Is Foursquare the New Pappy?
Punch recently published an article by Matt Pietrek titled How Foursquare Became the Pappy of Rum. They aren't the first to make the suggestion that Richard Seale's popular Barbados rum is the new Pappy Van Winkle. Now, first things first, calling anything "the new Pappy" has become a tired cliché and should be generally frowned upon – it's just a lazy way of saying, something has suddenly become very popular – like natural wine or fidget spinners. It's also a dog whistle to hoarders and flippers for whom Pappy Van Winkle isn't made of corn but money – anything that's the new Pappy is going to make them rich. But all that annoying stuff aside, is there merit to this particular analogy? Let's consider it.
Similarities between Pappy and Foursquare:
Both are high quality spirits but also crowd pleasers. Things generally don't become popular because they are crappy (though these days, that's not a given in the bourbon world). Behind all the hype and the lines, Pappy Van Winkle is, as the old slogan said, "fine bourbon," and Foursquare is great rum. But they are also very tame, dare I say smooth spirits. They are less polarizing than spicy rye or high ester Jamaican rum. They were designed with more general appeal; that's what made them popular in the first place.
They both have the hype. Foursquare is definitely having a moment. Spirits writer Fred Minnick has been a huge proponent (and has also made the Pappy analogy), and their new releases have been flying off the shelves at an unusual pace. There's probably not room for more than one connoisseur's rum in the general market, so Foursquare may be it.
Differences between Pappy and Foursquare:
You can buy Foursquare. For now, at least, Foursquare is not the Pappy of rum because you can go into a store and buy it. Maybe you can't find Criterion or one of the Europe only releases from Velier, but you can easily buy some of the excellent Real McCoy or other expressions. Want Pappy? You can't even find the Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year old, which was never even that great.
Transparency. Nowadays Pappy is made at Buffalo Trace, but there's always been a bit of mystery about where the Van Winkle's sourced their various whiskeys – Was it Stitzel-Weller? Bernheim? Buffalo Trace? Boone? Medley? Who the hell knew? It certainly wasn't on the label. And all of that mystery definitely contributed to Pappy's mystique. In contrast, Foursquare's Richard Seale is a crusader for transparency. All his rum is made at the Foursquare Distillery and the label tells you the type of still. No mysteries here.
Pappy was part of a bourbon boom. Pappy didn't rise on its own. It was part of a general craze for bourbon, and while Pappy may be the most hyped, there are tons of bourbons that are nearly as popular and unobtainable. When was the last time you saw something from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection or a Four Roses Limited Edition on the shelf for anywhere near the original price? You could even say that bourbon is the Pappy of spirits. Rum has been gaining in popularity, but it's not clear that it's going anywhere near the bourbon craze. You do see some scrambles over limited releases, but they're mostly in the European market. It's just not clear yet whether America loves high quality, additive-free rum.
Foursquare is a distillery. This is really where the analogy breaks down. Foursquare is a distillery. Pappy Van Winkle is a brand. Hell, it's not even a brand; it's a subset of three bottles in the Van Winkle line. Comparing three bottles to a distillery is more than apples and oranges. It's like asking is the Toyota Highlander the new GM? Or is Black Panther the new Paramount? It doesn't make sense.
In the end, I guess I'm not convinced that Pappy and Foursquare belong in the same category other than the category of "popular things to drink." Of course, calling something the new Pappy can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you call something Pappy, people will treat it like Pappy – gush about it, hoard it, overpay for it, buy it for their high end clients, etc., and lo and behold, it becomes Pappy. Hopefully that won't happen to Foursquare, but we'll see.
About the Author: Sku used to be a whisky blogger but he retired. We asked him to consider a return as a guest blogger here, stay tuned for more info on him and his take on booze.