Starting this week, diners at Greenwich Village’s Minetta Tavern can drink like a sailor. But they’ll have to spend like a sailor to do so.
Minetta Tavern recently acquired four bottles of what is being billed as Black Tot Rum. Black Tot Day was the name attached by Royal Navy men to the dark date of July 31, 1970, when British sailors were accorded their final daily “tot,” or ration, of rum. The tradition went back centuries, but was discontinued as it fell out of favor with a more censorious public, as well as the crewmen themselves. Sailors wore black armbands when the sun rose on that last day of on-deck drinking. On the H.M.S. Fife, docked in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, there was a 21-gun salute, according to Wayne Curtis’s history, “And a Bottle of Rum.”
The remaining rum was warehoused in London in ceramic demijohns. It sat there for 40 years until Specialty Drinks — a London-based seller and supplier of high-end and rare liquors — arranged to buy and package the remaining stores. (The bottles are dramatically subtitled “The Last Consignment.”)
“It’s been known for years that the stocks were still held largely by the British government,” said Eric Seed, the owner of Haus Alpenz, a Minnesota-based import company known for reviving obscure and rare spirits such as allspice dram, falernum and creme de violette. There are 1,000 bottles in total, said Mr. Seed, of which Haus Alpenz has been given charge of 200. “They were in government warehouses. Some had been sold to private collectors in the past. Many years ago, Castle Brands had tried to sell the ceramic demijohns themselves.”
The British Navy created its rum through a solera system, blending different rums from disparate islands and territories in order to create a consistent style, and one suited to seamen. “You can’t say this was designed to be the pinnacle of all rums in its age,” said Mr. Seed. But, he added: “It is a unique taste experience today. For many of us, that’s what we find interesting.”
In Manhattan, bottles have been placed at Daniel and the new Hurricane Club, as well as in Minetta Tavern. At Minetta, an ounce-and-a-half shot can be had for $80; half that amount for $40. “You can hang with 3/4 ounce of this stuff for a long while,” argued Lawrence Green, Minetta Tavern’s beverage director. He said he had no plans to mix cocktails with Black Tot, because “That would be sacrilegious.”
For those collectors and rum fanatics who think they need an entire bottle of the stuff, it costs just under $1,000 at Astor Wines & Spirits. Mr. Seed said Black Tot Rum is the most expensive rum on the market.
“It’s a big ticket,” said Mr. Seed. But he noted, “There are plenty of other items like it in the Scotch and Cognac worlds.”
Mr. Seed has first-hand knowledge of how dear Black Tot’s price can be. “Because of this project, I went about finding one of those remaining demijohns,” he said. “I think there were two remaining available for sale, and I bought one. The good news was it’s exactly the same” as what he is selling. “The bad news is, I spent a fortune to find out.”
History plus rum. Fantastic. Rum suited to seamen. I wonder what Jack Sparrow would think.