Published on July 23rd, 2020 | by Darren Paltrowitz0
Mitch Wilson On Black Tot Rum’s July 31st Celebration For “Black Tot Day,” His Love Of Rum & More
The Black Tot Rum range was created by independent bottlers Elixir Distillers and tells the real story of Navy Rum, honoring authentic blending techniques of the past while providing an evolution of Navy Rum for the palates of today. In fact, the Black Tot family includes real history, including a bottling of the actual rum that was left after final rations were handed out, Black Tot Last Consignment.
As one of the — unintentional — pioneers of rum blending, the British Navy created a “world blend,” combining different styles of rum to create the “final tot” that the sailors cherished. Oliver Chilton, head blender at Black Tot, continues to explore the heritage, complexity and diversity found in the different styles of Caribbean rum when creating the Black Tot range. Its most recent edition to the range, Black Tot Finest Caribbean, is a modern expression influenced by historic-blending techniques. It blends rums from Caribbean countries that have been the cornerstones of rum — including Guyana, Barbados and Jamaica — to create a blend full of tropical, coffee and chocolate notes.
Black Tot Rum ambassador Mitch Wilson’s career in the rum world began at award-winning, tiki-drinking, London den known as Trailer Happiness in 2013. It was there that Wilson kindled a passion for the sugarcane spirit that would follow him throughout his bar career at London’s Rum Kitchen, Cole’s Red Car Bar in Los Angeles, and Hoxton’s hospitality haunt Made In The Shade.
Smartly chasing the sun, Wilson moved to Sydney, Australia where he became bar manager of local industry favorite, Henrietta’s Supper Club. He went on to launch Sydney Academy Of Bartenders, a training program created for the bartending community to learn more about the philosophy behind the people pushing the industry forward. After spending time at Sydney’s award-winning establishment PS40, Wilson would go on to join the team at Maison Ferrand (Plantation Rum) as ambassador for Australia and New Zealand, working his way up to cover the whole Asia Pacific territory, before making the move back to Europe and joining the Black Tot Rum team.
I had the pleasure of doing Q&A with Mitch Wilson about the past, present and future of Black Tot Rum. This included discussion of a major event coming up for the rum world on July 31st. More on all things Black Tot Rum can be found online by visiting its official website, www.blacktot.com.
How exactly did you wind up in the spirits world?
Mitch Wilson: I met a bartender named Jim Wrigley when I was travelling across the States several years back. At the time he was running a bar in Napa, California. My friend who moonlighted as a bartender introduced us, and he gave us this 5-star experience at the restaurant-bar he was managing at the time. I’d never experienced hospitality like that before. Afterwards, we got talking about literature and sharing stories, and I thought to myself this was one of the most fascinating people I’d ever met. He offered that if ever I wanted to learn how to bartend I should look him up.
That time came a year or two later, where Jim was working at London’s famous Trailer Happiness. I went to apply for a job and there wasn’t any shifts going at the time. I kept showing up until they needed an extra pair of hands one night, and that was my in. Trailer Happiness is one of the world’s greatest rum bars, and it opened my eyes to this incredible spirit — and that fascination with rum stayed with me throughout my whole bar career.
And how exactly did you wind up as an ambassador for Black Tot Rum?
Mitch Wilson: Since those first bar shifts years with Jim years ago, I always thought the idea of being an ambassador and travelling around the world sounded incredible. For me that was the ultimate goal of what I wanted to become in the bar industry. The story coming full circle, I received an email from Jim Wrigley introducing me to Sukhinder Singh for a potential role coming up with Black Tot. I was invited to London where we spent several hours discussing our shared passion for rum and the industry, and I shared some ideas I thought could work well for Black Tot. That evening I was back at Trailer Happiness having a daiquiri when I received an email, offering me the role as Global Ambassador. It’s one of the greatest honors in my career, and I still have to pinch myself that it’s real.
What is a typical day life for you as an ambassador for Black Tot Rum?
Mitch Wilson: Any other year you’d ask this question, I’d probably tell you I was living out of a suitcase, bouncing from airport to hotel to bars back to the airport, hosting as many masterclasses and doing as many guestshifts around the world as possible. Unfortunately, 2020 had other plans, and instead it’s forced us to adapt what the ambassador role looks like. Online tastings are the new norm now, and since the beginning of the pandemic we’ve been able to offer tastings to the United States, Canada, Slovakia, Germany, Italy, Japan, Taiwan, Belgium, and the UK — all from home. We even started the Black Tot Rum Club, online sessions with some incredible rum experts from around the world.
The entire team at Elixir Distillers — the creators of Black Tot — have pulled together to organise tasting packs and trainings at all hours regardless of the timezone. My favorite so far have been our 3:00 AM to 5:00 AM slots UK time! Despite the late nights, there’s a huge environmental benefit in being able to do some tastings remotely, and while there is no substitute for getting together and sharing some rum in “real life,” I have no doubt that the ambassador role will change forever as a result of these times.
