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.

Conclusions

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.

Score: 3/10

Diplomatico Distillery Collection No. 1: Batch Kettle Rum – review

Color: honey.

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.

Score: 5/10

Diplomatico Distillery Collection No. 2: Barbet – review

Color: amber

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.

Conclusions

Very light, boring and one-dimensional. Not worth the price.

Score: 3/10

Diplomatico Distillery Collection No.3: Pot Still – review

Color: e150.

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.

Score: 4/10

Conclusions

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.

We also have some commission links within this article if you wish to explore these releases further and help out Malt. You’ll note we don’t bump up the scores to encourage you to do so.

CategoriesRum
John

John is a cocktail and spirits enthusiast born and raised in Manila. His interest started with single malts in 2012, before he moved into rum and mezcal in search of malterntaitves – and a passion for travel then helped build his drinks collection.

  1. Duncan says:

    I’m pretty new to rums, been tasting and buying for the last 4 years or so. I guess like with most people, I got sold on the diplomatico’s, don papa’s and Ron zacapas as “real rum”. But then I got thrown in the deep end with Hampdens, Caronis, Foursquare, Clairin and more recently my local rum, Mhoba. Too me that’s traditional “real rum”, I see those others as more liqueurs than actual rums. I’m glad I’ve seen the light!

    1. John says:

      Hi Duncan,

      Thanks for commenting. We pretty much shared the same road until we saw the light. All the brands you mentioned are awesome. Mhoba is quickly becoming a new favorite.
      Which of those has been your go to rum?
      Unfortunately many still insist the these rum liqueurs are ok just because it’s part of the country’s culture. I’m going to tackle this culture thing in the future. So for now I’ll say that not everything cultural is good.

      1. Duncan says:

        Hey John, Yeah Mhoba is doing good things and i guess also trying to stick to what Rum geeks really like or what i also classify in my head what “real rum” is.
        Honestly love Hampden estate as a go to and entry level and the great house. Cant go wrong with some of the Foursqaure blends. got a couple bottles of Habitation Velier Monymusk and Worthy Park too.
        Totally agree with you. What your thoughts on potentially having similar laws in the Rum industry as they are in the whisky industry?

        1. John says:

          “What your thoughts on potentially having similar laws in the Rum industry asthey are in the whisky industry?”

          But rum already has laws. Countries like the US just don’t recognize them. French Caribbean islands such as Martinique have an AOC. Jamaica has a GI which falls on deaf ears towards the EU and US regulations. It’s a matter of recognition and not a matter of rum lacking laws. It’s lazy journalism by those who want to take advantage of rum.

        2. John says:

          It’s a mess. From what I can recall, the US’ TTB lumps all sugarcane spirits into one. So they treat Cachaca and rum as one spirit. But Cachaca is different from rum.

  2. Jonathan says:

    Or you could simply give your tasting notes on the rum and not editorialize. Blogs like this are irresponsible because you may have just made somebody who reads this blog and that likes diplomatico feel like a sham, because you say it’s “a beginners rum”. Or that it’s not a real rum it’s a rum liqueur. So what? People should drink what they like. I’ve had Diplomatico. It’s not bad. I’ve also had Black Tot at the other end of the spectrum. Is Black Tot worth the extreme price point? Not to me, but I got to try it for free. Is Diplomatico worth its price point? Sure. It’s cheap. It’a not the best rum in my arsenal, but it’s fine. I’ve been in food and beverage for 22 years so I get asked these types of questions a lot. What’s the best wine? It’s the wine that you like. Be that 2 buck chuck from Trader Joe’s, or $500 Opus One.

    1. Baldanders says:

      Diplomatico is cheap? It’s one of the more expensive rums at my well-stocked favorite liquor store, at least as much or more than rums with verified age statements.

      I embrace the “drink whatever you like” philosophy but I was also raised to not spend money on “name.” If you want a young, sweetened rum, why not just drink Gosling’s Black Seal? (I enjoy it) Just pretend it’s three-four times the price.

      1. John says:

        Hi Baldanders,

        I believe cheap is subjective. So it’s a hard point to argue with. How much is it in your area?

        Is Gosling’s Black Seal sweetened? I haven’t paid attention to the brand so I don’t know.

    2. John says:

      Hi Jonathan, thanks for commenting.

