Today we take a peek behind the curtain at Diplomático in Venezuela. The distillery uses three distinct distillation methods and blends the results together to make its award-winning rums. But 2017 saw the release of two single-still rums. And now the final piece in the jigsaw has arrived. . . The pot still.
Nelson Hernandez has spent most of his adult life at Diplomático – 33 years. He has worked in all parts of the business becoming maestro ronero (rum master) in 2017. So, who better to tell us about the Distillery Collection single-still rums. The company has been going since 1959, but only began exporting seriously in 2006 mainly due to economic problems within the country.
Export manager Javier Herrera told me that in the last eight years as the situation in the country worsens, Diplomático has become dependent on overseas markets and now exports over 90% of its production. “We are being destroyed by the crisis,” he told me, “it hurts to see the situation where families are suffering here”. Like another Venezualan rum producer Santa Teresa, the company does its best to look after its employees by providing healthcare etc. The company also bottles and keeps three years’ worth of stock in Panama to prevent government pilfering.
But onto happier matters, like rum cocktails. Brand ambassador Jon Lister gave us Diplomático Planas (a white rum aged six years and then filtered) with grapefruit tonic – the breakfast of champions. While we sipped, Hernandez told us a little about the production process. Diplomático uses both molasses and cane honey. He gave us some to try side-by-side and the difference was noted: cane honey is sweeter and less processed without the bitter taste of molasses. It’s used to make heavier rums with the molasses saved for lighter ones.
It’s hot in Venezuela all year round, with an average day temperature of 32°C and 24°C at night. Ageing is therefore very fast. Diplomático’s regular range is sweetened using an aged spirit containing sugar, rather like boize used in Cognac. Planas has 3g per litre added, Mantanua has 8g and the Reserva Exclusiva has a whopping 35g to create something closer to a rum liqueur.
The rums in the Distillery Collection are roughly the component parts of Mantanua but with nothing added except water to bring them down to 47% ABV. We tried both the new make (slightly diluted to comply with aviation regulations) and the finished product. Here we go!
The batch kettle still is an enormous Heath Robinson-esque device that was originally used by Seagram in Canada to make rye whisky. It was brought to Venezuela in 1959. Sugar honey is used for these rums and the alcohol comes off at 95% which is then reduced to 75% for ageing. This rum gives lie to the idea that high ABV equals low flavour.
New make: Strongly fruity with distinct taste of banana.
Finished product: Spends six years in ex-bourbon and ex-Scotch whisky casks; no solera system used at Diplomático. It’s dry, fresh and aromatic with that fruit coming through strongly, with toffee and nutty notes. Lightish body.
The Barbet column still is a French continuous still looking rather like an Armagnac still though the spirit comes off at a higher ABV, 95%. The rum is made with molasses.
New make: Very spicy, with notes of cinnamon and orange.
Finished product: After four years ageing, the cinnamon and orange is still there but joined by creamy notes, “like condensed milk”, according to Hernandez. The result is very elegant and aromatic like a Cognac.
This rum is double-distilled in 6,500 litre pot stills originally used to make Scotch whisky but adapted for rum. It’s distilled on its lees (like Cognac), and comes off the still at 80%.
New make: Dark cherries, full body, fruity and floral.
Finished product: It’s reduced to 55% for cask ageing and spends eight years in oak. There’s a big meaty nose with maraschino cherries, it’s very full with notes of chocolate and coffee. Intense and complex, this is one that will appeal to Speyside whisky lovers.
After the tasting, the fun started because we got to play rum blenders. My favourite blend consisted of six parts batch kettle rum, four parts Barbet still and three parts pot. Hernandez tried it and pronounced it “very rounded”. I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder. Apparently, I came very close to the taste of the final blend with the batch kettle still providing the backbone, the Barbet the elegance and the pot the meatiness. Perhaps I should jack in the writing and become a rum blender. Or maybe he was just humouring me.