17 Oct The Day I Drank 282 Year-Old Rum
I grasped the small shot of rum that was handed to me with delicate care. I took a whiff and listened, transfixed, to the instructions that I was being told:
Now, here’s what I want you to do… I want you to take the whole shot into your mouth, but do not swallow it. Not until I tell ya to. Then, you’re going to swirl it around your mouth—make sure you get a real good taste. And then, when you’re ready, I want ya to swallow it. But immediately after you drink it, I want you to take a big breath back in through your nose. Got it?
The light Southern drawl of charismatic Dale Clifton walked me through precisely how to drink a single shot of rum. But this wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill Bacardi… No, this shot of rum was from a 282 year-old bottle that was recovered from a 1733 Spanish shipwreck on the bottom of the ocean. This shot of rum was part of history. We also asked for some beers to this 24 hour alcohol delivery company to enjoy it with the rum.
I nodded my understanding with wide-eyed anticipation, threw my head back and… well, I’ll get to that in a minute. First, I want to set the scene.
I must have driven by Clifton’s DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum 50 times in my lifetime. It’s located just over the Delaware line in the small coastal town of Fenwick Island, between Ocean City, Maryland and Bethany Beach, Delaware. Chances are you’d drive right past and not even know it was there, because this hidden gem is humbly located on top of the glaringly touristy “Sea Shell City”- the very same place where I bought my first and only hermit crab as a kid.
It’s easily overlooked, but to those lucky few who happen to see the sign on the upper window, walk inside past the hermit crabs and up the stairs… well, they are in for a treat because here lies one of the best exhibits of lost-at-sea artifacts that would rival even what you’d find at the Smithsonian or the Met. And it’s completely free to visit.
The DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum is full of treasure of all kinds– including ornate jewelry, solid gold chains, gold bars, doubloons and pieces of eight and, yes, bottles of unopened rum. But more than that, here you’ll hear some of the best adventure stories you’ll ever hear told by a master story-teller. Because not only is Clifton the museum director… he’s also the one who has recovered many of the artifacts. Which makes him a real life treasure hunter.
So, back to the rum…
I was captivated throughout my 1 1/2 hour visit and the shot of rum was the grand finale.
I followed his instructions to the letter… I took a deep whiff of the liquor and felt the rum scent crawl deep inside my lungs. I threw my head back and put the whole shot into my mouth, swished it around, and paused. Instantly I could feel the inside of my entire mouth both tingle and dry-up from the strong alcohol. And where the liquor had touched my lips felt cool.
When I felt like I could not wait any longer, I finally swallowed the rum. After a beat, I took in as deep a breath that I could manage and waited for the inevitable. The painful-but-not-really feeling reached into my deepest depths and fought for attention, before being overwhelmed by the lightheaded rush of pure alcohol.
It was only after the visceral reactions subsided that I began to notice the taste.
The antiquated rum was strong but it also had surprisingly nice flavor – slightly sweet with hints of coconut and citrus, making me think of pirates swaggering about the Tortugas with a similar bottle of rum in hand. I learned later that there was coconut fiber in the bottom of the bottles and that lemon and lime juice was added purposefully to help sailors prevent scurvy. Sure, the potency of the liquor made my mouth a little numb, but what’s a little numbness for a once in a lifetime experience!
In the end, I discovered that the bottle that I had drank from was 145 proof Royal English ration rum, one of 18 unopened bottles recovered and valued by Sotheby’s in New York to be worth $20,000/ bottle… which meant that my portion was worth around $300. But regardless of the monetary value, to me, just having the opportunity to taste a part of history was priceless.
My only regret is that I didn’t bring out my video camera to film the whole thing, because that was for sure one of the coolest things I’ve ever been lucky enough to experience.
D.J. - The World of DeejPosted at 16:44h, 17 October
As a huge rum lover, this is an amazing experience. Might have to make a special trip to Delaware:)
ChrisPosted at 23:16h, 18 October
D.J. you definitely should! And, I was always obsessed with archaeology and shipwrecks as a kid, so it was great on a bunch of different levels.
Lynda DonaldsonPosted at 14:01h, 06 January
Gosh, and to think the place is around the corner from where I live! I need to give it a try!
Christina RicchiutiPosted at 21:24h, 06 January
Oh my gosh- you HAVE to! It’s a fantastic little spot… though it may be closed for the season. Definitely worth a little trip to Fenwick Island, for sure!
David WeberPosted at 18:28h, 17 October
This so kicks A$$….the museum sounds very interesting and IMHO Rum is the finest of spirits….reading this makes me want to drive to the museum right now, alas it is not to be for I am headed to Vegas in the morn. I will have to wait ’til November to check this place out and sample the finest of the fine. Been keeping up with you thru the magic of the internet and am very proud of you!!!! I see that you now go by the moniker of Chris, but until you specifically tell me otherwise, you will always be “Chrissy”. We need to get together with your Mom and Dad and I’ll bring some Rum I found on Grand Cayman….made in Guatemala, MMMMM TASTY!!!!
ChrisPosted at 23:14h, 18 October
Hi! Yeah, it was a ridiculously cool experience- you should definitely check out the museum next time you’re at the beach. I still remember the days of going with you guys to Ocean City- always so much fun. Let’s definitely get together soon- it’s been entirely too long. Have fun in VEGAS!
PeterPosted at 02:56h, 19 October
Very awesome experience! Not a major rum fan, but I could become one if Pirate rum was on offer. Great post!
ChrisPosted at 15:38h, 03 November
Thanks, Peter! This rum was unlike any I’ve ever had before. That’s for sure!
AlexPosted at 23:20h, 17 November
Lol why did you drink a $300 shot of rum from a plastic cup though?
