The history of Great Britain's Royal Navy is replete with references to rum. For hundreds of years up until July 1, 1970, enlisted seamen serving Her Majesty drew a daily ration of rum, or a "tot," and the discontinuation of that practice is known as "Black Tot Day" at pubs across the United Kingdom.
That tradition is an important part of the history of Pusser's Rum Ltd., a company founded in the British Virgin Islands, whose corporate headquarters and retail warehouse have been located in Charleston since 2013.
Premium British Navy Pusser's Rum is a blend of five stills located in Guyana and Trinidad, which have produced the sugar cane used in distilling rum for the British Navy since 1655. The company continues to blend its product to the Navy's specifications under a charter from the Royal Admiralty before discontinuation of the seaman's "grog" portion.
Company spokesperson Dean Cowart says what makes Pusser's special is its traditional wooden pot-still distillation process, which imparts a depth of flavor different from modern metal stills. Even the rum's name - Pusser's - is corrupted from the word "purser," the title for Royal Navy supply officers who were in charge of dispersing rum.
Pusser's Rum has been named "one of the world's 10 best rums" by Forbes Magazine, with varieties including a 15-year-old, a Gunpowder Proof and an Admiralty Blend. Fortune Magazine has dubbed Pusser's "the single malt of rum."
In Charleston, Pusser's is an official sponsor of the Charleston Battery professional soccer team along with other local activities. True to its British roots, the company also is the largest contributor to the Royal Navy Sailors' Fund. "We plan to source projects locally whenever possible," Cowart says.
Lovers of rum likely know the "Pusser's Painkiller," a Caribbean cocktail that originated at the Soggy Dollar Bar in Jost Van Dyke, BVI, and has become famous in Pusser's outposts and restaurants across the US and the British Virgin Islands. The drink is a combination of pineapple and orange juices with a few other tropical ingredients.
Pusser's is hardly the only South Carolina-produced rum, though, as more than a dozen state-based distilleries produce various rums.
The Daufuskie Island Rum Company, founded as a handcrafted distillery in 2015 and producing up to 150,000 bottles a year, takes pride in being "100 percent American made." Thus, the company's stills and fermentation tanks are made in Alabama; the bottles come from Waterloo Bottle Company in New York; yeast strains are from California; and even the rum's sugar is grown in Florida.
Carolina Moon Distillery in Edgefield - a town that proclaims itself the "Peach Capital of the World" - ages its May Lady Aged Rum in charred peach wood from local orchards. That imparts hints of the fruit to the rum's aroma, even though no peach fruit is used in the production.
Firefly Distillery, best known for its Sweet Tea Vodka, has branched out with its Sea Island Rums: Gold, Spice and Java. Located on in North Charleston, Firefly ages its rum in bourbon barrels, and much of the sugar cane used to make the rum comes from nearby Johns Island's Rosebanks Farms.