The Bermudian Libation

From arriving in error to creating Bermuda’s only consumable export, Goslings brought booze to Bermuda, then rum to the world
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Like many well-known Bermudians before them, the Gosling family arrived in Bermuda by mistake. Lack of wind meant James Gosling’s boat, which left England in Spring 1806, ran out of supplies, and never made it to America. Instead, he was dropped off at the nearest port – St. George’s, Bermuda.

The son of wine and spirits merchant, William Gosling, the younger Gosling wanted to expand the business into the New World. When he arrived in Bermuda with £10,000 worth of wines and spirits, however, he found a thirsty island in need of his products.

“Nobody was in the business at the time,” explained E. Malcolm Gosling, president & CEO of Gosling’s. “He got a license to sell on December 3rd 1806, and a few years later his brother Ambrose came out and joined him with the next cargo of wines and spirits, and we’ve been here ever since.”

While the Gosling name has become synonymous with rum – in particular their world-famous Black Seal – they also sell a large variety of wines, spirits, and beers. Wine accounts for around 50 percent of their local business.

Rum, however, is why Bermuda is so well known in some of the finest bars around the world, but it wasn’t until the 1850s, when whiskey was scarce, that the Black Seal story began.

“[We were] trying to find something to satisfy those whiskey drinkers, so they went further south, to the Caribbean, and got a variety of different rum distillates and brought them back to Bermuda, then experimented with the ageing and blending of rum to try and create an alternative,” explained Mr Gosling.

“What they came up with was several different blends, one of them was so deep, complex and tasted like fine old rum, so they called it old rum.” In those days, the only way to buy it was by filling your own bottle from barrels in their stores.

Old Rum was a hit, and when tourism started growing in the 1920s, they began bottling it:

“People wanted to take Old Rum back with them so Goslings decided to put it into a bottle,” he continued. They used recycled Champagne bottles, which were corked and covered with black sealant wax.

For years they listened to customers asking for the “one with the black seal” before Mr Gosling’s uncle, Goose Gosling, sketched out the juggling seal logo, officially changing Old Rum to Black Seal. When British officers added ginger beer, they noticed it created a “storm cloud that only a fool or a dead man would sail under”, and the national cocktail was born. Black Seal’s popularity took off. In the 1980s the ‘Dark n Stormy’ was trademarked, and they began exporting it. Goslings had come full circle.

Black Seal is now one among many Goslings’ rum products, which include Old Rum Rye Barrel Finish, Flora Gold – the proceeds of which go towards the Flora Fund – Silver Rum, Amber Refined Rum, Gold Seal, Papa Seal and Spirited Seas Ocean Aged Rum, which travels for nine-and-a-half months on the Oleander as it crosses from New Jersey to Bermuda and back again.

Goslings is still very much a family enterprise, and six members of the eighth-generation work at the company. This includes Mr Gosling’s son, Malcolm L. Gosling, whose idea it was to use the Oleander to ‘store’ the Spirited Seas Ocean barrels.

While the number of cocktail creations and food recipes using Goslings’ rums continues to grow, alongside their own ginger beer and tonics, Mr Gosling himself keeps things simple: “I like it with a big cube of ice, and I don’t care which [rum] you’re talking about.”

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