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Navy Rums: Pussers vs Black Tot

I feel like I don’t need to cover the history of British Royal Navy Rum again since Jigs already did a good job at it. With the British navy having discontinued daily tots since the 1970s, all that’s left are brands using that history to help build their identity. Elixir Distiller’s Black Tot is today’s newest and, I think, current most popular navy rum brand on the block. For the longest time, Pusser’s dominated this space.

Aside from being a navy rum, cocktail geeks may recognize Pusser’s as that rum brand that, unnecessarily, came down hard on a New York City bar called Painkiller in 2011. They slammed the bar with a lawsuit because of the name. At that time, Pusser’s was a 31 year old company that also sells rum, cocktail mixers and rum products such as cakes under the brand name “Painkiller.” Pusser’s won the lawsuit. Painkiller, the bar, had to rename itself to PKNY. Their website called Painkiller went to Pusser’s.

Painkiller also mainly refers to a cocktail that’s made by mixing rum, pineapple juice, orange juice, coconut cream, pineapple wedge, and nutmeg grating. It’s a cocktail that was invented at the Soggy Dollar bar in the British Virgin Islands.

Personally, I think there’s some sort of hubris here for suing an entity over the name of a cocktail that you’re capitalizing on but didn’t even invent. Brands like Pusser’s and Goslings – who are known to be overprotective over the respective cocktails they make money off of – just scream insecurity. (Goslings has claimed the cocktail Dark ‘n Stormy to be theirs. So, in the US, Goslings is also known to be really prickly with bars who put Dark ‘n Stormy on their menu but don’t use their rum).

15 year old me might have giggled at the name Pusser’s – since it is spelled close to something else – but the name is just slang for the ship’s purser. Pursers were responsible for the ship’s stocks of rum, and making sure the daily tot of navy rum were given at navy strength (54.5% ABV).

Initially, sailors would drink their daily tot of rum straight, but this would result in them being drunk. To counter this, Admiral Vernon would issue orders that the rum be mixed with lime, water and sugar. The drink would be known as a grog because of the grogram coat the admiral was known to wear. Unknowingly, the addition of lime solved the issues of scurvy that plagued the navy. The grog is also said to be the world’s first cocktail.

Being styled after navy rum, Pusser’s sources rum that has been distilled in various islands rather than distilling it. I bought this bottle around 2017. So, this should be their older blend consisting of rum from Guyana’s Diamond Distillery’s different stills but mainly from their Port Morant double wooden pot still and rum from the Angostura Distillery in Trinidad. They’re said to have recently changed the recipe around 2019. I don’t know how different it is now.

Despite their vigilance, they managed to drop the ball against Elixir Distiller’s Black Tot in terms of being the Navy rum. For one, Black Tot started celebrating and making an event out of Black Tot Day every July 31 since 2020. Elixir Distillers have also been more aggressive with marketing Black Tot.

Not only that, but Black Tot shows more willingness to follow modern trends. Their basic expression is bottled at 46.2% ABV vs. Pusser’s 40%/42% ABV (depending on the market) bottling. Black Tot is also considerably more transparent when it comes to the blend compared to Pusser’s. It’s also unclear whether the various Pusser’s expressions are the same blend but have different ABV and age statements, or if each expression is a different blend.

After realizing all of this, one has to wonder if Pusser’s getting overtaken as the Navy rum is karma, or if they were just being too vigilant with watching out for bars to bombard next.

Pusser’s Rum Blue Label – Review

40% ABV. £27.95 from The Whisky Exchange.

Color: Caramel.

On the nose: I get light aromas of funk, leather, licorice, old wooden furniture, nuts and nutmeg. In-between are even lighter aromas of honey, caramel and vanilla.

In the mouth: A bit hotter than the nose. I get light and short tastes of funk, leather, old wooden furniture, licorice and honey. In-between is a very silky and lasting taste of mocha.

Conclusions:

There’s not much going on in this rum. It tastes like they diluted the funk and more full bodied-ness of the Port Morant rum with the Trinidad rum to make it more easier to enjoy and cost-efficient. I would have scored this a 4 if not for the affordable price and that subtle taste of mocha to make it seem rounder.

However, keep in mind that this is more of a rum meant for cocktails. Like most expressions meant for cocktails, the interesting parts are upfront so it can stand up to the mixers. That said, this sometimes ends up being a rum drinker’s saving grace when they’re in a city that doesn’t have a good rum selection.

Score: 5/10

Black Tot Finest Caribbean – Review

46.2% ABV. £42.75 from The Whisky Exchange.

Color: Honey.

On the nose: Peppery and sharp all the way. I get a fleeting yet enveloping funk. It makes me think of the leathery, old wooden furniture and licorice part of Port Morant rum. After it are light tastes of nutmeg, vanilla, honey, caramel, dark chocolate, coffee, and banana flambe.

In the mouth: Not as sharp as on the nose. The enveloping funk is still here but it comes with an astringent texture. I get light tastes of coffee candy, dark chocolate, banana flambe, caramel, honey, vanilla and old wooden furniture. These flavors combined makes me think of those hot dark chocolate brownies served with vanilla ice cream topped with caramel syrup and aged funky rum.

Conclusions:

This has more going on than the Pussers. Because their website shows the different rum that goes into the blend, I can pick out the different flavors coming from the Jamaican and Guyanese rum. The Barbadian rum in this seems to be the filler, and what makes this rum lighter, yet not too light.

I also think the flavors are a bit too light for the ABV. But, that could just be my senses being too used to the funk coming from these rums. Tasting this makes me more confident that their higher end expressions are worth it.

This expression might be mostly relegated to cocktails, but it will really do as a sipping rum. It shows the degree of care that was put into blending this rum.

Score: 6/10

John

John is a cocktail and spirits enthusiast born and raised in Manila. His interest started with single malts in 2012, before he moved into rum and mezcal in search of malterntaitves – and a passion for travel then helped build his drinks collection.

  1. RickYard says:

    Hardly a fair or relevant comparison. Should have been compared against Pusser’s Gunpowder strength ( 54.5%) reduced down to 46.2% abv. This would would have made more sense.

    1. John says:

      Hi, I’m merely comparing the entry level expressions of the 2 brands. I guess I should have considered diluting the Black Tot too

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