I’ve long held the sugar industry responsible for the dumbing down of many palates. Food and beverage brands have been cutting corners and relying on sweeteners to replace the lost flavors in their products for decades. This has conditioned us to prefer overly-sweet and/or neutral-tasting products. I think a lot of “rum” brands learned something from this. I was told by a long time rum geek that a lot of sweetened and well-known rum brands today entered the market in the mid-2000s. A lot of these brands, despite the adulteration, are considered today’s “beginner rums”; one of them is the topic of today’s piece.
This brand is Diplomatico. They are a family-owned brand from Venezuela. The distillery was established in 1959, but was under a company called LUSA, who was under Seagram. In 2002, the current owners bought the distillery and renamed it Destilerias Unidas S.A. (DUSA). They like to distinguish themselves from other brands by emphasizing their use of sugarcane honey.
I’ve heard mixed things about this. Some say it’s just a fancy marketing word for molasses. Some say using sugar cane honey makes a difference in the quality of the spirit.
Getting into rum is not what it used to be. Five or six years ago, drinkers had little idea that a lot of brands such as Don Papa, Ron Zacapa and Diplomatico were sweetened. They didn’t mind or suspect the sweetness because they thought all aged rum are supposed to be sweet. They thought this was normal. Accompanied by fake age statements, a premium presentation, friendly prices and better distribution brands like ended up being seen as good “beginner rums.” Posting these in online forums back in the day would garner praise and nods of agreement. These would get recommended when a newbie would ask for recommendations.
Times are different now. Drinkers are smarter, more discerning and more knowledgeable. The lies of the brands above have been exposed as they used to deny sweetening their products. Enthusiasts now know a lot of brands are sweetened. Curious people started sending samples of these sweetened rum samples to labs for testing. The result is posting or asking about these brands in online forums such as the Ministry of Rum on Facebook would garner mixed reactions. The camp of drinkers who favor or don’t mind sweetened rums would compliment the poster and tell them not to bother with the “snobs” who disagree with his post. Then you’d get the other camp who would warn the one who posted. The usual comments from this camp would share warnings of brand X having a certain amount of sugar added.
I was one of those who thought these were nice “beginner rums.” The first rums I had that weren’t Bacardi or Captain Morgan were Zaya “12” and Ron Zacapa “23.” This was about five or six years ago; I didn’t know about fake age statements then. That and my conditioned palate ended up being in thrall to these brands. Those were my “beginner rums,” yet are these sweetened products really supposed to be called just rum? Some rum drinkers say rum measured via hydrometers show inaccurate results. Others have countered that there wouldn’t be any need for hydrometer measuring if all brands were honest. Then again, some brands like Don Papa still claim to not be adulterated. Is this something they took from the sugar industry as well? For I remember the sugar industry blaming fats for certain diseases like heart problems. Diplomatico now admits to sweetening their rum. They say it’s part of Venezuela’s culture. Having very little knowledge of the country, I’m not going to comment.
You have to wonder if being informally classified as a “beginner’s rum” is a reason why a lot don’t mind their being sweetened. Is it a matter of price point? Is it a matter of perception? Rum and sugarcane spirits are still seen as “inferior” after all. But keep in mind that brands like Diplomatico also “premium” offerings that are also sweetened. Ask yourself, are there any sweetened “beginner Scotch” or “beginner Bourbons/Rye whiskey”?
Ask yourself this as well: what if these drinkers don’t progress from these “beginner rums”? As progressive as the whisk(e)y scene has become, there are still those who don’t progress from so-called beginner whisk(e)y brands like Jim Beam White and Chivas Regal as well.
Our focus today is on their Reserva Exclusiva and Distillery Collection (DC) series. The Reserva is very common, as it is part of their “traditional” range, while the DC series was first released in 2017 to, I think, showcase what their three different stills can do on their own. Bloggers such as Fat Rum Pirate who are weary of the brand’s tendency to sweeten their rum, tested this in a hydrometer; thankfully, none of the three was sweetened. All three being bottled at an enticing ABV of 47% is a plus as well. It seems like they got the idea from El Dorado. I am more of a fan of unsweetened rum, so I bought samples of these from a local bar for this article.
The Reserva Exclusiva is said to be a blend of rum aged up to 12 years. There’s a lot of embellishment regarding their use of what’s known as sugarcane honey, due to its consistency, and the blending has resulted in countless awards. This is bottled at 40% ABV and will cost you £36.95 at The Whisky Exchange, £35 at Master of Malt, expect to pay £41 at Amazon or SharedPour have this for $44.99. Drecon measured the additives via a hydrometer. It showed an amount of 41g/L of added sugar and was last updated in 2018.
