Written by Brian Bianco
Like any good (yet slightly irresponsible) 16-21 year old, the apparent virtues of rum were well known to me. Girls love that shit, so it was common practice to make sure someone got a bottle of Malibu for the party or social gathering, and then maybe something better to be mixed with soda for everyone else. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with rum, but as an adult, I’ve mostly narrowed my sights on the brassiest IPAs, whiskeys and bourbons I can find, which means everything is straight, filling and/or easily mixable with soda. This is a narrow and terrible view – especially as there are now dozens of bartenders around Dallas who can easily show you the wonderful possibilities of vodka, gin and all the other “non-bro” spirits being poured today.
Still, when Susie asked me to taste a sample batch from Papa’s Pilar, my first instinct was to outsource this to the first friend I could find from Florida, but after my calls were not returned, I realized it was time to teach myself how to really taste this stuff and see what I could find out. The rum is named for Ernest Hemingway (bet you love that clever title up there now), so I figured if anyone could teach me to give rum a chance, it’s a man who survived multiple plane crashes and was an all around badass who just happened to be pretty damn eloquent.
After doing some quick research, I learned rum tasting works a lot like wine tasting. You check the legs, you use your sense of smell, you swirl and you let it breathe. I decided I would do both straight tastings and quickly mix a Dark and Stormy to evaluate the two samples and I’ve recorded my notes below. To reset my rum pallet, I tasted a few sips of a third brand of rum to make sure I had a baseline for comparison, and then I dove in.
First, let’s take a moment to appreciate the really interesting packaging. From the wooden box to the ship style bottles, the presentation of even a simple sample was actually exciting to tear into. They provided background literature from their website that focused on their history, the distillery and the solera aging process they use for both types of rum. Even if you’re just a history nerd who plans to never drink a sip, it’s an interesting read. For more on how the rum is made, here’s one of the most direct summaries I found if you don’t feel like poking around the website.
Papa’s Pilar Three Year-Old Blonde Rum
This was very easy to drink, with a wash of fruit tastes on first sip (especially grapefruit), followed by a deeper vanilla flavor. White rum is usually not my thing, but this had just enough going on to make the sipping experience enjoyable – in fact, I ended up drinking double my planned amount after I made it through the tasting process.
I didn’t do anything elaborate – just some Reed’s ginger beer to see how a simple recipe turned out. While I had only made a Dark and Stormy with darker rums in the past, this actually made a nice and refreshing summer drink I would happily revisit as soon as Texas decides to stop having random freezes in April.
Papa’s Pilar Twenty Four Year-Old Dark Rum
First, this rum took a double gold medal at the World Spirits competition in San Francisco (and the blonde also was recognized at the Rum Renaissance Festival in Miami), so my expectation to be blown away was high. As much as I tried to fight it, once I had the glass poured, my mind kept telling my mouth to get ready for bourbon. However, the first sip was excellent and I actually had that same rush I get from a good sip of the usual stuff, with complex flavors and a smooth finish. It was spicy, but not in an off-putting way and you could tell the impact of the solera-aging process (thanks, bourbon barrels) and the influence of the different casks.
As good as this rum is neat, mixing it in a cocktail almost felt wasteful. I tried to only give it a few splashes of ginger beer, but even that was a waste. If you’re going to drink this one, neat or on the rocks is the way to go.
So, in summary, I enjoyed both of these rums immensely and recommend you start exploring cocktails with the blonde and keep the dark one on hand to be enjoyed by the secret rumelier hidden deep inside you.
Papa’s Pilar Three Year-Old Blonde Rum – ~$30
Papa’s Pilar Twenty Four Year-Old Dark Rum – ~$40