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.

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.

Me, my new friend Dale and the now-infamous shot of rum.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

25 Responses to The Day I Drank 282 Year-Old Rum

  1. D.J. - The World of Deej October 17, 2012 at 4:44 pm #

    As a huge rum lover, this is an amazing experience. Might have to make a special trip to Delaware:)

    • Chris October 18, 2012 at 11:16 pm #

      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 Donaldson January 6, 2014 at 2:01 pm #

        Gosh, and to think the place is around the corner from where I live! I need to give it a try!

        • Christina Ricchiuti January 6, 2014 at 9:24 pm #

          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!

  2. David Weber October 17, 2012 at 6:28 pm #

    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!!!!

    • Chris October 18, 2012 at 11:14 pm #

      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!

  3. Peter October 19, 2012 at 2:56 am #

    Very awesome experience! Not a major rum fan, but I could become one if Pirate rum was on offer. Great post!

    • Chris November 3, 2012 at 3:38 pm #

      Thanks, Peter! This rum was unlike any I’ve ever had before. That’s for sure!

  4. Alex November 17, 2012 at 11:20 pm #

    Lol why did you drink a $300 shot of rum from a plastic cup though?

    • Chris November 25, 2012 at 9:23 pm #

      :) Who am I to complain? It was in a museum and the only fine china was in the display cases!

  5. keith November 19, 2012 at 3:36 pm #

    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 :)

    • Chris November 25, 2012 at 9:28 pm #

      Ha! Luckily, Bacardi works for the day to day. Phew!

  6. GullibleMuch November 22, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

    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.

    Fake.

    • Chris November 25, 2012 at 9:35 pm #

      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.

  7. Trina November 22, 2012 at 11:59 pm #

    So. Much. Fun!

    • Chris November 25, 2012 at 9:36 pm #

      Thanks Trina! I agree :)

  8. john doe November 25, 2012 at 9:33 pm #

    It’s a pretty cool experience but the rum would have been pretty standard as rum doesn’t age inside the bottle like wine.

    • Chris November 25, 2012 at 9:40 pm #

      I’ve never had aged rum… but it sure was strong!

  9. Joe November 27, 2012 at 8:20 pm #

    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!

    • Chris November 29, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

      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! :)

  10. Brian Quigley December 11, 2012 at 12:52 pm #

    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

  11. Patrick Gleason February 21, 2013 at 10:31 pm #

    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.

    Patrick Gleason

    • Chris March 5, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

      Hi Patrick,
      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? :)

  12. Tasty Pete August 20, 2014 at 8:45 pm #

    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’.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Southern Delaware: Highlights for History Buffs - November 1, 2012

    […] extravagant displays of artifacts recovered from ships downed in the Atlantic. I’ve already written about this gem in length, but in addition to the exciting tales of shipwrecks and deep-sea pirating (and incredibly old […]

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge