Rum Review: Pusser’s Black Label Gunpowder Proof

Rum Review: Pusser’s Black Label Gunpowder Proof

Pusser’s a well known rum brand at a reasonable price. Their “blue label” product (reviewed here) is downright inexpensive and claims to be the authentic blend used by British Navy for some 200 years (from about 1730 to 1970). So what is this black label “Gunpowder” proof all about? In the 19th century (or before) the British Admiralty began issuing an alcohol ration to every sailor. At first brandies and such were tried, but these tended to spoil over long voyages. By contrast rum seemed only to get better and so by around 1730 all the rations were converted to rum. At first “the tot” was a half pint of over proof rum, a full cup. That’s a lot of distilled spirit at 57%+ ABV. Over the years the ration changed. First water was added to bring the ABV (and hopefully drunkeness) down and then the ration was cut in half and eventually in half again. But at the beginning it was potent stuff and the sailors knew how to tell they were being cheated. As it turns out, if you put a little bit of gunpowder on paper and pour a little rum over it (any distilled spirit will have this effect) if the ABV is above a certain “magic number” the gunpowder will still ignite even wet. If it refuses to ignite, the ABV is below the magic number.

That magic number turns out to be 56% ABV! But Pusser’s “Gunpowder rum” is bottled at 54.5% ABV! The gunpowder will not ignite. It all comes down to marketing, and they were hoping you, the consumer, wouldn’t know! Well now you do! But “Gunpowder proof” or not, this is a damned good rum!



Color: Medium dark amber shading to a copper red..

Legs: Tiny beads form all along the border when the glass is swirled. After a long while they begin to
coalesce into thick legs that run slowly down the glass

Aroma: Alcohol of course but not so much as you might expect from the 54.5% ABV at which the rum is bottled but it does manage to tickle the back of my throat if I inhale the glass deeply. No acetone notes, this is not a “young rum”. There is plenty to smell though. Prune, raisin, dark brown sugar, and a little bit of that “pot still” funk that one gets so much of in the 40% ABV “blue label” product. But in this version the funk is transformed from moldy forrest floor to over-ripe dark fruit.

Flavors: This rum shines on many levels from the layers of its aroma to the flavors that come through on the palate. Rich in dark fruit, prune but especially raisin, treacle (burnt caramel), vanilla, tobacco, and oak round it all out. The pot still funk is there too but far less intense than it is in the blue label and as in the aroma it tastes more like over-fermented raisin than old socks.

Texture and finish: The rum is a little creamy, but gets creamier as the glass is consumed. The finish is medium, brown-sugar sweet, and a little hot as the extra alcohol takes affect in the swallow. But it is not a harsh finish by any means, the rum shows its pedigree. There is no need to dilute this rum, it is nicely smooth at full strength. But a tiny bit of water didn’t hurt it and brought more brown sugar sweetness and frutiness to the foreground.

Speaking of sugar, the sugar test reference shows 7g/l added sugar, a tiny bit more than the 6g/l in the blue label, but these are low numbers. Some rums go as high as 40g/l, and for comparison, coca cola has a whopping 108g/l!!


For roughly $40 at most retailers Pusser’s Gunpowder rum is a bargain. The price is about 60% above the usual blue label price (another outstanding value its price of about $25 most places) but it is a much better rum experience over all especially if the moldy funk of the blue label product is off putting to your palate.

I have paired the Gunpowder rum with a few cigars and they all seem to go well. This rum seems to hit the sweet spot as goes enhancing tobacco flavors. This might turn out to be the best cigar-pairing rum ever!

The navy tot by the way was often mixed with a little lime juice (to prevent scurvy) and sugar (undoubtedly to smooth out what would have been very young rum). This process may have pushed rum into the “anything goes” spirit we often see in products today. But by the way, a squeeze of lime is pretty good in rum…