      Perhaps I didn’t communicate it well enough. But I said Diplomatico is considered a “beginner’s rum” even as I got into rum. It’s the community or industry that keeps on saying so.

      Yes, I agree that people should drink what they like. But they should also know what they’re drinking. I think it would be irresponsible to not inform others of a brand’s shenanigans. Doing nothing after witnessing a wrongdoing is like being an accomplice comes to mind.

      Are you referring to the Black Tot Consignment being very expensive? It has the right to be due to the historic aspect and ingredients. If you’re talking about the regular one that’s new to the market, it’s £34.95 in The Whisky Exchange. The Diplo Reserva is £36. More expensive than the regular Black Tot. As far as I know, the Black Tot is not sweetened. So how is Diplo more worth it than Black Tot?

  3. Jonathan says:

    I said more worth it to me, by which I meant bang for the buck. I can drink Diplomatico all day long. Black Tot on the other hand, not so much. And yes the Black Tot last consignment. Made for a great story and made it easy to sell (I worked at a rum house when I tried it. Hence free). And in response to a Balanders, In the states, Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva is $35USD. And I agree I’m not drinking the “label”, or even the price tag. Usually I just go to a liquor store, and pick one I’ve never heard of before. And I guess I don’t see backsweetening as shenanigans, because I backsweeten sometimes when I brew beer.

    1. John says:

      I don’t see why you’re comparing the price of a regular release like Diplo Reserva to a historic drink such as the Last Consignment. The fact that we can’t get it anymore makes for a compelling reason to try it and make it expensive. Just look at the fomo responses to dead distilleries like Brora and Caroni.

      Fermented alcohol is different from distilled. There can be residual sugar in beer and wine depending on the producer’s preference. So it can be considered natural. But sugar does not pass through distillation.

  4. Matt says:

    Diplomatico for me is a great rum , sweetened or not
    I’ve been drinking rum for 30 + years and my rum stash has about 10 to 15 different bottles of various rums open at one time. This way I can choose a rum for the mood I’m in . Some are premium rums Some are cheaper, some white some golden some dark some spiced some sweetened some from long established distilleries some from relatively new distilleries.
    So as you can see the variety of this great spirit is vast ,so my advice to all is to try as many as you can and revisit the ones that you enjoy. There’s to many rum snobs around at the moment. Diplomatico for me is a mid priced rum but a very nice tasting one. The one question I do have is for a rum that you scored 3/10 how has this same rum achieved so many gold medals at various rum awards most of which are blind tasted.

    1. John says:

      Hi Matt,

      There’s nothing wrong with drinking Diplo or sweetened rum. The issue is the lack of transparency of brands like Diplo can hurt the honest and transparent brands. There are still a lot of issues with identifying which rums deserve to be called premium or not. Is it solely a matter of price point or is quality a factor as well?

      You’re preaching to the choir by telling me to try as much rum as I can. I’ve done majority of Malt’s rum content.

      With regards to awards, they can be bought. Not all awards are honest. You say Diplo is great, sweetened or not. I don’t find it so great sweetened or not.

      Drink what you want but know what you’re drinking.

  5. Matt says:

    I agree that awards can be bought but the same could be said for reviews, most are honest but some not so honest. So even if half of their awards are bought this still leaves them with more awards than a lot of pure rums that have not been sweetened, have you tried the diplomatico selection de familia it’s less sweet and a bit more of a complex flavour than reserva but a little more expensive too at £55 , but for me put in my favourite rum glass with a cube of ice it is beautiful, if you haven’t already tried it then give it try.
    At the moment there seems to be a lot of rum bashing going on towards the newer rums , and it might be worth mentioning that the distilleries with the power and money to influence awards/reviews are some of the big boys that have their multinational owners selling all manner of spirits not just rum.
    I would just like to add my favourite distillery is four square of Barbados as it seams that every thing that Richard seale does is of the highest quality

    1. John says:

      I’ve tried a couple of the Ambassador releases at bars. I didn’t find them worth the price. Even the bartender, who knows little about rum, found them a bit too sweet. I haven’t heard of the Selection de Familia though.

      Richard Seale’s Foursquare rum deserves the love and respect it gets. Aside from making excellent rum, he does real age statements and is very transparent. I wouldn’t say he makes the best rum in the world but he is doing wonders for rum. Nice to know there are more flexible rum drinkers like you out there.

      Cheers

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