Being more of a rum geek in recent years, it’s rarer for me to see a rum and not know anything about it.
I may not have tried certain brands, but I know enough rum geeks who can tell me about it. Dusty or defunct brands are one of these blind spots. Receiving this sample of 1970s or 1980s Four Bells Navy Rum from The Lone Caner is an example.
With this being an unusual moment for me, I’m going to take the chance and drink this “blind.” I may know what the rum is, but I won’t know what to expect, since I know nothing about it. At the same time, I’ll make this an unusual review by sharing the tasting notes first then reading more about this rum after. Notes on this rum will be put in the conclusions.
Four Bells Navy Rum – Review
Circa 1970s to 1980s. 40% ABV. 1L. €23 in Catawiki (originally €46 for 2).
On the nose: Initially a bit of sharp ethanol. But it quickly gives way to a little funk and confectionary aromas. The slight funk makes me think of Jamaican and Guyanese rum. I get light to medium notes of cloves, licorice, leather, dates, caramel, allspice peppers, toffee, butterscotch, chocolate, and mocha. At the end are sour aromas of kombucha, sugarcane vinegar, and something chemical-ly.
In the mouth: The ethanol bite is just as sharp. Despite having a decent amount of flavor, this has a very watery mouthfeel. It’s like the rum is hollow but a bit round-ish. This kind of texture makes me think of sweetened multi-column distilled rum like Ron Zacapa “23” and Zaya 12 year. I get light to medium tastes of toffee, caramel, mocha, chocolate, banana syrup, and dates syrup. At the end are subtle tastes of cane juice, ripe bananas, licorice, and green bell peppers.
I might be convincing myself that there is Guyanese rum in this blend due to this claiming or marketing itself as a Navy rum. Guyanese rums are notorious for being used in these blends. The back label also mentions “potstill method of distillation” (“potstill” looks like a typo the brand cared little about). This further reinforces my assumption that Guyanese rum, and maybe Jamaican rum, were used in this blend. It tastes like there was not much used though.
Notes of dates, date syrup, licorice, cloves, and leather usually come from Guyanese rum. To me, dates and date syrup are a tell that there’s a bit of rum from the Enmore column still, while the licorice, cloves, and leather usually come from the Port Morant double wooden pot still.
There are bits of ripe banana, sugarcane vinegar and chemical notes here which make me think of Jamaican rum. The chemical note makes me think of the pot distilled Monymusk rums I’ve recently tried.
The label, the label’s typo error, the rum’s color, and the auction price implies this was a cheap blend. My opinion on this is reinforced by the similar texture I get from sweetened multi-column distilled rum and the weak pot still rum flavors. Regardless of how I score this rum, it’s always a treat to taste things from before I was born. Thanks again, Lance.
Aside from the label’s mention of what “four bells” means in British Navy tradition: there were eight bells. Each were struck per half hour on a four-hour watch, which means, four bells signifies the halfway through any of the middle, morning, forenoon (latter part of the morning before noon), afternoon and first watches.
The Lone Caner notes that there are no references to Four Bells as a company. He thinks it’s a one-off brand experiment. He also mentions that there are other Four Bells rums, which seems to imply the name didn’t have any trademarks.
It’s also mentioned that there’s a 50% version that says Four Bells is a subsidiary of Whyte & Mackay. Yes, those guys that own the popular blend. But, the only verification is that they share the same address.
Fatrumpirate says this was bottled and distributed by Challis, Stern & Co Ltd. They’re a London-based alcohol wholesaler who began trading in 1924. The company was dissolved in 2005. Though, after reading that there are other Four Bells rum brands, I’m not sure if the one I reviewed is from the same company as Fatrumpirate reviewed.
Images are courtesy of The Lone Caner.