We recently tried, and were blown away by, Diplomatico’s Reserva Exclusiva rum. It earned a five star rating from us (and that’s out of five stars, for the record). But that’s the top of Diplomatico’s line and it is on the pricier end for a bottle of rum. So today we’re checking out their Mantuano edition, which sat in a barrel for eight years (four less than the Reserva) and is a little bit cheaper. But is it just as delicious?
In the late 1950’s, the Seagrams company managed to wrangle all of the production and distribution of spirits within the country of Venezuela into a single entity named Licorerias Unitas S.A. (LUSA), of which Seagram’s owned a 51% stake. In 1959, the Venezuelan company opened a new combined distillery that would be able to produce whiskey, rum, and other spirits to support this business.
Over the years, the Seagram’s company would be merged and acquired several times over. After a 2001 acquisition of Seagram’s by spirits giant Diageo, the new owners decided to divest LUSA — including the distillery. A group of local Venezuelan investors purchased LUSA and renamed it Distilleries Unitas S.A. (DUSA).
Diplomatico is a premium brand of rum produced by DUSA at their Venezuelan facility.
- Learn More: What Is Rum?
Diplomatico rum starts with Venezuelan sugar cane, specifically a mixture of molasses and sugar cane honey. Rum has always been a secondary product of sugar processing and so the source materials are generally derived from intermediary steps in that process — sugar cane honey or sugar cane syrup comes from near the beginning of the process when the sugar is more pure, and molasses comes from the very end when all that is left are primarily impurities (which add flavor) and residual sugar.
Those sugary substances are added to water and fermented using a proprietary strain of yeast that is only used at this one distillery. The newly created alcoholic liquid is then distilled through a combination of column and pot stills to produce the raw white rum.
Once distilled, the rum is placed into a combination of oak casks including previously used American bourbon barrels and Scottish malt whisky barrels. The rum matures in those barrels for an undisclosed period of time (reportedly up to 8 years for this version) before being removed, blended, and bottled for sale.
This bottle breaks all of my rules… but in a way that somehow makes me love it even more.
This is definitely a differently shaped bottle. It’s more like an onion bulb, with a flatter bottom, curved sides, and sloping towards a short neck. The size makes it just a bit too wide to fit easily into a typical slot for a liquor bottle, which I think was the point: keeping this on the shelf and out of the speed well at a bar.
While the shape might be interesting, the color is the more potentially controversial topic. The glass on the bottle is a shiny brown (note that the more expensive Reserva Exclusiva was a matte green) that is just transparent enough to see that there is liquid inside… but not transparent enough to see the actual color of the spirit. On a more modern bottle, this would probably be crystal clear to show off the color — and I normally prefer a more transparent bottle for that exact reason. But here they are going for a bit of a more traditional take: tinted, almost opaque glass. Glass bottles used to be colored like this as standard operating procedure, as sunlight tends to degrade the contents of the bottle fairly rapidly. Colored glass (like we see here) prevents degradation and keeps the flavors intact longer. This tinted glass is a signal that this rum is meant to be sipped and enjoyed over time.
On the front is the label, sporting the illustrated portrait of a fabled noble Venezuelan adventurer and rum aficionado named Don Juancho. The man is a complete fabrication — a legend — but the image is striking and appealing, looking with the rest of the label like a large postage stamp. It’s a great design that I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere else, besides maybe something similar from Few Spirits in Chicago.
Normally all of these things would be demerits in my book. I like seeing the spirit inside, I like simple labels, and I like straightforward logos. But somehow, in this case, it all makes for a beautiful work of art that looks great on a liquor shelf. I can’t knock it — well done, folks.
There’s a lot of tropical fruit in this aroma, with a handful of barrel maturation notes thrown in for good measure. I get some delicious pineapple, coconut, banana, and a touch of brown sugar or molasses around the edges that adds some nice richness.
Those barrel aging components take front and center in the actual flavor, though. The brown sugar is the first thing I get, with a depth and richness that is almost more like sweet molasses. It’s combined with some nice vanilla to give a great sweet and rich foundation for the rest of the flavors in this glass. That richness almost gets to be a little too much as the flavor develops a slight dark chocolate bitterness just before the fruit kicks in. That’s when we finally taste the pineapple and banana flavors quite clearly, combined with some baking spices that make the whole experience a bit more interesting.
On the finish, there’s a bit more of that tartness — but the tropical fruit is really what remains behind in the end.
I think a little bit of ice is exactly what this rum needed. That hint of bitterness I saw when taken neat was a solid indicator that this rum wasn’t designed to be sipped — it was designed to be mixed.
With some spirits, the addition of some ice can throw the flavors into chaos, but here the flavors are just as delicious. The sweetness and richness of the brown sugar is still present, as are all the tropical fruits. The saturation may have taken a slight hit in terms of the intensity of those flavors, but there’s plenty still here to make for some great cocktails. And the best part? No longer a single hint of bitterness anywhere.
Fizz (Dark and Stormy)
Once again, Diplomatico delivers on the rum cocktails. I’m literally just going to copy/paste what I wrote in the Reserva review, because the Dark & Stormy made here with the Mantuano is so similar to the Reserva that I did a double take:
The bright ginger beer and lime juice are perfectly balanced in this cocktail thanks to the combined effort of the various fruit flavors in the rum. The pineapple and mango are clearly identifiable and add some sweetness, while the dried fruit notes add depth and richness as well. It’s the whole package in one glass.
Normally with something like a Kentucky Mule, I’d expect a spicy kick or some other textural change on the finish. But in this case, I think that molasses flavor does a fantastic job adding just a touch of baking spices and sweetness to make it enjoyable but not boring.
This is, without a doubt, a fantastic rum for cocktails. Whether you’re making a Dark & Stormy or a more tropical cocktail, the fruity notes and the richness of the maturation flavors provide an excellent foundation for the mixers and other components to do their magic.
My only warning here is that this probably isn’t an ideal sipping rum. The flavors are good but they could be better, and the hint of bitterness and tartness that I’m getting is an unfortunate turn of events. That’s the primary difference between this Mantuano rum and the more refined (and more expensive) Reserva version — and explains the price difference.
Classification: Dark Rum
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $23.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
A delicious rum for cocktails, but probably not one that you would want to serve neat.