It has been a summer of British anniversaries: Sgt. Pepper's at 50, OK Computer at 20, the death of Princess Di. Less recognized but maybe culturally as important, today is the 47th anniversary of Black Tot Day -- the final day that the Royal Navy served its sailors their daily ration of rum.
The ration, or tot, dated back to the 17th century, when rum replaced beer as the Navy's choice of crew libation. Beer kept better than water on board, but it was also heavy to carry and could turn sour. Caribbean slave plantations that produced sugar and rum had recently come under British control as part of its ongoing tussle with Spain, and those plantations were more than happy to tout the merits of a government-mandated rum ration.
The initial ration was a half-pint of rum a day. For predictable reasons, including an explosion in popular culture portrayals of drunken sailors, the ration was eventually reduced, and reduced again. It was only an 8th of a pint a day (about two ounces) by the time the military pulled the plug in 1970, on the grounds that the increasingly complex and expensive technology the Navy was deploying was incompatible with the hands that held the tot. The final serving was known as the Black Tot, and many sailors wore black armbands for the ceremony.
This actually left the British government in a bit of a quandary, since under normal purchasing plans they had already stockpiled a fair amount of rum, which they, now had no legal use for. The leftover rum became known as the Black Tot "Last Consignment," and it has been gradually released commercially. In 2010, to mark the 40th anniversary of Black Tot Day, some 6,000 bottles were sold off, at $1,000 a bottle. There are bars in London, New York and elsewhere that list Black Tot Rum on their menus, selling shots for high double-digits. (This for rum that was by all best guesses distilled in the 1940s.)
The Last Consignment may or may not be worth the price -- I like this equivocal review -- but you don't need Black Tot Rum to mark Black Tot Day. Any rum drink will do. In the summer, we're partial to the Dark 'N' Stormy, made with Gosling's Black Seal Rum. (This is the rare trademarked cocktail, meaning nobody is allowed to serve something called a Dark 'N Stormy unless they use Gosling's rum. Fortunately, Gosling's is delicious in this drink.) It's simple, just some good ginger beer and some Gosling's, in a 3:2 ratio. Some recipes call for fresh lime juice, but we prefer a lime garnish, which gives you a squeeze without overpowering the drink. However you like it, remember to toast the sailors and their rums gone by.