May. 06, 2009 - Issue #707: Designated Grey Wall
Rum running diplomacy
I was discussing beer matters with a local beer rep, who carries Fort Garry among other brands, when he brought up a new arrival in his catalogue—a line of Venezuelan rum called Diplomatico. I dismissed the concept at first (I am a rather exclusive beer drinker), but upon reflection I thought it might be fun to sample rum for a change.
But there was one problem—I know very little about rum. A solution came to me almost immediately—invite someone who knows rum to join me. I happened to know that well-known Parkland staffer, Vue columnist, community activist and proud Chilean Ricardo Acuña is a big rum aficionado, and he agreed to lend me a hand to measure the quality of this new entry into Alberta. And so it was set.
One Friday night we assembled a tasting panel consisting of the two of us plus three other eager samplers to try Diplomatico. There are three Diplomatico rums—a basic mixing rum (Anejo), a mid-range straight rum (Reserva), and a high-end sipping rum (Reserva Exclusiva).
Diplomatico is a family-owned company in Venezuela that is the only South American distiller using molasses syrup for its rum. The distillery originally serviced Seagrams, but was eventually bought out by local Venezuelan interests. It ages its rum in bourbon and whiskey barrels.
As for the tasting, our methodology was sound: for each Diplomatico rum we tried two comparators. The comparison rums were good examples of each tier. This allowed us to assess the quality of Diplomatico in relation to other products available in Alberta.
First up was the basic rum, Anejo. It was compared to Bacardi Superior and Havana Club's three-year-old Anejo. We drank it straight. The Diplomatico is a light gold colour, richer than the other two. It offers a soft, sugary sweetness up front, but gets quite hot with alcohol in the finish. The reviews were quite clear: "For a bottom end rum, it is better than the competition," said one panelist. The consensus was that while it is best used for mixing, it was "a step above the competition" in the same price range. Not a bad start.
Next up was the Reserva, which is aged eight years. Related rums are Mount Gay and Flor de Caña Gran Reserva (7 year). The Reserva is medium copper with an assertive brown sugar sweetness and a touch of smoke. It is a very subtle rum with a bit of a floral quality. The lingering aftertaste is slightly spicy. If anything, compared to the other two, it is too subtle. "It goes right through you before you sense you had anything," said one panelist. Opinions were somewhat divided on this rum, with some enjoying it and others dismissing it. Ricardo, our resident expert, was not a fan.
The climax of the evening was the Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva, their 12-year old top-of-the-line rum. We measured it against Havana Club Barrel Proof from Cuba, and Flor de Caña Centenario (Nicaragua), both rums in the $80 – $100 per bottle range.
The Reserva Exclusiva is a soft deep copper colour, offering up a light aroma of sweet fruit blending with fruity, bready and floral notes. Molasses and raisin were prevalent. Upon sipping, it presents a bold sweet introduction of rich, deep Demerara sugar. A little orange comes through as well. The alcohol is impressively soft, and evaporates pleasantly at the back of your mouth. It is a big, thick rum that refuses to be ignored.
The crowd was universally impressed by the rum, but a lively debate ensued nonetheless. One person declared it "the hands down winner." Another thought it didn't have enough of a "rum taste."
Ricardo suggested "it is almost like a brandy or a liqueur, similar to a Grand Marnier." He saw it as a wonderful sipping rum that fits nicely as a post-dinner drink to go with a nice Cuban cigar. But, he added, "I will sip rum over the course of an entire social evening—playing cards or by the firepit. This rum was far too sweet and thick for that." His verdict was positive—it was an impressive rum that was ideal for one glass, but too big for an evening of consumption.
In my opinion, it is a soft, enjoyable rum that offers a distinct, rich flavour that is easy to appreciate. I also enjoyed its comparators, but the Reserva Exclusiva does carve out a distinct, original impression, different from the others.
And at approximate retail prices of $25, $35 and $50—at the higher ends noticeably lower than its comparators, Diplomatico offers a really good deal as well.
As a beer guy, I admit I quite enjoyed an evening of appreciating good rum. And I think I can safely declare that Diplomatico presents itself well to Alberta audiences. And that is not just diplomacy talking. V
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