Phraya Rum Looks to Fill That Hole in Your Life Where Asian Luxury Rum Should Be
Lots of things come across the desk here at the Houston Press, from questionably worded PR e-mails to boxes filled with tuna and panties -- yes, that happened. Now and again, however, we do have useful things come along -- and a bottle of rum from Thailand happens to fall squarely in that category.
Photos by Joshua Justice
Ensconced in a lovely fabric-covered box, Phraya -- we are told -- is "the world's first luxury rum from Asia." The painted bottle, complete with gold metal inlay and hardwood stopper, certainly looked fancy to us. But then again, we've been known to drink plastic-bottle Ron Rico in a pinch, so what do we know?
As much as we love to drink, and while we certainly enjoy the sound of our own voice, we thought it best to bring in a couple of real experts to try out the Phraya. Lindsey Heffron of Liberty Station and Sebastian Nahapetian from The Pass & Provisions offered to help put the fired oak barrel-aged gold rum through its paces to see exactly what $50 in "luxury rum" gets you these days.
Using an assortment of fresh fruit, the depressing contents of a fridge that hasn't been restocked since the crush of the holidays and our modest home bar, we hoped Lindsey and Sebastian could find something to throw at our bottle of Phraya.
"You get lots of vanilla and sweet caramel from it. Oak too," noted Lindsey on her first taste. "It's going to mix really well, I think."
She set out first with a simple Daiquiri -- lime juice, vanilla simple syrup, rum and just a dash of bitters -- and with good reason: If a rum can't hold its own here in this classic context, it's probably not going to fare well. Fare well it did, however; we all agreed the Phraya and its rich, toasted vanilla and warm candy flavor balanced the lime well.
Sebastian was still contemplating the rum at this point. "You're going to show me up, aren't you?" Lindsey asked jokingly.
We put the rum through its paces.
"Milk Punch would be good," Sebastian decided. As it turns out, our poorly stocked fridge actually had heavy cream and whole milk, without curdles even. With milk, rum, a touch of sweet vermouth, simple syrup and a dash of ground cinnamon, we had our Rum Milk Punch -- a solid cocktail, for sure. Here, however, at 80 proof the rum wasn't quite the star it was in the Daiquiri, the thinner flavors swallowed up in the composed sweet punch. This brought Sebastian to another point.
"It's thin for being aged that long -- over seven years. It's not as big as you would expect," he noted. We decided the rum's "slow aging," leaving the barrels at much lower temperatures than you typically see in most barrel-aged rums or whiskeys, probably accounted for this.
According to our bottle of Phraya, the rum is "aged slowly over cool water lagoons...reaching its peak after at least seven years of quiet, peaceful contemplation." This picturesque piece of PR wordsmithing had us contemplating exactly how much of what we hear from liquor companies is true. Are barrels of Phraya hanging from nets over a serene aquamarine lagoon somewhere while Ariel and Prince Eric genteelly paddle by? Or more likely, the cynic in us says, are they racked in an air-conditioned warehouse somewhere in Nakon Pathom, suspended over puddles fed by irrigation ditch runoff?
Just off camera left, Thai rum barrels.
Whatever the actuality, the one nitpick we found with this rum was its weaker body. Sebastian proved his point by pouring us a Rum Manhattan, using two parts rum to one part sweet vermouth. Here the vermouth crushes the rum, bringing all the pepper and port notes of our Cocchi Vermouth di Torino to the forefront. Modified to two and a half parts to one, we saw a better balance.
"One of the problems, I think, is that when you have these rums from outside of your traditional rum-making countries," said Sebastian, "they have to try to be distinctive and put their own little twist on things and that's not always the best result."
That note aside, we enjoyed the bottle quite a bit, and found that in lighter, fruit-based cocktails, it was very well-balanced and smooth, letting the ingredients shine while showing off the round oak and vanilla notes of the rum.
In the end, Phraya is best for basic, fruit-based drinks like Daiquiris.
At $50, Phraya is pricey. And combined with its notable shortcomings in heavier drinks, it is certainly not adequate to be the sole bottle of rum in a home bar. It is, however, suited as a showpiece bottle for home bars with several other rums already stocked, or as a call drink for a Daiquiri or an Old Fashioned or even on the rocks at your favorite cocktail bar.
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