Jan 032018
 

#475

“A few years ago, these rums [Zacapa and Diplo Res Ex] were seen as the baseline for all other rums to be judged.  No longer.”  Thus wrote Wes Burgin over at the Fat Rum Pirate in an excellent July 2017 post suggesting that with social media and education, enthusiasts were becoming more knowledgeable and less apt to accept adulterated rums than ever before.

Yet in spite of that ideal, in spite of the ever-expanding knowledge-base of rums the world over, the Diplo remains enormously popular. It’s unlikely that there’s any rum drinker out there – junkie or not – who didn’t at some point have a fling with this plump Venezuelan señora.  Just about all rum writers have done a thing on it. Like the Bacardis, El Dorados and Zacapas, it’s one of those rums one can find just about anywhere, and for the new people coming to rum cold, it remains a staple, if not always a favourite.  

That is, of course, due to both its very affordable price, and because of is sweet placidity.  You don’t want expensive indie aggro? A light, easy-going drink? Something to relax with? Complex enough for Government work? No thinking required? Here’s your solution. That’s also the reason why it drops off the radar of those people who grow to take their rums seriously (if it doesn’t drive them into transports of righteous rage).  Diplomatico – marketed as Botucal in Germany, named after one of the farms from which the cane comes, though it’s exactly the same product – never bothered to punch it up, never worried about cask strength, never deigned to lose the dosing or adulteration, and sells briskly day in and day out.  The deep-diving rum chums just shake their heads and head for the exits to buy the latest indie casker, and discussions on Facebook about the matter are more likely than any other to end up in verbal fisticuffs.

Yet consider for a moment the page of this rum in the populist-driven, crowd-sourced “review” site RumRatings.  A top-end, well-known, mid-priced unadulterated rum issued at full proof like, say, the Foursquare Criterion has 13 ratings on that site. The Triptych has 11. The 2006 10 Year Old has 4, and the most popular Foursquare rum is the 9 year old 2005 Port Cask Finish with 71.  The Diplomatico in contrast has over 1,200, with most rating it between 8 and 9 out of 10 points. 

Surely neither longevity, nor rank please-as-many-as-possible populism are solely responsible for such a disparity. There’s got to be more to it than just that, a reason why it regularly appears on people’s answers to the constant question “What to start with?” — and I’m sorry but not everyone drinks a few hundred rums a year like us writers and festival junkies, and it isn’t enough to simply shrug, sniff condescendingly and say “some people just don’t know good rums.” If it is – as I suggest – a rum worth revisiting, then such popularity and esteem requires a cold, beady-eyed re-consideration.  We have to understand whether it has something more in its trousers, something subtle, that excites that kind of appreciation. It was in an effort to understand what lay behind the popularity of the Diplo that I deliberately sourced a bottle in Berlin in late 2017, and while my controls were a few stronger, purer rums from the Latin side, to my surprise the Diplo didn’t entirely choke even when ranked against them (I shall now pause for the incredulous expressions of indignation to pass), though for sure it never came close to exceeding any and raced to the bottom in fine style.

Part of all this is its relative simplicity compared to fierce and pungent rums now taking centre stage. The nose was a straightforward sweet toblerone, toffee, vanilla, butterscotch and caramel, very light and easy and butter-smooth, with what complexity there was being imparted by spices aimed at the sweet side – rosemary, cinnamon, nutmeg – and a little nuttiness, and a hint of light fruit, all of which took real effort to separate out.  Hardly the most complex or intriguing smell ever to waft out of a rum bottle, and the vanilla and caramel were really too dominant to provide the sort of excellence the maker trumpets for itself.

Similar issues affect the palate.  Smooth – yes, warm – yes, comfortable – undoubtedly.  There was a little oak mixing things up here, but mostly the taste was muscovado sugar and caramel, vanilla, light fruits of indeterminate nature, and those same spices from the nose (cinnamon being at the forefront) with nothing particularly new or adventurous leading one into undiscovered territory.  Overall, even on the finish, and then judged overall, it had little beyond a pleasant, warm sort of sweet unaggressive nature only marginally redeemed by a light tart fruity note here or there, and the edge imparted by a little oak. Beyond that, it was way too sweet for my palate as it stands right now, and in conjunction with the controls it actually sinks even further because the dampening effect of the additions becomes self evident.

