The Pappy of Nothing
I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking in depth about the future of rum and what it means for our customers. A lot of new rum drinkers are finding this exciting haven in the special niche that is high-quality rum precisely because it differs so starkly from the whisky game. Seasoned Scotch drinkers and bourbon connoisseurs often look at the complex rum category and think, “now there’s a nasty pot of shit I don’t want to step in!” They’re happy to stick to the familiarity of their grain-based tipples, scoring the odd choice bottle here and there, draining the reserves on special occasions, and continuing to drink extremely well with some everyday offerings from Kentucky, Scotland, and Japan that really deliver.
The most adventurous or more incensed have turned toward other categories to get their fix. As excited as they are to explore a new, vast landscape of cane-based spirits, there’s an incredible amount of trepidation. Not only are people more cautious because they're less familiar with the products, they’re Both the Premise and 2004 Full Proof are in stock now extremely worried about getting burned again-- spending money on something that doesn’t deliver or falling in love with something that they’ll never see again.
Finding that special thing that you can afford, attain, and enjoy is a wonderful feeling. The purity of experience is unlike any other, something that bourbon nerds probably remember if they started 20ish years ago. It’s a state of bliss that today’s experiential checklist culture doesn’t fully appreciate. Maximum experience is not an integer; it’s a state of mind. That nirvanic equilibrium is fragile though. Rum lover bliss got a switch kick to the crotch last year when our friend Fred Minnick declared Foursquare’s special releases to be “the Pappy of Rums” for their scarcity and ubiquitous admiration.
That knocked the wind from the sails of even the most irreverent rum pirate, but I would argue that there is lot of difference between what they’re doing at Foursquare and the Pappy brand. For one thing, Richard Seale, the owner and master distiller of Foursquare, makes his own hooch. The Van Winkles got out of distilling in the 1972, but they’ve always been great sales people and continued for decades to bottle some of the best bourbons the country had ever seen. In the 1990s when high-end bourbon started to turn on, mostly thanks to the Japanese market, the Van Winkles purchased large amounts of the stocks from their former distillery, Stitzel-Weller. Those special whiskies are what built the Pappy brand, and eventually the spiritual home of the brand moved to Frankfurt with Buffalo Trace so that the brand could survive the end of those special stocks.
What I’m saying is that there was a reason back in the heady old days why people were spending $100 on a bottle of bourbon. It seemed outrageous at the time to so many, but for the lucky few who knew, they owned a part of history -something irreplaceable. Others just slung it back ‘cause it tasted pretty darn good.
Buffalo Trace and the Van Winkles did an incredible job capitalizing on that story and ultimately transitioned to new stocks without much notice from the average consumer, but if you look closely you’ll see older bottlings command much higher prices than current stocks. A testament to that legacy. There was a lot of chest thumping about how bourbon was coming back in the old days. Everyone wanted you to try this awesome thing they had found. Groups of collectors communicated about awesome find via Newsgroups and internet chat boards. The explosion of interest in the category came from within, not from some external forces. Bourbon people were genuinely excited about what they were drinking and wanted to share it with everyone.
That sense of camaraderie is all but dead now a days. Scarcity has created competition. An illegal and unregulated secondary market has created speculators, further driving up prices at legitimate establishments. The rum people really don’t want this to happen to their little slice of the pie. They’re probably not happy I’m talking about it at all. But, there are massive differences.
At Foursquare they're distilling and blending rum. Yes they’re coveted. Yes some stores will mark them up significantly, but I’ve yet to meet the rum nerd who is willing to pay 10 times MSRP for a bottle of Foursquare. In a relative sense, it’s also a lot more available! I’ve just received 30 cases of the incredible 2004 Full Proof that was supposed to be all gone months ago. No mark up, no shenanigans, just awesome rum for a great price. They made a good bit of the 2005 that’s been trickling out, and, while the distributors are being a bit more careful with it than in previous years, people who look will find it. This year’s special release, Dominus, will indeed be extremely limited. Thanks to a trademark issue most of that rum will be sold in Europe.
But what I’m saying is that this awesome distillery in Barbados is producing tons of rum each year. The world-wide interest in the products will only encourage them to distill and bottle even more. Yes some will be hard to get, but it will never be like Pappy.
Caroni on the other hand…