Behind the Scenes at Diplomático in Venezuela

Bottle of Diplomatico Rum on a beach in Venezuela

Deep within the Amazonia Valley of Venezuela sits Destileria Unidas S.A. (DUSA), home of award-winning rum producer Diplomático. Thanks to its lush surroundings and its location at the base of the Andes Mountains, it’s easy to miss, but behind the sprawling property's front gate sits a self-sustaining facility that continues to grow despite the dismal economic outlook of its home country.

Orange Diplomatico-branded hard hat DUSA is open to the public and offers hard hat tours of its facilities. Photos courtesy of Diplomático.

First, some history: Diplomático was established in 1959 as part of a partnership between Seagram’s and several local rum distilleries. Eventually Seagram’s sold its stake, but that didn’t stop Diplomático from continuing to thrive, rightfully earning a reputation for creating some of the best rums in the world. More recently, Diplomático has become the most awarded rum in the world, and today it is distributed in more than 50 countries around the world. It’s also the first Venezuelan distillery to receive recognition for its multitude of environmental initiatives.

One of Diplomático’s sugarcane fields, which is harvested by hand using a machete. One of Diplomático’s sugarcane fields, which is harvested by hand using a machete.

In fact, the operation is almost entirely self-sustaining. From growing sugarcane to creating its own power to collecting runoff made during the production process to use as irrigation, Diplomático maintains a number of green initiatives throughout all aspects of its operations.

Sugarcane fields at Diplomatico/DUSA Called “vinasse,” the company creates its own irrigation from leftover mash and runoff, which is then reused to water its sugarcane fields and to feed its herd of buffalo, which creates its fertilizer (and cheese!).

Although these green initiatives may seem like a trendy business model used by a lot of businesses these days, for Diplomático their implementation came out of sheer necessity and are particularly important in the wake of Venezuela’s current economic crisis.

José R. Ballesteros, president of DUSA, navigates the DUSA property on horseback. One of the easiest ways to navigate the property’s sugarcane fields is on horseback. Seen here is José R. Ballesteros, president of DUSA.

Another aspect of the production process that the company does in house is making its own barrels at its cooperage. The white-oak barrels were previously used to age whiskey, which DUSA also distills and produces, although these products are not available in the United States.

A barrel cooper using foraged reeds to seal a barrel When making barrels to age its rum, coopers use locally foraged reeds to seal each barrel.

To make its rums, Diplomático uses sugarcane molasses for its light rums and sugarcane honeys for its more complex rums. Once the sugarcane has been harvested, it’s transported to a mill where it’s promptly crushed with the aid of machinery. The crushing extracts juice from the fibrous pulp, and whatever is left of the pulp is later burned to create energy to help run the facility.

One of several tanks used during fermentation at DUSA. One of several tanks used during fermentation.

Diplomático also cultivates and maintains its own yeast strain, which is used during the fermentation process and maintained under UV light and refrigeration. Depending on the type of rum being made, the fermentation stage of production takes one to two days.

Copper pot stills at Diplomático. Copper pot stills at Diplomático.

After fermentation comes the distillation process. Diplomático has three different types of stills: copper pots, batch kettles, and continuous stills. Depending on the type of rum being distilled, the raw spirit from the stills will fall between 80 and 96 percent ABV (160 to 192 proof).

Employees monitoring the fermentation tanks using computers. Employees monitoring the fermentation tanks using computers.

Once distillation is complete, the spirits go into oak barrels for aging. Diplomático uses American and French oak casks that were previously used to age whiskey. At any given time, there are approximately 260,000 barrels aging in more than a dozen rack houses around the property. Because of local laws, Diplomático must get a letter of permission from the local government to gain access to the barrels for everything from rotating them to tasting the liquid during the aging process.

An employee filling oak barrels with rum. An employee filling oak barrels with rum.

After the aging process, Tito Cordero, Diplomático’s master blender, begins the tedious process of blending the spirits to create each of the brand’s offerings. His goal is to ensure that every single release captures the best balance of flavors and aromas possible. Cordero is so skilled at his job that he was named “Rum Blender of the Year” at the Rum Barrel Awards in the UK in both 2011 and 2013, and the “World’s Best Master Blender” at the Madrid International Rum Conference in 2014.

Barrels of Diplomatico Rum aging. Barrels of rum aging. By Venezuelan law, rums must be aged for a minimum of two years.

Recently Diplomático updated its portfolio of rums and added two new releases— Mantuano, a premium dark mixing rum, which is aged up to eight years, and Planas, a premium white sipping rum aged for up to six years and charcoal filtered. These new offerings join Reserva Exclusiva, a super premium dark sipping rum that’s aged for up to 12 years. In addition, Diplomático has two prestige offerings, Single Vintage and Ambassador, aged for 12 years and between 12 and 14 years, respectively.

Bottling line at Diplomatico Rum After spending an adequate amount of time in barrels, the liquid is bottled and labeled before being shipped to locations around the world.