The jaunty, jolly and jocular Aaron Rizzo greeted the gathering in The Phoenicia’s Club Bar for a Diplomático Rum Masterclass with rum bottles, assorted herbs and spices carefully laid out on trays and a large number of cut crystal glasses framing a good part of what would be our Friday evening entertainment. The rest would come in the form of delicious nibbles prepared by The Phoenicia’s award-winning brigade of chefs, specially paired to the rums after an exercise undertaken by Zack Abela, one of the brains behind wines and spirits company Logic International, and The Phoenicia’s Hotel Manager, Thomas Agius Ferrante.
Diplomático Rum hails from the foot of the Andes mountains in Venezuela and is artfully produced by Destilerías Unidas S.A.. This, explains Aaron, is why Diplomático Rum is so good, it’s got fantastic and abundant water, and being at about 3000m altitude it has the right micro-climate for growing sugar cane. We learn that Diplomático Rum is made from the aforementioned sugar cane, molasses, and honeys, which are fermented with the distillery’s own strain of yeast. They then produce blends of dark and light rums, some of which are aged to a dramatic extent, because Aaron explains, the climate in the Andes ages the spirit at about twice the rate as Scottish malts. A 6 year old rum matured under the Diplomático Rum brand is the equivalent of a 12-year old scotch. So the 12-year old rum is the equivalent of a 24 year old scotch. Diplomático Rum blends rums aged anywhere between the minimum regional requirement of two years and all the way to a thumping dozen. Diplomático Rum won the title of World’s Best Rum Distillery in 2013. A title wrestled away from the best of the Caribbean rum producers.
The bearded gentleman whose face features prominently on the bottle is not Santa Claus but is a chap by the name of Don Juan Nieto Melendez. Aaron described him euphemistically as the first Master Blender, however, Don Juancho, who is said to have lived in the 19th century, really loved rum and combined that with a love for travel. Building up an enormous booze collection from his travels he was nicknamed “The Ambassador’s Reserves” among his friends. His dedication, chivalry, and personality ultimately inspired the creation of Diplomático.
Aaron explained that Diplomático Rum is often matured in new oak barrels, sherry casks, as well as in whiskey barrels. This combined with mixing column distilled, copper still and kettle distillations is part of the Diplomático approach to high-quality rum making, while a rigorous understanding of barrel chars is also part of the maturation process. Aaron explains that barrels, broadly speaking, come in three degrees of char, and essentially controls how much tree winds up in your glass. There’s LT, low toast, MT medium toast and the big brother of them all, HT, the high toast. Each char level introduces flavours into the rum spirit and colours the rum, the Master Blender determining how much coconut, clove, spice, caramel, vanilla, smokiness or sweetness winds up in the final rum production.
With the benefit of many years acquiring knowledge and training backed by hundreds of tastings, Aaaron is able to detect aromas and flavours that include vanilla, toffee, fudge, molasses, figs, prunes, dates, raisins, sultanas, marzipan, cinnamon, nutmeg and candied peel, amongst others. Grass is another key word in his repertoire, as well as dried fruits. Some of these had been artfully arranged on the trays by Chief Barman at The Phoenicia, Pierre Walton, who shook and served more than 60 freshly made cocktails on the night to the aficionados, effortlessly.
We try the Diplomatico Planas white rum aged 6 years and get our first taste of the refined product that has been maturing in its native Venezuela under tropical conditions. It’s served neat and Aaron reminds us all to keep getting plenty of water on-board, as there is a prolific amount of rum and cocktails to taste. The accompanying cocktail, “Naked but not quite”, is a take on a martini served straight up with a twist! We munch away on pieces of cheesy focaccia which Aaron assures us is just the right combination of fat to be swiftly swept away by the martini.
Next up is beautiful soft Diplomatico Mantuana, 8 years aged in ex-bourbon and single malt casks and rich in sweet raisin and chocolate flavours. So much so, Aaron passes around a big plate of roughly carved dark chocolate as a special treat. Chief Barman Walton in the meantime has whipped up bright red trays filled with Negroni’s, made from the exquisite Diplomatico Mantuano combined with Cocchi Vermouth and Campari. Truly delicious, while attentive staff glide past with orangey chicken livers that simply melt-in-the-mouth and mingle with the Negroni. Sweet, bitter, boozy, this is the essence of the Mediterranean transported to the Andes. Incidentally, the Negroni was invented in Italy in 1919 when a wealthy Florentine named Count Camillo Negroni suggested to Fosco Scarselli, the bartender at the Hotel Baglioni in Florence, that he add gin to his Americano. Pierre substituted the Diplomatico Mantuana for the gin.
Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva is perhaps the best Rum in its price bracket in the world, silky smooth and sweet like a Christmas cake. It’s a glass full of flavour and combines beautifully as a substitute in an Old Fashioned, substituting bourbon with the Reserva Exclusiva, using a little less sugar and little more bitters! Its roundness and sweetness is exquisite, a perfect dessert rum. The rise and rise and rise into the light air of the Andes of these phenomenal sipping rums is something to whole-heartedly embrace. Evidence that this level of luxury rum has now earned a place next to the most sophisticated single malts.
Masterclass over, we reluctantly depart with the warming rums guiding our movements and conversations, having sampled the rum from one of the world’s most highly prized distilleries. A two hour voyage of tastes in great company ended with the gift of ‘The Old Diplomatico Bar Book’, filled with recipes for making delicious cocktails, the cutest Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva miniature ever, and a bell shaped rum drinkers glass.
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