Back in 1655, British Naval liquor rationing made the switch from French brandy to Caribbean rum. By the 1740s, Admiral Edward Vernon of the British Navy put into practice diluting this rum acquired from Jamaica and Barbados to the proportion of half a pint to one quart of water. That was, however, after sailors proved its original strength pre-dilution by dousing gunpowder with the rum, to make sure it still burned. If it burned, it was the proof promised in their rum ration: 57% ABV. This mixture was then distributed to sailors with one serving around midday and one late afternoon, totaling a pint a day. While rations were later cut and cut and cut again, before finally being abolished in the 1970s, that original proof test defined what we know today as Navy Strength rum—overproof, potent and powerful. There are still makers of overproof rum and—for any adventurous sipper—the following four are as enjoyable (when drank responsibly) as they are really, really strong.
Smith & Cross Navy Strength Rum
The most popular (in America) for this category, Smith & Cross‘s 114 proof rum is pot still-distilled in Jamaica at the Hampden Estate Smith & Cross. It’s a blend of Plummer and Wedderburn rums, each having undergone some aging. After the initial powerful alcohol bite, the flavor blossoms into something sweet and smoky, ending with an exceptionally warm note of mixed nuts. It’s an experience for spirits adventurers and historians alike, worth sipping neat like a sailor but also blending nicely into fuller mixed drinks. Smith & Cross’ offering is available online for $29.
Lost Spirits Navy Style Rum (Cask Strength)
The side project of chemical engineers who wanted to undertake distillation as a hobby, Lost Spirits Navy Style Rum wows with its balance of flavor and power. Clocking in at a whopping 136 proof, no note is lost for the sake of cask strength. The spirit is crafted from baking-grade molasses, evaporated sugar cane juice and water—and that’s all. It’s made in Northern California, where it’s pot still-distilled and then aged in charred American oak casks seasoned with Oloroso Sherry. Each sip comes complete with a little tropical fruit, some citrus and even sarsaparilla. Lost Spirits Navy Style Rum can be purchased online at Caskers for $45.
Rumbullion! Navy Strength
Not many people know that rum is a shortened version of the spirit’s full name: rumbullion. Professor Cornelius Ampleforth Branded Spirits not only knows, but they named their rum offering exactly that: Rumbullion! Navy Strength. The directness of the product certainly matches the direct name. At 114 proof, spice meets vanilla in a rather complex blend that’s definitely intense first and foremost. Notes of honey and apples give way to a very long finish where cinnamon and clove linger on the breath. Rumbullion! Navy Strength is available on Master of Malt for $77.
Pusser’s Blue Label British Navy Rum
Commonly known as the “single malt of rums,” this all-natural offering (with production dating back to 1979) holds most acutely to the original recipe. In fact, founder Charles Tobias obtained the rights and all the blending information from the British Admiralty and Pusser‘s was born. The award-winning spirit is distilled across five stills—three in Guyana and two in Trinidad. They’re then blended to balance flavor compounds known as “esters” and “congeners.” Once again, despite its strength, there’s a well-rounded flavor portfolio, including molasses and nutmeg with a spicy finish. This is rum as the sailors knew it and its surprisingly good. Pusser’s Rum is available online for £30.
Images courtesy of respective brands