Rum Journal: How Gosling’s Rum, Born in Bermuda, Became a Legend

By: Caribbean Journal Staff - May 31, 2012

It’s called a “roof wetting.” Whenever the roof of a new building is completed in Bermuda, its owner holds a ceremony, and christens it. Only one thing is used to perform the ceremony, however: Gosling’s Rum.

The history of Gosling’s Rum, Bermuda’s best selling spirit (and required ingredient in its national drink, the Dark ‘n Stormy), begins, of course, with a bit of a happy accident.

James Gosling was looking to expand his London liquor store to the new world in Virginia, says Malcolm Gosling, James’ great-grandson and current CEO of Goslings. He chartered a boat and loaded it with £10,000 of wines and spirits.

After sitting for more than 96 days in calm seas, however, his charter ran out, and James Goslings was unceremoniously dumped off in the only port between London and Virginia: Bermuda.

So he got a licence to sell on Dec. 3, 1806, and soon after opened his shop.

It was not until 1850 that Bermuda’s national rum was truly born, however. After experimenting with various blends of different distillates, Gosling and company came up with a blend they preferred.

In order to purchase the rum at the time, one had to bring one’s own bottle (it remained that way until World War I) and fill it straight from the barrel.

But as tourism developed on the island, and the rum grew in popularity, people increasingly wanted to take the rum back with them abroad.

So the shop looked for the strongest bottle it could find — recycled champagne bottles. The Goslings would go down to the British naval base in the dockyard, sell the sailors champagne from the shop, and return by horse and buggy to pick up the empty bottles and rinse them out.

They would fill them with what was dubbed “Old Rum,” put a cork on top and cover it with black sealing wax.

As the bottles sat on their shelves, customers would point to the black-topped champagne bottles and say, “give me the one with the black seal.”

And after 45 years, the name was officially changed to Black Seal.

And so Gosling’s has become a fixture of Bermuda.

“It’s really synonymous with the culture, because it’s been part of it for so long,” Gosling tells Rum Journal. “People that don’t even drink would use it to make their Christmas puddings. It’s really synonymous with Bermuda.”

TODAY, Gosling’s has three rums: Gold, the traditional Black Seal and the modern incarnation of Old Rum (in a champagne bottle with a black wax seal).

Black Seal is a blend of three different distillates aged independently and then blended together. The Old Rum is the same blend with one subtle change.

“With that blend, it started as an experiment, with just a couple of barrels, because how do you improve on the best?” Gosling says.

It began with just a few barrels. The company then found a few premium bourbon barrels.

“We just loaded it up, and let it set there, and each year, literally added just a couple of barrels to it,” he says. “After the oldest rum in there was around 16 to 20 years, we were sipping it and realized that it was taking a whole unique taste of its own. And we said, this is Old Rum, this is going back in history.”

GOSLING’S OLD RUM comes in a numbered champagne bottle, sealed with black wax, just as its forebears, but bottled just once a year in limited production.

On to the tasting: Old Rum is a powerful spirit with an aroma of molasses, maple, caramel and a slight hint of spice. It has a deep, dark colour, almost that of cherry wood. It gives off notes of black cherry, dark chocolate, oak and bourbon. We recommend it neat — enjoyed in its pure form.

And the verdict? A simply sensational rum, and one of the best rums you will ever taste.

Many rums have heritage; many rums have history. But with Gosling’s, whether it’s the Old Rum or the Black Seal, there is a sense of a true connection to the past. Unlike many rums that boast of their storied ancestry, the Gosling’s one drinks today is the Gosling’s of yesterday. And that cannot be defined — but it can most certainly — and easily — be appreciated.

— CJ

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