Over 200 years after his ancestors settled in Bermuda – a beautiful if remote island in the middle of the north Atlantic, some 1,500km east of New York – an enterprising 7th generation family member is on a mission to bring his family’s rum onto the world stage.
“My great-great-great grandfather William Gosling had a liquor store in London and he was looking to expand to the new world, basically Virginia,” says Malcolm Gosling, president of Gosling’s Export, the international arm of the family-owned Goslings Rum. “He chartered a ship named the Mercury, loaded it with ten thousand pound sterling worth of wine and spirits. This was 1806 so back then that would have been mostly cognac and fortified wine, ports and sherries, little bit of whiskey. He actually never set foot on the boat. He stayed back in London and put his son James on for the voyage.”
So begins an unusual voyage that never actually made it to Virginia but stopped short in Bermuda, where the charter for the ship expired. On command of his father William in London, James unloaded the cargo and 100 yards from the port set up a shop to sell the produce on December 3rd 1806.
“His brother Ambrose then came over to join him in 1808,” says Malcolm in an easy going old world charm you can’t but hope is ubiquitous in Bermuda. The business is still here to this day and still family owned – Malcolm himself is the 7th generation and the 8th generation is making its way up the ranks within the company as well. “My sister Nancy’s daughter is very much involved, my cousin’s daughter and son, and my son now are all in the business. And we’re continuing on the tradition.”
[quote_box_center]It only took some 45 years of people coming in asking for bottles of ‘black seal’ until Goslings changed the name from Old Rum to Black Seal[/quote_box_center]
It wasn’t until 1850 that the Goslings turned their hand to rum distillation. Their first creation from experiments in aging and blending various distillates resulted in Old Rum, a “Wonderful, smooth tasting fine old aged rum,” according to Malcolm. “When we go back and we look at some of the old pictures and they’re hysterical – they used to mix it with a rowing oar!”
Initially the only way to buy the rum was by going to the Goslings shop with a container and asking them to fill it up straight from the barrel. This changed in the 1920s when tourism started to develop in Bermuda and visitors wanted a way of taking some Old Rum home with them.
“So we decided to bottle it,” said Malcolm. “We got the strongest bottles we could find, used champagne bottles. At the time we were still in the import business and our largest customer was the British navy – we would sell them champagne by horse and buggy; then pick it up, bring it back to the plant, rinse the bottles out, put the Old Rum in there, pop a cork in the top and cover it with black seal to stop any leaking and for identification as there was no label on the bottle.”
It only took some 45 years of people coming in asking for bottles of ‘black seal’ until Goslings changed the name from Old Rum to Black Seal, a name the spirit retains today. In keeping with the family-oriented nature of the business, Malcolm’s uncle Goose Gosling designed the barrel juggling seal logo which is still in use.
Goslings has since become Bermuda’s largest export and, unsurprisingly, the island’s largest selling spirit – the population of 65,000 goes through about 20,000 nine litre cases every year of Black Seal. “So you can say it’s in the blood of every man woman and child in Bermuda!” laughs Malcolm.
In Bermuda, Goslings is synonymous with local culture and this has filtered down through every avenue of Bermudan life. “We have a Bermuda fish chowder, a soup that traditionally would take 24 hours to make. We use quite a bit of rum in the making of this, but because it simmers a lot of the alcohol gets cooked off,” explains Malcolm. “No matter what restaurant you go to, from the most economical to the high end, they will always bring you either a cruet set or a pot to where you add your own rum back in.”
Add then to the mix the Bermuda Rum Cake, the Bermuda Rum Swizzle and the trademarked Dark n Stormy and one can begin building a picture of how inseparable the island is to the rum.
The Dark n Stormy, in particular, has an interesting history. “That goes back to the 1920s and thanks to the British navy for this, the officers mixed their rum with ginger beer,” says Malcolm. “Traditionally they would take the ginger root and crush it, add some water yeast sugar and ferment it, and then they chose our rum to add to it.”
From there the company has more recently released its own complimentary ginger beer to help make the perfect Dark n Stormy. “Our objective was to make the ultimate Dark n Stormy, that fine balance between sweet and spicy. You don’t want it to be too sweet and you don’t want it to be too sour or you’ll be sick! And I think we accomplished that with the Goslings Stormy Ginger Beer,” says Malcolm.
There are three varieties of Goslings rum – the flagship Black Label (a blend of three distillates between three and six years old), Gold Rum (“Mostly five year old rum, with a little bit of two year old rum in there to give it some body and mixability,” I’m informed) and the Family Reserve Old Rum, the same blend as Black Label, left to age in bourbon barrels for up to twenty years.
On the Family Reserve, Malcolm enthuses “We don’t top the barrels up we don’t add sugar we don’t add anything like that. It just sits there and it really is a super fine sipping spirit.” Only 4,500 six bottle cases of the Family Reserve are made every year.
They’re all award winning – the Black Seal, in particular, won the Platinum medal at the World Spirits Championships, one of only two rums to achieve such an honour.
The rums, of course, speak for themselves, and are instilled with the character of the oft eccentric Goslings clan. After 150 years Goslings is finally on the march back east, this time armed with some of the finest rum money can buy.