’s an excellent place to start your exploration.

Bottoms Up!"

 
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A few years ago I bought a bottle of Pusser's Rum (as per the bottle at right/stbd).
The shop owner kept it under the counter and is available on direct request only!
Magic stuff.
 
2011 we chartered a yacht around the British Virgin Islands. Flew into Tortola as Hurricane Irene was on its way; no chance of any sailing. Sunsail put us up in a hotel for , but there was no food available. We managed to get out to the local supermarket (a big corner shop) which looked like today’s Tesco; stripped clean.

Next door was the Pusser’s bar, so we dived in for a feed. Charles Tobias (the man who bought the recipe in 1979 and built Pussers and his wife were there. Ended up having a riotous evening on Mr Pusser, then he drove us back to the hotel as the storm was hitting hard.

Top bloke. Top business.
 
My Bn was posted to Gibraltar in 1977. Apparently when the tot was stopped there were 15 years worth of Rum stored in the navy dockyard, at least some of which was sold off to local bars etc.

My first night in Gib myself and a couple of mates ended up in a bar drinking a matelot and his doris. He introduced us to Pussers rum - "First night in Gib lads? Try this..."

... we finally managed to get back to South Barracks at silly o'clock but I think I did the last bit on my hands and knees as I couldn't manage some of the steps...
 
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BratMedic

LE
Book Reviewer
This rum was recommended to me by Goatruter (long since departed but not dead I think).
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Only once in 23 years did I have a tot of ARMY rum.

My regiment at that time had a C.O. who had recently returned to us from his third tour with "them" he decided it would be jolly good cavalry fun to conduct a survival, escape and evasion exercise in mid winter on foot.

This culminated with a night river crossing, in this case the Mitteland canal, all the usual support in place, RE divers, small boats etc, oh and later found out that there were a stash of body bags nearby.
To say that i was cold after swimming across hanging onto the safety rope would be an understatement, it took two years for my goolies to drop back into position.

There on the home bank was the QM , dishing out in plastic cups my first ever taste of issue rum, no idea of the proof etc, I managed to go round twice in the dark and fell into a knackered drunken stupor in the 4 tonner heading home.
 
I vaguely remember hot chocolate with a tot of rum being the "reward" for completing the "oh-look-Im-falling-into-a-hole-in-the-icy-lake" bit of AW training along with being thrown into the back of a heated Landy. Or was it a rum with a tot of chocolate ?
 
The term was later also applied to the mix of rum, water, lime juice and sugar
It appears grog is still a popular cocktail

 
Not rum but brandy, I got issued a tot on a very cold night in the North of Scotland during one of the oh so famous three day exercises. We were called into the rects controllers office and handed a plastic cup with a small amount of liquid in the bottom, which we had to sign for and then consume before leaving the office.
 
As an unattended kiddy, got pissed on Lambs Navy rum - still can't stand it.
First Joe job after school, youngish ex matelot - who was a recovering alcoholic due to the rum ration in his early service suggested Woods 100 if I could find any on my travels (before Pussers) "Because it's the closest you'll get to proper 'grog'!" - I did, and, actually, think I prefer it to Pussers (Blue Label) side by side.
The re-branding, bottle shape etc is clever marketing but price!!! - narp!

Still - Splice the mainbrace!

PS - Didn't read the tasting notes for 'Gunpowder Proof' but did it mention this is where proof was established before Sykes hydrometer?
IIRC - the standard set at 37abv is because a pile of gunpowder soaked in spirits at this strength will not ignite when the alcohol burns off. Under proof won't ignite. Over proof will set the gunpowder off.
 

philc

LE
I like rum, the Kiwi Navy still had the tot mid 80s and they were very generous with it. Last recollection of the night was giving some Maoris back chat in a nightclub in Auckland whilst trying to cop of with some Maori bird.

Like many Jack, I have lived a charmed life.
 
This rum was recommended to me by Goatruter (long since departed but not dead I think).
Obviously he didn't like you!

I was brought up on Bundy, but too many nights dancing with the Bundy Bear mean its now an instant hangover inducer. Having found Pusser's about 30 years ago, I found that a/ it doesn't (necessarily) induce hangovers and b/ shows Bundy up for the poor stuff it actually is.

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Dwarf

LE
Many years ago while in the CCF a Petty Officer told us that when the rum ration was still in force his habit was to down it in one and follow it with a tumbler of water straight down as well.
Now you were supposed to drink it on the spot and this day he arrived late. However those over a certain rank managed to 'persuade' the issuing officer to save their mates tot, a fairly regular occurence if said mate was unavailable.
So he arrived back on board went to his cabinet top see his tot of rum and tumbler of water which his mates had thoughtfully placed beside it.
Down went the rum immediately followed by the water which in fact turned out to be Bacardi.
Result one missed afternoon and a mistrust of his mates ever after.
 
I like rum, the Kiwi Navy still had the tot mid 80s and they were very generous with it. Last recollection of the night was giving some Maoris back chat in a nightclub in Auckland whilst trying to cop of with some Maori bird.

Like many Jack, I have lived a charmed life.
They can get a bit chippy. I and a mate were introduced to the local big noise by a Maori girl who was sweet on my mate. He smoothed access to a few bars for us. You didn't go there otherwise.
 

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