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A drink with… José Rafael Ballesteros Meléndez, Diplomático Rum

The chief executive of Venezuelan rum brand Diplomático on the importance of remaining independent and the potential for premiumisation.

Diplomático’s chief executive José Rafael Ballesteros Meléndez

*This feature was originally published in the December 2018 issue of The Spirits Business

How did you get started in rum?

My family has always been involved in the production of spirits in Venezuela. In 2002, we acquired a distillery created by Seagram’s International in 1959, which produced rum and other spirits. Thanks to the variety of distillation systems available there we were able to produce new rum profiles and develop Diplomático.

How has the sector evolved since then?

In 2002, when we bought the distillery, the premium rum segment was unknown, and most people would only consider mixing it with cola, or to prepare Mojitos or tiki cocktails. Since then, consumers’ perception of rum has evolved. We have put a lot of effort into educating professionals and industry opinion leaders, to help them rediscover rum.

Does the category have potential to premiumise even further?

Absolutely. We are still at the early stage of rum premiumisation. Our products have a lot in common with other fine dark spirits like whisky and Cognac, not only in terms of production process but also in their mode of consumption.

What sets Diplomático apart from the competition?

The fact that we are an independent and family-­owned brand. We emphasise the human aspect, being humble and treating everyone with respect. We also control our production process and focus on producing high quality rums in a sustainable and responsible way. Finally, Diplomático’s exquisite taste profile and quality. Our rums are complex, characterful and accessible to the palate. It’s a friendly spirit that invites you to share it with others.

What is the benefit of being a family-owned rum producer?

We share the same passion and we have the same goal: to produce the best rums in the world. There is a strong feeling of identification with the brand, and great pride for what we have accomplished so far. It motivates us to continue developing Diplomático.

Will the company remain family-owned?

Being a family-­owned business is our vision and one of our fundamental purposes. Despite the difficult situation our country is facing, and the interest from big groups attracted by Diplomático’s great potential, we have been able to remain independent.

Why use three still types?

When we bought the distillery, it came with various distillation systems, among them: a copper pot still from Scotland; a batch kettle system from Canada to produce North American-­style whiskies; a French Barbet column and various continuous columns to produce light rums. Having such a rich distillation heritage allowed us to create unique rum blends. That’s what characterises Diplomático.

Is innovation important to Diplomático?

Innovation is key for the continuity of our brand, especially in an ever­-evolving industry like ours.

Does the category need greater emphasis on consumer education?

Absolutely. Most consumers are unaware of how complex and premium rum can be. Educating them about where rums come from, how they are produced and by whom is a must for the premiumisation of our category.

What else will help rum develop in the future?

High quality standards, continuous innovation and, above all, trade and consumer education. It is essential for people to understand the rum category and to be able to understand there are different styles of rum.

Are you planning any new releases?

We are developing new products that will reflect Diplomático’s rum-­making know-how and expertise. We are constantly innovating, and have plans for the next three years to release new expressions.

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