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Diplomatico Distillery Collection No. 3

One problem with writing about spirits is the same as any other food or drink: it is difficult to tell if you have changed or the booze has.

When I was in college, I drank bourbon (Knob Creek) and rum (Cockspur VSOR) almost exclusively, but – cash strapped in my early 20s out of college – I eventually switched solely to bourbon. Bourbon had similar pricing to rum in the late aughts in an average store, and a touch of commercial patriotism for an admitted Yankee, both of which drove me to focus on the more manageable, narrow profile from bourbon that was much easier to research. Rum, on the other hand, was this wonderful diverse world with lots of flavor but opacity in its marketing, that made it a challenge for someone working 80 hours a week to fully understand without a lot of research.

Since about 2016, aided by a love of “exotic” cocktails and their history, I have slowly returned to rum. Thus, the share of rum in my house has met or exceeded the whiskey. Maybe my tastes are changing, or maybe bourbon is actually getting simultaneously more expensive and worse. I don’t know. Like most of the contributors at Malt, I buy my own hooch, and I increasingly view bourbon as having comparable or even poor value relative to almost all of its category competitors when adjusted for quality.

More than any other year, 2023 was a break for me from a stark preference for American whiskey over other spirits categories. In the past six months, I have (mostly unconsciously) prioritized spending on independent European aged brandies, eau de vie, and rum than every other category combined. As my favorite bourbons have crept closer to the dreaded $100 mark, I can increasingly get some earth-shattering novel products from small producers at the same price points in other spirits categories without standing in line like a goober to maybe get an opportunity to buy something. Once bourbon gets near single malt Scotch or decent independent Cognac pricing, it is hard to justify not expanding ones palate into previously unapproachable categories (for my budget).

Today’s rum bottle fits unevenly in the fantasy framework I sketched above. I paid roughly $90 for it at the time, in 2021. Though lately I am far more willing to gamble in the $100 price range on rum with reliable and differentiated excellent releases from Foursquare and Hampden Estates, I can’t say the same for most bourbon today.

Diplomatico is not exactly a producer that rum aficionados prize very heavily. The brand has a reputation for adding, in some instances, copious amounts of sugar to their rum. For this reason, Diplomatico has been unfairly linked to the Plantation rum brand owned by the highly controversial Maison Ferrand, a company also known for – among other things – adding sugar to many of their rums with gusto.

In its distillery collection, Diplomatico contributed to a broader theme emerging in the rums sold in the United States over the past decade or so, which is to unpack their products into their constituent parts. Hampden released its 8 marks collection, Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL) has Port Mourant (read: spirit derived from a no-shit double wooden pot still) rums on the market through one of their brands and independent bottlers, and Diplomatico similarly has its Distillery Collection, which features rums only from one type of still.

I am not ashamed to admit that I, being a huge nerd for still configurations, seek out and purchase bottles derived from unique or less ubiquitous still configurations, such as double-retort pot stills for Jamaican rum and Armagnacais hybrid pot-column stills for, you guessed it, Armagnac (this graphic from Aramgnac’s industry regulator and trade body is very soothing to watch). More important than their stills (from the standpoint of purists), the Diplomatico Distillery Series releases are widely reported to be (and definitely taste) undosed.

Diplomatico Distillery Collection No. 3 Pot Still Rum – Review

No age statement. Venezuelan rum estimated at 8 years. Purchased by the author for $90.

Color: Tawny.

On the nose: Clementine, buttery chardonnay, maple, mango, allspice, white pepper, white bread, fresh cut wheat stocks, and raw sweet corn arrive in and out of focus.

In the mouth: An initial viscous texture thins out rapidly, bringing lightly acetone varnish notes with ginger, allspice, nutmeg, and grated citrus peel falling off suddenly with a touch of lavender, only to return in a moderately potent finish leaning heavily on lemon balm and molasses cookies and a touch of fenugreek.

Conclusions:

This bottle has had an undertone that I never quite pinned down until I reached my last 10%. Only today, after having had probably 30 different pours from it over the past three years, could I finally identify it: despite the long aging, this bottle of Diplomatico has retained some of the grassy “cane trash” flavors so desirable in the Clairin and Labat pours, a testament to Diplomatico’s use of cane honey in this instance rather than highly reduced molasses. The quality at its price feels appropriate, and Diplomatico brought something new to the party here by balancing wood tones and cane flavors, which I would posit is far rarer than many would like to admit. Diplomatico achieved a rare balance here. This review has the bottle down to its last ounce, and I am sad to see it go.

Score: 7/10

This draft was almost wholly written before the announcement Malt was slowing down substantively. Almost every review I have written for Malt has initially gone exceptionally quickly (usually in two days) during the portion I consider more difficult, the main article, but the tasting section always caused me to fake myself out repeatedly to reevaluate earlier notes in an effort to replicate them. This one therefore took even longer – in fact, a month – to finally close out, in an effort to try to get it just right.

Lead image courtesy of The Whisky Exchange.

Evan

Originally from the frozen upper plains of North America, Evan is a freelance writer, former political science lecturer, and executive bourbon steward based in the District of Columbia. In addition to being an avid rum, brandy, and Japanese whisky consumer, Evan fell in love with bourbon at a young age and watched the industry boom early in the revival. He finds the distilled beverage alcohol industry's production processes and various business strategies endlessly fascinating.

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