Get ready to splice the mainbrace! Black Tot Day

Wine, Beer, and the hard stuff
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Watchlord WIS
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Get ready to splice the mainbrace! Black Tot Day

Post by Falstaff » July 29th 2019, 1:40pm

On July 31st, 1970 at 11:00 am GMT, 315 years of glorious history came to an end. That was the day and time that the Royal Navy measured out its very last ration of rum to the enlisted men - a day that would be solemnly remembered as "Black Tot Day". An issue of spirits, or "tot" had been provided to the tars every day since 1655. For the able-bodied seamen aboard the sailing ships of the Royal Navy work was both grueling and dangerous and it was decided by the Admiralty that an issue of spirits would help "brace up" the sailors. Initially the spirit issue was beer (1 gal. per man) or wine (1 pt. per man) but because long sea voyages were not conducive to these travelling well, brandy became the standard. As as England began to acquire possessions in the Caribbean such as Jamaica, Trinidad, Tobago, Guyana and the BVIs rum became increasingly inexpensive and ubiquitous - always attractive attributes to the notoriously penny-pinching Admiralty. The original spirit ration was 1/2 pint per day per man in a single issue. Those under 20 years of age were not permitted any spirits at all. A sailor could also forgo his rum ration for an additional 3 pence per day added to his pay - most took the rum.

In the 1740s Admiral Vernon ordered that the rum ration be diluted with water (1 qt. water to 1 pt. rum) and that it be split and issued twice a day. It is said that this diluted rum became known as grog after the Admiral who was nicknamed "Old Grog" because of the grogram cloak he habitually wore. In 1756 it was ordered that lemon or lime juice be added to the spirits issue to prevent scurvy. In 1823 the rum ration was halved to a quarter pint per man and in 1850 it was halved again to its final measure - 4 gills or 1/8 Imp. pint per man per day. The rum ration was ceremoniously measured out by the ship's purser (bastardized to "pusser") from the oaken rum tub that bore the motto - "The King (Queen), God Bless Him!" To ensure that the "pusser" wasn't watering the rum before issue a small amount of gunpowder would be wet with rum. If the gunpowder ignited when a match was applied (rum had to be at least 52% ABV) this was considered proof that it had not been adulterated. Woe betide the purser if the gunpowder did not light - sailor's justice was rough and swift - he might find himself heaved overboard despite the dire penalties meted out for such behavior. "Up spirits!" was the command that announced the rum issue each day. "Stand fast the Holy Ghost!" was the thirsty reply and if the crew had accomplished an especially difficult or dangerous task that day an extra rum ration might be ordered by the captain with the command "Splice the mainbrace!". Thus fortified the Royal Navy reigned supreme on the seas and protected that Empire on which the sun never set.

This glorious tradition of "rum, sodomy and the lash" as Churchill famously opined, continued up through the 1960s when it was noted that shipboard tasks were increasingly technical in nature and that such were not well accomplished by a crew of half-jaked seamen. So it came to pass on that July 31st of 1970 that the time honored tot of rum was no more. There are some bottled examples of the very last official rum production lot available at around $1000 a bottle, but in 1979 the original recipe devised by the Deptford Naval Victualing Yard was given to the start-up Pusser's Rum Company with the understanding that a portion of the proceeds from every bottle sold would go to a special "Tot Fund" to provide amenities to serving naval personnel. There are several iterations of Pusser's British Navy Rum offered - from an 80 proof so-called original bottling, through a "gunpowder proof" (54.5 ABV/109 proof) up to an "over proof" 151 version and an excellent 15 year old reserve. These are all dark rums produced and blended in the BVIs from rums sourced from Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad and well as the Virgin Islands themselves. I can heartily recommend the Gunpowder Proof version as a stand alone sipper at around $30 - $35. Deeply spicy with lovely sweet burnt molasses notes and a gentle burn on the way down. Good stuff - and made from the Admiralty recipe. Celebrate Black Tot Day with a tot of this historic stuff - Up spirits!
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