Caroni Navy Rum Tate and Lyle 90 Proof 1960s
The Caroni distillery is said to have been established in 1918, however there are several historical references that suggest distilling was happening there earlier in the 20th century. It became part of the Tate & Lyle firm in 1936, who used it as a base for expanding their eventually considerable sugar operations in Trinidad. Caroni was a key ingredient of the British Navy rations, where its famous high-ester 'Heavy' rums helped to make up the signature flavour. Sadly, with the decline of the Trinidadian sugar industry, the island’s remaining rum producers became increasingly dependent upon imported molasses, making distilling less economical. Tate & Lyle sold a 51% controlling stake to the Trinidadian government in 1970, before it became fully nationalised in 1975. Despite being self-sufficient in molasses, the newly established Caroni Ltd continued to lose money for the next 25 years until the government tried to minimise its ownership, selling off 49% of its share, just enough to retain control. Angostura were the preferred bidders, but a dispute over the value of Caroni’s warehoused stock scuppered the deal, and Caroni was closed for good in 2003.
This is an incredibly rare example of Caroni rum from long before its closure. These bottles were imported to the UK in the 1960s by Caroni's parent firm, Tate & Lyle. The rum was distilled in Trinidad and imported to the UK to continentally age in bond. It was then bottled at either 75 proof or 90 proof. In a spectacular example of advertising from a different era, posters for the product at the time urged you to, "remember, Caroni does not linger on the breath." Anyone who has tried the plenitude of Caroni rum that has appeared from Velier and other European independent bottlers in the 21st century will be familiar with the oily, diesel-like quality of that spirit, and will find such advertising claims hard to believe. However it is worth noting that the distillery had a variety of stills, producing both light and heavy rums. Despite the Angostura take-over bid failing, the company still acquired the majority of the stock, including most of the lighter rum for its blends.
At this time the distillery operated both a cast iron pot still, commissioned in 1918, a wooden coffey still installed in 1936 and a single column still acquired from the Esperanza estate in 1957. The latter produced a particularly high-ester rum for flavouring, and is likely the origins of the Caroni we recognise today. The earlier two were replaced in the 1980s, meaning Caroni rum from this period is certainly likely to be similar, but not entirely familiar. What will be familiar however is the bottle and label design, which was lovingly recreated by La Maison & Velier for a 100th anniversary bottling of Caroni in 2018.