So, that adulteration. It’s been measured at 30-40 g/L of whatever-it-is, which puts it in the same league as The El Dorado 12 and 15, Rum Nation Millonario and the Cartavio XO, all of which, back in the day, I enjoyed, and all of which have subsequently slipped in my estimation in the years between then and now, and been relegated to what I refer to as “dessert rums.” But what exactly are they adding to their rum?  Back in 2010 when I wrote my original unscored review, the Distilleries Unidas website made tangential mention of flavouring additives (“Only…rich aromas and flavours are used to manufacture rums…” — this comment no longer appears); and Rob Burr remarked on the 2012 Inuakena review that a Venezuelan rum liqueur called Haciendo Saruro is added to the blend, but without corroboration (it was assumed he was speaking from insider knowledge).  So I think we can take it as a given that it’s been tarted up, and it’s up to each person who tries this rum to make up their own minds as to what that means to them. Personally, I no longer care much for the Diplomatico and its ilk.  It presents no real challenge.  It simply isn’t interesting enough and is too sweet and easy. That, however, obscures the key point that people like it precisely for those reasons. It sells well not in spite of these deficiencies (as they are, to me), but because of them…because the majority of drinkers consider these very same drawbacks as points of distinction, and if you doubt that and the unkillability of sweet, check out the hundreds of comments in response to “Don’t treat people like snobs because they like sweet rums” post on FB in December 2017. Since I’m not arrogant enough to believe that my tastes and my palate matter more, or should take precedence over others, I can simply suggest that people try more rums to get a feel for more profiles before praising it to the high heavens as some kind of ur-rum of the Spanish style.

Let us also concede that a rum like this has its place. On the negative side are all the issues raised above.  On the plus side of the ledger, for those who like these things, there is sweetness, smoothness and a stab at complexity.  It works fabulously as a standalone sipping drink when concentration and thought is not desired or required.  It’s not entirely an over-sugared mess like, oh, the A.H. Riise Navy rum. It makes a decent introduction to neat rums for those raised on over-spiced, over-flavoured rums or who came up through the ranks trying rums like Kraken, Captain Morgan, Sailor Jerry or Don Papa.  As one of the first steps in the world of rum, this ron remains a tough one to beat, and that’s why it should be on the list of anyone who is assembling the first home bar, and should be considered, for good or ill, one of the Key Rums of the World…even if, sooner or later, all true rum fans will inevitably move beyond it.

(74/100)


  11 Responses to “Key Rums of the World: Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva”

  1. Nice anti-review Lone, 🙂

    I drank this crap this weekend. Wife’s syster’s man is from Venezuela. I must admit that the Diplo is my step into the world of rums. But I got tired of it rather quickly. Now I’m on the hunt of the foursquare, Bielle, Velier, dunkan taylor, kill devil and such.

    The downside of these limited released rums is just that. You don’t get a real change to buy them. Being from Sweden it is difficult sometimes to get them.

    I get jealous of you whenever you review a Velier Caroni. We don’t get the chance… or we have to spend around 350 Euro.

    Anyway! The Diplo for me is not a rum but a rum-liquor. It’s too sweet! The finish is just pure liquor.

    Cheers

    Cristian

  2. The thing is, the Diplo tastes good. There’s nothing wrong with liking things that taste good. I myself don’t really drink it, because I can take many other liquors I have in my cabinet and make an old fashioned which tastes better and is more interesting. But I don’t really hate on anyone for drinking something that tastes good. I sometimes drink a Coke or eat at McDonald’s as well, even though there are much more interesting and better burgers and soft drinks out there.

    I do wish that there was some sort of labeling or more transparancy with what is in the glass, but I don’t have any issue with them doing what they are doing or people who like that.

    • For people who don’t know much about rums and are casting around for some good ones, honesty in labelling would go a far way.

  3. El Dorado 15 was a key rum of the world and now this!

  4. The fact you would refer to a Rum which costs, according to winesearcher average, $147 as “mid-priced” makes me wonder how many Rums you review you actually, you know, pay for. And while I credit you for recognizing your tastes have evolved, some of us who enjoy sipping rum may never follow down the rabbit hole of single cask, whiskey broker bottled releases. So to find out if a truly mid-priced product like El Pasador (widely available for at least a year now) is worth the purchase, thank goodness for the “reviewers” at Rumratings.
    I do give the 2013 you credit, though, for reviewing products like Panama Red. I wonder if today you would bother.

