For nearly two centuries, Goslings has made a name for itself by reassuringly producing its iconic Black Seal Rum. For many rum drinkers and bartenders, there is no other dark rum worth bothering with. Critics tend to agree; Black Seal has been awarded the highest honor in the spirits industry: the Platinum medal at the World Spirits Championship. The Black Seal Rum is so smooth that it can be sipped neat, as well as enjoyed in cocktails. Goslings’ lesser-known, super-premium aged rums — Family Reserve old Rum and Papa Seal Single Barrel Rum — deserve similar acclaim.
Aged for upwards of 20 years, Goslings Family Reserve is a profoundly elegant sipping rum. The slender glass bottle, hand-dipped in black wax, wears a burgundy band proudly declaring it an ‘Old Rum.’ In the glass, the lush and soulful liquid offers ample notes of leather, chocolate, and citrus zest, demanding the quiet contemplation afforded XO Cognacs and extra-aged single malts.
“The bottle pays homage to the unique bottling technique used by my forefathers in the early 1900s,” says Malcolm L. Gosling Jr., eighth-generation rum maker and ambassador for the family brand. “They recycled Champagne bottles reclaimed from the British Naval officers’ mess and hand-filled them with the rum they were making in Bermuda.” The bottle was then sealed in dark wax, giving birth to a moniker that would soon sweep the globe: Black Seal.
Its provenance — about 650 miles east of coastal North Carolina — allows the spirit to sit in open-air warehouses for far longer than any of its Caribbean counterparts could withstand. “Bermuda is a small island, only one mile wide at its widest point, which gives the barrels constant contact with the fresh Atlantic salty air,” Gosling adds. “As a subtropical island, we enjoy a unique climate that rarely gets below 60 or above 90 degrees Fahrenheit,” In more southerly climes, tropical heat and humidity encourage too much evaporation from the barrel. But in Bermuda, the rum can hang out in the barrel for decades, evolving without sacrifice.
“We never top up our barrels with new rum during the aging process, which is why we can only bottle Old Rum once a year and produce only 30,000 bottles for the entire world,” Gosling explains.
For 195 years, the family has maintained a retail shop on Front Street in Bermuda’s capital city of Hamilton. Today, Goslings is practically synonymous with the British territory — as Bermudian as shorts worn with knee-length socks. The brand’s flagship Black Seal Rum is the island’s oldest and largest export, and the key ingredient in a famous cocktail: the Dark ‘n Stormy®.
“Just saying that name conjures images of pirates and black sails in a battle on the seas during a tropical storm,” bartender Rob Husted says of the iconic cocktail. The invigorating over-ice rendering of Goslings Black Seal alongside its very own ginger beer results in one of the most commonly ordered menu items at his outpost, Tiki ‘Ono, in Lake Worth Beach, Fla. “The first sip brings sparkling and refreshing tastes of ginger that come in like waves on a Bermuda beach. The balance of Goslings Black Seal Rum mellows out the cocktail with inviting notes of vanilla and caramel as the wave goes back out into the ocean.”
Hard to turn your head away from imagery like that. And all of this from one of the more straightforward drink recipes imaginable: just Black Seal, ginger beer, and lime. Yet for his extra-aged Family Reserve variation, Gosling prefers an even simpler presentation: neat. “My favorite part of tasting people on Old Rum is seeing their reaction to the nose; they get the oak from the bourbon barrels and hints of orange peel,” he says. “And with the initial sip, they taste the velvety oak with spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon. At this point they usually look confused because they can’t believe it’s rum!”
A recent rise in e-commerce means that this $90 treasure — hand-bottled in small batches just once a year — is newly available at online retailers serving most U.S. states. For discerning drinkers who appreciate fine sipping spirits, all that’s needed is a delivery address. Preferably on dry land.
Later this fall, Goslings dives even deeper into its aged stock with the release of Papa Seal 2020, a blend of extraordinary rums, matured in ex-bourbon casks for up to 21 years. Once assembled, the rum sees an additional 24 months in medium-charred American oak. Each barrel is filtered and bottled individually at 83 proof. The precious liquid arrives on shelves for just the second time in the rum maker’s history. And this iteration is even more exclusive than the last. Only 1,500 bottles will be available for purchase in the U.S.
“The nose is soft yet full, with nuances of oak, cedar, honey and leather,” Gosling says. “The taste lavishes the palate with hints of caramel, spice, vanilla, and dried fruit. The lingering finish is clean and exceptionally well balanced.” He recommends enjoying it neat, at room temperature, or served over a single ice cube. Sure, Black Seal is one of the world’s top-selling rums for good reason. But to a seasoned sipper, it is merely the jumping-off point into a deep dive of discovery. Indeed, a journey with Goslings is never more than a bottle away.