ChrisPosted at 21:23h, 25 November
🙂 Who am I to complain? It was in a museum and the only fine china was in the display cases!
keithPosted at 15:36h, 19 November
Never drink another shot of rum again unless it is at least 283 years old, because if you do, it will be very annoying for friends you’re drinking with, when you start recounting how that 282 year old rum tasted for the nth time 🙂
But seriously i can just imagine how it must have felt although I’m a teetotaler 🙂
ChrisPosted at 21:28h, 25 November
Ha! Luckily, Bacardi works for the day to day. Phew!
GullibleMuchPosted at 16:10h, 22 November
You’re a bit gullible, aren’t you? I can fill an old bottle with cheap Rum and pretend it is 300 years old. As if anybody would allow tourists wandering through their place to just sample their 300 year old Rum without a hefty fee — and from a cheap plastic cup, no less.
ChrisPosted at 21:35h, 25 November
Sure, the fact that it may be a gimmick crossed my mind. All I know is that I was swept away with the stories I learned at the Shipwreck Museum and found the curator to be a humble, enthusiastic explorer who placed more value on sharing his experiences over the value of his treasures. Gullible? Perhaps. But does it matter? Not really.
TrinaPosted at 23:59h, 22 November
So. Much. Fun!
ChrisPosted at 21:36h, 25 November
Thanks Trina! I agree 🙂
john doePosted at 21:33h, 25 November
It’s a pretty cool experience but the rum would have been pretty standard as rum doesn’t age inside the bottle like wine.
ChrisPosted at 21:40h, 25 November
I’ve never had aged rum… but it sure was strong!
JoePosted at 20:20h, 27 November
My family owns a beach house in Bethany Beach which we have been visiting every summer for some fifteen years; I must have driven by that place well over 50 times as well and yet I have never noticed it or heard of it. Sounds like I should check it out next time I am in Delaware!
ChrisPosted at 13:17h, 29 November
Joe, I’m so jealous that your family has a house in Bethany. What a beautiful area! I’m glad that I was able to share a new experience with you. Definitely stop by the next time you drive by. Gotta love hidden treasures! 🙂
Brian QuigleyPosted at 12:52h, 11 December
I’m extremely jealous. I bet that was an exhilarating experience. Rum is one of my favorite alcoholic beverages and to have one that old would be delight. I hope you enjoyed it to the fullest!
Brian @ Colorado Mortgage Brokers
Patrick GleasonPosted at 22:31h, 21 February
Chris, I too have had some of Dale’s rum, and yeah, it’s a killer experience. My story was kind of like yours. I was in OC with my family one summer and we swung by there right before we left to go back home to Glen Burnie to pick up some souvenirs for the kids’ cousins when we stumbled upon the museum. Dale was up there telling some of his shipwreck stories and after a crowd had gathered he asked us if we wanted to see some stuff out of the vault, stuff that the average person doesn’t get to see, so we all answered sure, why not?
At one point he says to the kids to pick an adult out of the crowd and my kids immediated pointed at me as the lucky adult volunteer.
The rest of the experience follows yours, and he said that it was the most expensive shot I’m ever likely to have. It was kind of surreal, drinking rum that was bottled before the signing of the Declaration if Independence. There probably aren’t too many other people who can say they’ve had a similar experience. After all, how could they? 🙂
I was thinking about that experience this evening so I decided to see if there are any other ancient bottles of rum out there when I came upon your post. I’m glad I found it.
ChrisPosted at 14:59h, 05 March
Thank you for sharing your story! It’s nice to hear from another one of Dale’s lucky visitors. He’s quite the storyteller, isn’t he? 🙂
Tasty PetePosted at 20:45h, 20 August
Hi, I’m aware I’m a little late with this, but I just wanted to say that if your little taster contained citrus juice as you say it did, then what you drank was in fact the famous ‘grog’.
BrandonPosted at 14:16h, 11 December
Wow this looks awesome! Reminds me a lot of a few museums that we have here on the Outer Banks. As someone who grew up in a place embedded with pirate tales, I am quite jealous!
Margaret KinchPosted at 02:57h, 09 June
I am so envious of you Chris! I hope I could try that too. How could they preserve that rum? Another thing, is it free? To think that it’s already 282 year-old, it costs so much compared to the commercial liquor. Indeed, you’re so lucky that day! Furthermore, it has lemon that prevents scurvy which makes me like it more. Really had fun reading your experience.
Malc BrownPosted at 18:54h, 15 April
That is such a good story and thanks for writing 🙂 Such a unique experience and a memory that I am sure will last a lifetime. How cool!
Justin smithPosted at 19:05h, 06 November
I actually got to witness this firsthand with dale when I was in 5th or 6th grade. Dale took out his gold chains, gold bars, and his pirate rum. Mrs. Beard who took the shot was crying from the burn and it was quite funny. This guys is super rich and hum
joel bougardPosted at 10:06h, 02 November
Infortunately Christina you got tricked, the type of bottle you have in hand did not exist at all in the 18th century, and it is not a bottle of rum, it is a late 19th century port or madeira bottle, (Nobody would offer for free in a plastic cup such a wine.
Kindly Joel Bougard
Christina Ricchiuti-DubinPosted at 14:33h, 29 December
Thanks, Joel– Reflecting back years after experiencing this I have to admit that I think your likely correct. I’m horribly gullible… but also it’s risky to try to fool someone that they know will be writing about them, don’t you think? Regardless, Dale’s passion was infectious and the intrigue of “was it or was it not real” that the experience has left an indelible mark, even years later! Cheers!
Edwards catalanePosted at 19:25h, 27 March
I am a rum lover and thought it was great you shared your experience.. as a history buff I was reading your words with bated breath thanks for the details. how cool to think you drink out of the same bottle that would have been drunken by sailors and pirates of lore.