The British Navy’s Rum Purchases Revealed

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For 50 years, the rums that the British Royal Navy blended for its sailors has fascinated fans and historians. Most tales about navy rum endlessly recycle prior conjecture that’s each imprecise and never significantly correct.

Ponder this typical knowledge in regards to the navy’s rums: Navy rum was a mix of rums from Barbados, Guyana, Trinidad and Barbados.

Every of these colonies had a number of distilleries. Every distillery made a number of marques of rum, from nearly impartial to very heavy. A “recipe” that specifies solely the rum’s nations of origin is ineffective. You may as effectively give this recipe for a fruit salad: “Fruits from England, Germany and Spain.”

Merely itemizing the place the navy’s rums got here from is wildly inadequate to explain what the navy blended up for his or her sailors.

To actually perceive the British navy’s rum mix requires figuring out which distilleries the rums got here from. Scratch that… What we actually want is the precise rum marques the navy used. The marque is important. It identifies a rum from a selected distillery with a selected taste profile.

In in the present day’s rum world, some corporations put the marques they use on their labels. As an example, PM (Port Mourant, from DDL), or DOK (Hampden Property). Sadly, the British Navy didn’t share that stage of knowledge with their sailors or historians.

To be truthful, that’s not fully true. The navy did reveal a recipe to Charles Tobias, who then created Pusser’s Rum in accordance with it. I lately interviewed Charles about it.

However Charles isn’t telling what he is aware of, aside from saying the Port Mourant marque from DDL was a part of the mix. Past that, it’s a carefully guarded firm secret. Thus, extra particulars in regards to the particular rums the navy bought stay shrouded in thriller.

Till now.

A set of lately uncovered rum buy contracts from the British agency of ED&F Man present far deeper insights into the navy’s rum purchases — greater than we’ve ever had until now. (ED&F Man was the navy’s rum dealer for a few years up until the rum ration resulted in 1970.)

These contracts present a specific second in time, and aren’t a complete record of the navy’s rum purchases. Nevertheless, they supply an unimaginable peephole right into a beforehand opaque universe.

These information present the acquisition of particular marques of Demerara and Jamaican rum in 1944. Sure, I’ve beforehand written that the navy didn’t purchase Jamaican rum. Maintain that thought for now.

The information offered under symbolize solely a fraction of the navy’s purchases that 12 months, so aren’t an entire view. Historical past typically arms us scant desk scraps somewhat than a buffet, so we should account for this ambiguity in what we conclude from it.


The doc under exhibits ED&F Man because the middleman between Rowett, Legge & Co, and the Admiralty:

SOLD for account of Messers. Rowett, Legge & Co. Ltd. To the Buy Division, Admiralty.

The precise marques listed are:

  • VERSAILLES
  • J.W.D.
  • ICB/U
  • P.M.
  • JH/COVE
  • /M/E (‘M’ diamond ‘E’)

The Versailles, ICB/U and P.M. (Port Mourant) marques are well-known to Demerara rum fanatics. I wrote in regards to the stills that make these explicit marques on this story. The Port Mourant marque is especially related to British navy rum and is well detectable in British Navy rum.

That leaves two different marques of some thriller:

  • JH/COVE – One supply signifies it was a steady nonetheless rum, presumably made on the mixture of the Cove and The John estates.
  • J.W.D. – Could also be from vat stilled rum from the Blairmont property, as urged by a 1905 public sale itemizing and different information.

It’s value noting that the 65 puncheons of Port Mourant commanded a small 2 pence per gallon premium. In in the present day’s market, that premium would assuredly be a lot greater.

As for the provider, Rowett, Legge & Co., they had been a British spirits buying and selling agency who first seem round 1927. A 1957 report lists them as a subsidiary of Seagrams.

One fascinating takeaway from these purchases is that it suggests the navy purchased each pot and repeatedly distilled rums. Some writers have urged the navy solely used pot nonetheless rums.

Some historic context is essential to framing the Jamaican rum buy that follows.

Through the 20th century, the British navy averted buying Jamaican rum as customary apply. Jamaican rum was not a part of the mix, as a number of information clarify. The navy mentioned the standard Jamaican rum taste profile was to not the liking of their sailors. Nevertheless, throughout World Struggle II, the navy wasn’t capable of buy sufficient rum from its main colonial suppliers, e.g. British Guiana, Trinidad and Barbados.

Confronted with the doable lack of ability to provide every day rum rations to their sailors, the navy was pressured to purchase Jamaican rum, in addition to rum from nations they ordinarily wouldn’t have.

The doc under exhibits ED&F Man because the middleman between Lemon Hart & Sons, and the Admiralty:

BOUGHT FOR THE ACCOUNT OF THE PURCHASE DEPARTMENT, ADMIRALTY OF MESSRS. LEMON HART & SONS LTD.

Three marques are listed:

  • PGR/E – Believed to be a light-weight rum from Jamaica Sugar Estates, Duckenfield
  • R.H.  – Believed to be a light-weight rum from Rose Corridor
  • LC (?) – Unknown.

The vital factor concerning these Jamaican marques is that they had been gentle, frequent clear rums, somewhat than the heavier Plummer, Wedderburn, or Continental kinds. It’s possible the navy didn’t need the heavier Jamaican taste profile to change the mix’s identification. Or, these Jamaican rums may have been what was obtainable.

In whole, the 50,000 gallons of rum from the 2 contracts symbolize round 1.5 p.c of the three million or so gallons the British navy initially sought to buy in 1944. Reiterating what I mentioned earlier, they’re a peephole view. We don’t know what the navy’s different rum purchases had been. Nonetheless, it’s an unprecedented stage of element.

What’s unsaid in historic paperwork is commonly as telling as what is alleged. Contemplate the age of the rums bought. Or somewhat, the shortage of age. Each the Demerara and Jamaican rums bought specify the “1944 Crop”. That’s, rum distilled that 12 months. Not aged for a one, two or 5 years.

The navy didn’t pay premium costs for aged rum. They purchased unaged rum (minus some small time within the barrel throughout cargo) and vatted it for a number of years within the vats of the victualling yards at Deptford and elsewhere.

The navy made their very own customized mix for at the very least 160 years. We additionally know that the supply rums modified dramatically over time, together with rum from the East Indies within the mid-19th century. There actually was no single “Navy Rum Recipe”. The popular part rums continuously modified over time.

Moreover, exterior elements like wartime shortages pressured the navy to deviate from their preferences. When circumstances returned to regular, their buy patterns possible returned to their most well-liked suppliers.

With that context in thoughts, the above information are only a snapshot throughout a time when the navy couldn’t purchase precisely what they wished.

When the warfare ended, did the navy proceed to buy all of the marques listed above? Within the case of Port Mourant, we will confidently say sure. In different instances, such because the Jamaican marques, I provide a certified “most likely not”.

In the end, we nonetheless have an incomplete image. Nevertheless it’s an unlimited enchancment over what we had beforehand. It additionally offers hope that with time, luck, and persistence, we might convey much more of British Navy rum’s historical past into focus.

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