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"This would have to be one of the best straight on ice sipping rums you can buy for your money. Say no more."
Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva 12 Year Old Rum (700ml)
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- ABV 40%
Stepping away from whisky for a moment - possibly the only other wood-aged spirit capable of arousing the same passions comes from ‘the reed which brings forth honey’ (without the help of bees)– mainly because it’s capable of a similar dizzying complexity and diversity that whisky achieves.
If you haven't been inspired to try the aged rums of the Caribbean then you’ve got a lot to look forward to. This applies not only to those who’ve never moved beyond Bundaberg and Coke since high school, but more so to those who are serious about wine, whisky and brandy - in short, those of us who are passionate about ‘flavour’. Quality Caribbean rum has as many permutations of aromas, tastes, textures and strengths as any group of wines or spirits. The rum market in Australia has increased exponentially and the overall quality is superb. We now have access to many small and large producers who are vying for attention and the very reasonable prices mean rum is not just a passing fad.
Aside from the familiar Caribbean island groups, more and more people are becoming aware of a ‘mainland’ rum tradition. Think Nicaragua, Gautemala, Panama or Venezuela. The latter, already famous as the spiritual home of the rum based medicinal bitters, Angostura, is now finding its rums eclipsing that legacy. The country has a number of highly regarded offerings, but those from the Distilerias Unidas in La Miel on the northern slopes of the Andes lift the bar highest.
Their Diplomatico label is the international reference.
We prefer to let what’s inside the bottle to the talking, but it is impossible to overlook this venture’s remarkable accumulation of twenty plus international awards since 2007 (54 medals in contests worldwide), including the SIP Awards, San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Miami Rum XP, Monde Selection and other big guns. Even if the show circuit is irrelevant to you, a different kind of achievement came in October 2011 when the company’s Maestro, Tito Cordero, was honoured at the Golden Rum Barrels Awards as the World’s Best Master Blender. He was the first Venezuelan to receive the award. Given that so much depends on how the distiller and blender create their product, this was the rum world's supreme commendation of Cordero's skill and outright quality fanaticism.
A reinvigorated project that stemmed from an early Seagrams investment in the 1950s, passed on to Diageo, and is now in the custody of the Ballesteros family, the distillery is adjacent to the Hacienda Saruro, where much of the sugar cane is grown. Average daytime temperatures of 30-31C drop by 6-7C at night, a differential which when coupled with high humidity benefits cane growth: it concentrates the sugars and favours the ageing process. Different varieties are grown to make sugar honey and molasses. Molasses is preferred for the light rums, sugar cane honey for the heavy. While many producers are struggling to get molasses with a sugar content above 45%, Diplomatico are ahead of the pack before they even begin. Venezuela regularly achieves upwards of 60%.
Not unlike other distilleries, here pot stills are for richness and weight, column stills for adding freshness and elegance. Between the two are batch kettles that carry out secondary distillations of semi-heavy rums. Varying proportions of each create a hierarchy of styles. Barrel regimes vary, including ex-bourbon with some re-filled single malt whisky casks. Sherry casks are now being experimented with to great effect, as the 2000 Vintage release bears testimony. Finishing departs from the mainstream, as most Diplomatico rums are given only a delicate filtration prior to bottling - gentle enough to maintain fatty acids and maximum mouthfeel - then filtered using 3 micron-thick filter pads. It is minimal interference by world standards, Cordero considering it a formality to ensure the rums retain their clarity and brilliance when exported to cooler climates.
Diplomatico's 12 year old flagship cuvee is typically blended from around 80% pot still rums; the remaining 20% are lighter styles from column stills. Cordero mixes a little cane sugar prior to blending which is another reason why the flavour seems amplified compared to some others in the stable. Stylistically this edges Ron Zacapa 23 for satisfaction and sheer saturation and is the one that many of our customers measure other rums by. Those whose taste preferences tend towards the savory may misunderstand what is an unashamedly dessert / quasi- liqueur styled effort that falls into a sub-category of its own. Almost as decadent as a rum can get without cloying the mouth and falling out of balance - there are more complex rums around, but not near this price, nor do they have the same uncanny ability to incite superlatives. The packaging depicts Don Juancho Nieto Melendez, who was a noted rum enthusiast in the town close to the distillery. It's reported that, being something of a globe trotter, over many years "...he amassed a large collection of rums which he took great pleasure in offering his guests at the lavish dinner parties he held at his house."
Tasting note: Brilliant copper with a gold hue. Heady and decadent scents of creme caramel, fresh coffee, chocolate fudge, vanilla and spice. A silky, creamy mouthfeel yields a plush array of dried fruits, raisins and coffee-caramel, counterpointed by a gently warming spirit heat. Perfect balance, seamless integration. Very long, mouth coating aftertaste of vanilla and liquorice strap with a subtle dark chocolate finale. Avoids the too sweet trap. A stunning rum that will instantly convert many a Muscat or PX Sherry drinker. This remains one of the most re-purchased spirits on our shelves. 40% Alc./Vol.
Other reviews... Gold Medal: Ministry of Rum Tasting Competition, New Orleans
Gold Medal, Best in Category: International Cane Spirits Festival, Florida
• Silver Medal: Monde Selection, Brussels
• Silver Medal: Concours Mondiale, Brussels
• Silver Medal: San Francisco World Spirits Competition
• Gold Medal: The Rum Experience, London