    • Your comment is misinformed. The rum costs < GBP 40 in UK and in Canada's LCBO it's <$60. That's midpriced. Where on earth do you live, so I know to avoid buying rum there?

      This blog is about my experiences with rum, not an instruction manual, so it’s a weird statement for you to make that people who like sipping rums won’t follow me down the rabbit hole. They might not, but they could sure do worse. I write about all rums that I can source which cross my path. Write about the Panama Red now? Of course I would. I try to get rums from across the quality and price spectrum. This review here is a case in point – if I was as snooty about my cask strength rums as you imply, I would hardly have touched it again.

      75% of everything I try is bought (the other 25% is sample sharing networks and rum festivals), so I have the right to decide where to put my money, and if I chose to give a rum like the Pasador a miss, it’s because the Spanish style rums are not my cup of tea right now. Since I know this is what you really want to know, no, I don’t get samples from producers, and refuse them when offered.

      The issue I have with Rum Ratings is not its existence but the lack of rigour, and its populism. If you are okay getting a read on the way the majority of non-critical rum drinkers feel about a rum, it’s great (and that’s why I occasionally look there myself). But as a research tool? One person’s experienced opinion spanning years? A clear and understandable description of why a rating was given? Background on the rum production or company behind it? Additives? It’s useless. Think about that before you uncritically accept what so many hundreds of people say about any given rum.

      • Read your review, and my first post. It’s the CRITERION that you referred to as mid-priced. That gave me pause. And that’s where the rabbit hole comment came from. I would guess that the majority of people who wish to savor spirits for reasons beyond intoxication are not so committed they wish to stock a collection of bottles priced at $100-$200.
        I did in fact think you must be reviewing free samples provided to you, at least in part. I accept that this is untrue, and am sorry for implying otherwise. And of course it follows you should review as your interests lead you.
        I actually own 3 of your 5 Key Rums so far listed. And it was the Appleton 12, along with Seleccion, that taught me me dryer Jamaican and Cuban styles were not to my liking as much as the sweeter Spanish style. And because I’m 59, not 19, I’ve no wish to “educate” my palate beyond that. I simply want to find more affordable rums I will like as much as El Dorado 15 and Reserva Exclusiva. And Rumratings has no more been useless to me in this regard than Tripadvisor is when I’m looking for a decent hotel room. I now have a wish list of El Pasador XO, Millonario 15 and Plantation XO thanks (in part) to the “reviewers” there.
        If a Google search of a product leads me to your site, and others like it, I will continue to read for both information and entertainment. But I will continue to refer to Rumratings as well. And after an hour there last night I won’t waste a minute more on the Ministry of Rum.

        • Well said and well expressed. It is for people like yourself that I started the Key Rums series, because I felt that the middle ground was not being well tended, when people either went and stayed with cheap mixers, or were connoisseurs of the expensive top end.

          Mid-Priced for me is in the $50-150 range. I accept it is different for everyone.

          For what it’s worth I hard to cover as wide a swathe of the rumworld as I can – price, quality, regions, producers – especially for relatively unknowns : sometimes that takes away from my focus on more popular, better known products. But hopefully I get to come around to stuff that you do appreciate and enjoy.

    • Sorry Dweyne,

      It seems you are getting screwed on the price. Here in Sweden 🇸🇪 all taxes included I would have to pay 495 Swedish crows for a Diplomatico Reserva Exclusive. Something like 50 Euro.

  5. I’m not a fan of sugared rum, but I have to give it to the people behind Diplomatico: they’re the first big brand (I know off) that list the amount of added sugar on their website. The info is also roughly the same as what I can find on the rumproject and fatrumpirate’s blog.

    We’re not there yet: you have to make an additional click on ‘nutritonal information’, the amount is per 100ml instead of per liter so it makes for a smaller number and I very much doubt it’s on the bottle.

    This is baby steps, but not even Plantation, the poster boys of openness about dosage, can make this claim. Which always seemed odd to me. Not lying when asked a direct question is not the same as openness to me.

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