The DC No. 1 is called Batch Kettle. The still is said to have been originally from Canada, where it was used for distilling whisky, but was brought to the distillery in 1959. Judging by the picture on the label, it’s a traditional column still that they use for batch distilling. Their use of the term “discontinuous distillation” on their website backs up my idea. They claim this rum to have been aged in ex-bourbon casks for 6 years. You can buy this on The Whisky Exchange for £61.95 and Amazon have this for £67.99.
The DC No. 2 is called Barbet. This still also came to the distillery in 1959 but came from France. This seems to be their still that produces their lightest rum, as it distills continuously. This rum has been aged for 4 years. This is available in The Whisky Exchange for £61.95, or Amazon have this for £65.34.
The DC No. 3 is simply called Pot Still. Oddly, this has the least info provided. There’s a mention of using American white oak and optimum maturity. This is also available on The Whisky Exchange for £61.95.
Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva – review
Color: Muscovado syrup.
On the nose: Medium scents of sweetened pimento dram, vanilla, muscovado syrup, cinnamon, maple syrup, oranges, milk chocolate, toffee and blood orange.
In the mouth: A light pepperiness upfront caressed by a round texture formed by the added sweeteners. I get a pronounced sweetness formed by the light tastes of prunes, raisins, toffee, blood orange, orange peel, vanilla, maple syrup, muscovado syrup, honey and cloves.
First thing I notice is the round texture. I think this is one of the most attractive characteristics of this rum for the unaware. I suspect this is due to the sweetening. The brand claims that 80% of this rum is pot distilled, yet I don’t feel it. Must be all the sweeteners holding it back.
Everything this gives off is just sweet flavors. If I wanted to die of a sweetness overdose, it would be cheaper to chug maple syrup. Paying almost €41 for this one-dimensional, adulterated rum sounds ridiculous to me. Foursquare’s RL Seale 10 and the Appleton 12 are much better buys. They’re honest, cheaper and simply better.
Diplomatico Distillery Collection No. 1: Batch Kettle Rum – review
On the nose: A persistent and pronounced punch of ethanol. It gives way to medium scents of pepperiness, canned peaches, honey and orgeat. Behind those are light scents of apricot, candied orange and banana syrup.
In the mouth: The ethanol is less pronounced here. It doesn’t hinder the fruity notes I get. I smell medium intensity dried apricots, canned peaches, honey and vanilla. Behind those are a mix of light cinnamon, orange peel, toasted persimmon, toffee and cloves.
Diplomatico Distillery Collection No. 2: Barbet – review
On the nose: The ethanol isn’t strong in this one, but there’s a sharp smell. All I get are light scents of vanilla, oak, honey and orange peels. The ethanol bites you at the end.
In the mouth: Very light upfront. There’s a mild, incoherently mixed and persistent taste of toffee, vanilla, honey, butterscotch and pepperiness. Then I get light tastes of maraschino cherries and tobacco. Ethanol burns at the end again.
Very light, boring and one-dimensional. Not worth the price.
Diplomatico Distillery Collection No.3: Pot Still – review
On the nose: Pronounced but short scents of peach jam, toasted persimmon and apricot liqueur followed by medium scents of leather, pepper and butterscotch.
In the mouth: Light taste of honey, vanilla and toffee to start. It suddenly gets a bit peppery. This pepperiness lasts all the way. There’s a light flash of thyme. There are the tastes of peach jam, toasted persimmon and apricot liqueur, but they’re close to neutral this time. Some medium tastes of cinnamon at the end.
I expected to like the Pot Still the best at the beginning of this, but I ended up liking the Batch Kettle the most. It has a strong heat on the nose that gets in the way of its complexities. Despite me thinking it is also one dimensional, it showed the most complexity among the three. Is this worth €61? Not really. The price is only slightly justified by its status as a limited edition, but like many such releases today, they’re not close to high quality. This also just shows that pot-distilled spirits aren’t always better than column distilled spirits.
I have nothing nice to say about the Barbet. Dull yet expensive. Avoid buying a full bottle at all costs.
The most disappointing for me is the Pot Still. I guess the lack of character this has is due to the tendency of South American countries to be as impatient as most Scotch single malt distilleries in regards to fermentation. The nose on this was beautiful, but the length and lack of complexity will leave you wanting. Once you sip it, though, it falls even shorter.
I can see why Diplomatico loves to sweeten their rum. I think they know that their product needs it to hide the faults. Without the sweetening, their basic offerings like the Reserva Exclusiva might just end up being an overpriced Bacardi or Havana Club. None of these are worth buying a full bottle.
Images kindly provided by The Whisky Exchange.
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