A paradox of the mid range: a pot still rum that fails at very little…except perhaps excitement.
I’ve been writing and rewriting this review for almost three months: each time I came to grips with it, I thought of something else to add (or delete), or some new and interesting product eclipsed the Prichard’s and made me want to publish that first. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, maybe.
Prichard’s has been in business since 1996 when they became the first new distillery in Tennessee since the 1940s and have quite a stable of output, including some interesting rum products to their name – they produce three real rums, one spiced rum, three flavoured rums….plus six whiskies and five liqueurs. So, as with many such outfits in the ‘States, I occasionally wonder if their love isn’t primarily given elsewhere and they make true rums only in order to branch out a little. However, the website and interviews suggest the opposite, so maybe I’ve got it wrong. And I don’t mind that…I’m just curious about it.
Small companies making rum in the USA sometimes try to recreate the American rums of yore by varying their input or production methods. In this case, Prichard’s use not blackstrap molasses (the black sticky residue after most of the sugar has been extracted), but sweet Louisiana Grade A molasses, of the sort that could be put on your pancakes the morning after. The rum is then aged for four years in fifteen-gallon barrels of new oak (another point of departure from more traditional techniques) Whether that works or not is up to the individual. I don’t think it’s all bad, just not something I’d remember enthusiastically a week from now either. It somehow results in a symphony of ho-hum in spite of some off-kilter moments.
Perhaps starting with the aromas might make the point clearer: initially the amber liquid as decanted from the squat long-necked bottle presented clearly, with chocolate and toffee leading the fray. A little patience, a drop of water, and spices began to come forward – cardamon, fennel, apples, a cherry or two, and sly twitch of lemongrass for zest – before being blattened into the ground by a ridiculous amount of emerging iodine, leather, caramel, burnt brown sugar that dominated the nose from there on in.
The rum was medium bodied, neither fierce nor fawn. It slid smoothly on the palate, just a little bit of burn from the standard proofage. I dunno, it seemed diffident, good ‘nuff, like a Three Bears of a rum, neither too much or too little. Again mocha and dark chocolate, coffee, toffee. And after it opened up, black grapes, overripe apples, more iodine, and a thin kind of vanilla thread through the whole business, with anise, molasses and caramel really taking ownership at this point and carrying the whole experience through to a lacklustre finish with just more of the same — unexceptionally so, in my opinion.
That grayness of my opinion has to do with the fact that while the Prichard’s Fine Rum is a workmanlike product by any standard — competently made and reasonably executed — it doesn’t have that extra edge of oomph that excites. It lacks any single shining point of distinction or originality upon which I can hang my hat and say “this part is freakin’ great,” hence my continual suspicion, however unjustified, that bourbon is what they really want to be making, and rum is an indifferent afterthought. Still…that it’s a drinkable, even sippable rum, with perhaps a shade too much Grade A hanging around in there, but worth the outlay — that’s all beyond dispute; it’s the question of whether it’s a must-have that’s is a bit more open to doubt.
See, some rums trumpet their badassery to the world, while others tick over quietly like swiss watches, the undercurrents of their quality self-evident to those who look and enjoy. Here’s a rum that neither leaves you turning cartwheels in transports of drunken exuberance, nor shaking your head sadly as you mumble about a piece of junk you wasted time trying – but walking away from the experience, remarking to your friend, “That, mon ami, is a plain old rum.”