What would make Papa proud?
I am considering this question in light of the sample of rum which has landed in my lap. It’s from “Papa’s Pilar,” named after Ernest Hemingway’s fishing boat. Indeed, Hemingway’s name and image are central to the presentation of the brand.
Celebrity tie-ins to liquor are nothing new, whether or not the associations make any sense. For example: Jack Daniel’s has Frank Sinatra, known as a devoted fan of that particular Tennessee whiskey. On the other hand there is Jefferson’s, which uses the Founding Father’s likeness despite the fact that the eponymous Thomas Jefferson didn’t care for whiskey, sticking instead to wine. So, on the spectrum of famous faces to slap on a bottle of booze, how does Hemingway fare?
By all accounts, Hemingway was a consumer of alcohol in quantities that seem – like other aspects of his mythos – to have become exaggerated as time goes on. He was certainly not the only “drinker with writing problems” in the American literary scene; Faulkner and Fitzgerald spring immediately to mind. However, Hemingway’s drinking was long viewed in a positive light, or at least as being additive to his legend. Like hunting large game and extreme fishing and bull fighting, drinking to excess on a daily basis was just another superhuman feat that set him apart from mortal men.
Hemingway’s relationship to alcohol has been reevaluated in recent years as deeply problematic. When we talk about Hemingway and drinking now, it’s more often in the context of the way that booze caused his physical and psychological degradation, in the manner of his aforementioned contemporaries. It might have contributed to his suicide, and almost definitely would have killed him if he kept going at his reputed pace.
Setting aside the wisdom of associating this brand with “Papa,” he certainly had nothing to do with the production of the rum itself. So, where does this come from?
The Papa’s Pilar Rum Distillery is located in Key West, Florida. You might remember the name of Master Distiller Ron Call; his son Jacob Call followed in his papa’s footsteps to become the Master Distiller at Green River in Owensboro, Kentucky. Call the elder had previous experience at Florida Distillers, and before that at Jim Beam.
However, scrolling through the “Our Sources” section of the Papa’s Pilar website yields the following information:
“Papa’s Pilar expressions are born of hand-selected, multi-sourced rums artfully blended [and] finished into a single pour. Master Distiller, Ron Call, hand selects rums of different points of origin optimized for their unique taste and age profiles. Sources include Barbados, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Venezuela and Lakeland & Key West, Florida.”
So, we have here some rum – potentially sourced – but what else? Well, this is the “Legacy Edition 2022,” the second annual release in this series by Pilar. The USP for this release (the promotional materials inform me) is that the rum was finished in French Oak Apple Brandy casks (“hand-selected,” of course). It is bottled at 88 proof (44% ABV). Price for a bottle in the online shop is $103, with $20 from the sale of each bottle will be donated to the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation.
Full disclosure: this was a sample sent to me by a PR firm. It was packaged in a gift box also containing a spherical ice cube mold and a paperback copy of “The Old Man and the Sea.” Though all this is appreciated, per Malt editorial policy it will not reflect my notes or score for this rum.
Papa’s Pilar Rum Legacy Edition 2022 – Review
Color: Medium-pale burnished gold.
On the nose: Pleasant enough to start – if a bit simplistic – this has an upfront note of oaky vanilla that is the predominating first impression. As I sit and sniff a bit longer some more plump orchard fruit aromas begin to emerge with a nod to the cask finish. There are spicy accents of nutmeg and sandalwood in here as well. Some darker aromas of burnt sugar lean this in a slightly funky direction, in a good way.
In the mouth: The palate on this is nondescript in a way that makes it very hard to write about. A bit of tart woodiness creates the limpest of first impressions in the front of the mouth. There’s a fruitiness toward the middle of the mouth that could charitably be described as “subtle,” so soft spoken and momentary is its appearance. This more or less falls apart entirely into the finish, where it tastes like vaguely rum-flavored water. Texturally, this has little to offer at any point on the palate. The relatively sedate bottling strength is evident in the weakness of the presentation overall.
Think of all the adjectives you associate with Hemingway’s popular image (bold, burly, brusque, macho). Now think of their opposites; that is what this rum is. It’s the meekest, most timid little thing. I’ve had more imposing well rum from a watered-down bottle at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico.
I’m not even very enthusiastic about consuming the rest of the free sample sent to me, so the chances of me shelling out more than a hundred dollars for a full-sized bottle are less than zero. Using out scoring scale: this feels like a 4/10 on its own merits (not good, but not terrible) with an extra point deducted for the extremely high price.
I understand that there are serious Hemingway fans out there, ones who have chosen to overlook what we know of his personal life, or who continue to view him as a shining paragon of manliness rather than as a sad casualty of a corrosive cult of masculinity. Without advocating forcefully for either interpretation, I can nonetheless inform you that – should you be considering this as a generous gift for a Papa partisan – you’d do well to bid a farewell to the thought of buying a bottle.