British Navy Ron/Rhum/Rum? – Cocktail Wonk

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The supply of the rums within the British navy’s mix is a subject of a lot hypothesis and misunderstanding. I’ve already debunked one fable right here. Historic information are clear that the navy’s rum mix modified considerably over the many years previous to 1970’s Black Tot day. Nevertheless, one seemingly basic truism is that the admiralty bought rum from Empire sources, i.e. British colonies comparable to Trinidad, and British Guiana.

World occasions typically pushed the navy to purchase from its colonies that they ordinarily wouldn’t have. For instance, two paperwork suggests Barbados rum got here into the navy’s mix throughout WW II. The 1939 Navy victualling guide doesn’t cite Barbados within the navy’s mix, however 1944 paperwork do. Additionally throughout WW II, the admiralty strenuously sought to keep away from buying Jamaican rum, however ended up doing so, as you’ll quickly see.

Nevertheless, Barbados and Jamaica have been British colonies, so we might nonetheless confidently imagine that British navy rum was British (colony) made-rum.

Nevertheless, even that’s not true.

Regardless of shopping for all accessible and appropriate empire rum throughout WW II, the navy nonetheless required considerably extra rum to maintain their Jack Tars provisioned with each day tots. Thus, the navy had little alternative however to purchase from exterior their empire. To not achieve this would imply slicing the rum ration, and no person can be silly sufficient to try this throughout occasions of struggle.

This results in an fascinating story involving the Cuban, British and American governments. The tip result’s that as World Conflict II drew to a detailed, British navy sailors quaffed Cuban ron, French rhum, and British rum concurrently of their each day tot!

The story of this unprecedented rum mix is woven by two in depth doc portfolios [i] within the British Nationwide Archives. They include the lengthy operating, multi-party correspondence between the British Admiralty, ED&F Man (their brokers), ED&F Man’s agent in Cuba (Mendoza), the Cuban authorities, the British Overseas Workplace, and the American Overseas workplace. A couple of different shocking gamers make visitor appearances as nicely. Extra on that later.

Teasing out what occurred from the tons of of particular person letters and telegrams was fairly a problem. What follows is a quick synopsis, illustrated extensively utilizing excerpts from the portfolio.

Our story begins in 1943, when the admiralty realized they wanted considerably extra rum throughout 1944 than beforehand – round three million gallons.

Jamaican rum, which they usually deemed unsuitable, turned unavoidable, since Jamaica had the flexibility to provide massive portions:

After trying beneath each sofa cushion for extra empire rum to purchase, they have been nonetheless nicely in need of their three million-gallon goal.

Casting a broader internet meant going to the islands of Martinique (France) and Cuba (as soon as a Spanish colony.) The Admiralty believed that by buying 750,000 gallons of Martinique rum and a million gallons of Cuban rum, they’d hit their goal.

For the reason that Cuban rum is the main focus of what follows, let’s first tackle the Martinique rum in order to be achieved with it.

Fashionable readers could also be shocked to see Martinique rum right here, given its taste profile. Nevertheless, 1944-era Martinique made tens of millions of gallons of molasses-based rum. The island hadn’t but absolutely remodeled to creating cane juice rhum virtually completely. The Martinique rum the navy bought was undoubtedly molasses-based relatively than cane juice. If Jamaican rum wasn’t thought-about the correct taste for the navy’s rum, cane juice rum wouldn’t have been both.

We don’t know who provided the Martinique rum for the navy’s buy, however knowledgeable sources recommend St. James as a probable candidate.


Returning to our predominant story, to provoke the overseas rum acquisition, the Admiralty instructed ED&F Man to make preliminary purchases of Cuban and Martinique rums, 250,000 gallons from every:

The acquisition of the Cuban rum began uneventfully, apart from being fairly costly. Even the bottom high quality Cuban rum accessible have been fifty p.c dearer than Empire rums. ED&F Man evaluated samples from a number of Cuban distilleries and chosen the Lavin distillery to supply 220,000 American wine gallons (832,000 liters).

Early on, the Bacardi household bought wind of the deal in progress and tried to sabotage it in favor of themselves:

The Arechabala household (Havana Membership) would later attempt to get a chunk of the (rum) pie as nicely:

Neither Bacardi nor Arechabala have been in the end profitable of their bids for a share of the acquisition.  Lavin had the contract, and it was only a small matter of transport the rum to London.

Sadly for the Admiralty, earlier than Lavin might ship the rum, the Cuban and U.S. governments signed a deal permitting the U.S. to buy Cuba’s 1944 sugar crop, i.e. sugar, molasses, and rum. This meant the U.S. had first dibs on shopping for these gadgets from Cuba. Thus, the admiralty needed to run the acquisition previous the American authorities and get their OK.

Whereas the People have been seemingly amenable to the Admiralty’s buy of Cuba’s rum, the Cuban authorities erected main hurdles. Two decrees have been put in place by the Cuban authorities:

  • An embargo. One said motive for the embargo was enabling the Cuban authorities to regulate the rum commerce and guarantee purchases have been made throughout multiples rum makers.
  • A considerable export tax on rum purchases.

Muddying the waters and stopping the navy’s rum from being shipped, Cuba had elections upcoming. A brand new alcohol commissioner with oversight over the rum trade would quickly be picked. Corruption and graft have been frequent in such issues, and it was absolutely anticipated that the brand new commissioner would favor some rum makers over others.

The British believed the Cuban authorities have been in search of bribes from numerous producers to place their chosen man in place. Till the federal government picked a commissioner, the Admiralty’s rum cargo was stalled.

The admiralty desperately wished to simply transfer ahead with their agreed-upon contract with Lavin and keep away from the steep export tax; they wanted the rum yesterday. Nevertheless, the Cuban authorities wasn’t enjoying ball.

So as to keep away from paying the extra tax, the Cuban authorities mentioned the Admiralty would want to distribute their rum buy over a number of producers, making certain every producer shared within the earnings. This may entail one other spherical of pattern evaluations and renegotiation of contracts which might additional delay the navy getting its rum.

At one level a scheme was hatched to keep away from the export tax by having Cuban authorities purchase the rum itself for resale to the admiralty.

The folios don’t reveal how precisely the deadlock was damaged, however a number of months later, on July 27th, 1944, Lavin’s rum was shipped, and the Admiralty managed to keep away from paying the export tax.

Though navy rum fans have lengthy believed that Caroni provided Trinidadian rum to the British Royal Navy, a telegram inside the folio offers clear proof that Caroni was promoting rum to the navy. That mentioned, it’s doable Caroni wasn’t the navy’s solely Trinidadian rum provider.

The paperwork excerpted above present unprecedented glimpses into an uncommon historic second. Nevertheless, they go away different questions unanswered. As an example, did the Admiralty later buy further rum from Cuba or Martinique throughout the struggle? And when did they cease shopping for Jamaican rum?

We many by no means have these solutions. However for navy rum fans, realizing that Cuban and French rum as soon as appeared within the Empire’s tots is a notable and shocking addition to what we find out about British navy rum’s heritage.


[i] British Nationwide Archives ADM 1/15736, FO 371/38087

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