To you, what makes Black Tot Rum different from other rums on the market?
Mitch Wilson: Our historical Black Tot Last Consignment is a bottling of the original British Royal Navy Rum blend, served to the Navy fleet for 239 years. There’s no other rum like it in the world, and many of the distilleries that were integral to the blend no longer exist. For anyone who wants to taste a piece of rum history, there are few rum blends in the world I can think of that would have as much historical significance as this one. In addition we have an incredibly rare bottling of a 40 year old Demerara Rum distilled in the Port Mourant still in 1975, while it was housed at the Uitvlugt distillery in Guyana — another incredible rum that would be on any rum lover’s bucketlist.
The other aspect that makes Black Tot stand out is our transparency. My goal is for us to be the most transparent rum blend in the world. With our Black Tot Finest Caribbean, I spoke to our head blender, Oliver Chilton, and said I wanted to be able to share the individual components that went into the blend with people, so people could taste those individual rum distillates. I’ve never really seen that done on any grand scale. We arranged for bottling of each of these individual components, and any Black Tot masterclass or tasting you attend with me, you can expect to taste these single island rums as well as the finished blend. We’ll even tell you the exact breakdown of the blend composition.
I think it’s important we move away from this idea of “secret recipes” and help people understand what gives rum blends their exceptional flavour. It also helps that the finished blend tastes great too — Oliver did an incredible job on the rum.
What’s coming up for Black Tot Rum in the near-future?
Mitch Wilson: On July 31, 2020, it’ll be the 50th Anniversary of Black Tot Day, the day in 1970 where the Navy ended their 239-year tradition of issuing daily rum rations to their fleet. For rum lovers, it saw the end of one of the world’s most historic rum blends. With travel restrictions still in play, we had to adapt our celebration plans — together with our team, we’ve pulled together the world’s first ever 24-hour Rum festival! I’ve joined forces with Dawn Davies, head buyer for The Whisky Exchange, and together we’ll be hosting the entire 24 Hour livestream on Black Tot’s Facebook Live.
Rather than make the day just about Black Tot, we wanted to really make the day a celebration of the world of rum. The Navy blend was a mix of so many different countries and distilleries around the world, it made sense for us that we bring the rum world together for a day celebrating as many of these different countries as we can. Over the 24 hours, you’ll get to meet over 30 different rum distillers, blenders, bottlers, bartenders and ambassadors from the Caribbean, United States, Europe, and Australia. There may never be another event like it again, so we encourage you to join us and we challenge you to stay up with us for the whole 24 hours.
What is your drink of choice?
Mitch Wilson: Daiquiri, please! It’s the world’s most perfect cocktail – rum, fresh lime juice and sugar, shaken till ice cold and enjoyed in a single sip — delicious! And here’s a recipe for readers of The Hype:
– 60ml (2oz) Black Tot Finest Caribbean
– 20ml (2/3 oz) Fresh Lime
– 10ml (1/3 oz) 2:1 raw sugar syrup
– Shake hard and strain into a frozen coupette – enjoy!
– I love to add a little splash (15ml – 1/2oz) of Agricole/Clairin in there as well if you have it available, as it adds a beautiful grassy note that makes your daiquiri even more thirst-quenching!
When not busy with spirits, where does your free time usually go?
Mitch Wilson: Reading, writing, art galleries, or just wandering around whatever city I find myself in.
As many people who will be reading this are still quarantined, do you have a film or TV recommendation to pass along?
Mitch Wilson: As a closet sci-fi nerd everyone should go and watch Picard. I want to be Patrick Stewart when I grow up. In fact, go and watch Patrick Stewart reading out every one of Shakespeare’s sonnets on his socials — there’s a new one every day, I reckon it’s the best thing to come out of quarantine.
Finally, Mitch, any last words for the kids?
Mitch Wilson: Well if anyone has made it this far, I hope that wherever you are, whatever this year has dealt you, that you do whatever you can to make something good out of this situation for yourself. I don’t think there’s ever been a time like this in our lifetimes to reflect and work on ourselves, develop our understanding of the world, broaden our perspectives, gain some empathy, and learn about other cultures. The world needs a whole lot of kindness and some damn good people right now, and if you’re already a rum lover then chances are you’re off to a good start! I can’t wait to be sharing a daiquiri with you all in real life, real soon.
Oh, and Dawn says make sure you follow @sugarcaneandchampagne for all the ridiculous behind the scenes content we’ll be putting together for the Black Tot 24Hrs, it’s not quite Patrick Stewart reading sonnets, but hopefully we’ll still make you laugh from time to time…Tweet