He was particularly interested in artisanal production methods that, in spite of remaining relatively constant, were capable of yielding a wide variety of distinctly different outcomes.
He was fascinated by the subtle complexities of the many environmental factors that affect the rum-making process, such as the weather and humidity of the tropics. A craftsman at heart, Don Juancho tirelessly looked for ways to refine his own product by sampling an exhaustive array of exotic liquors and rums. In fact his impressive collection of beverages became quite famous, coming to be known amongst his friends as "The Ambassador's Reserves," a clear reference to its owner's class and good nature.
Don Juancho carefully studied the production methods employed in Jamaica, which at the time set the world standard for the manufacture and appreciation of rum.
He would also draw inspiration from the islands of the Antilles, discovering and improving upon many of their distillation and aging secrets. The sugar mill, with its traditional method of crushing the sugar cane, was a both trusty tool and a constant companion to Nieto Meléndez. He would observe its slow work in the same way a traveler might explore a map in search of new destinations, imagining the endless variations he could create by combining different cane juices in his rums. In time, his secret and astute combinations of ingredients, wood barrels and honeys would yield the robust and complex product that Don Juancho Meléndez had always been searching for.
The result was a rum that combined an unmistakable character and body with irresistible and subtle aromas, the triumphant expression of his untiring search for a spirit that would go on to captivate the world under the name Ron Diplomático. His search for an exclusive flavor, color and aroma worthy of being served at the world's finest venues is a living testament to his extraordinary tenacity and dedication. His death in the last century did not mean the end of his legacy. Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva, produced in his honor, is one Venezuela's proudest and most treasured rum exports.
Destilerias Unidas S.A
Better known by its DUSA abbreviation, Destilerias Unidas S.A. has gained notoriety for its respected Diplomatico-branded rums, its success fuelled by the warmth and personality of its globetrotting proprietors, the Ballesteros family, who I'm sure are often mistaken for passionate brand ambassadors rather than brand owners.
The DUSA distillery, which lies at the foot of the Andes Mountains close to the Terepaima National Park, was originally established in 1959 when the main producers and distributors of alcoholic beverages in Venezuela merged to form Licorerias Unidas S.A.. The company was established under the auspices of Seagram International to supply the local market with vodka, whiskey, gin, rum and liqueurs. The Cacique rum brand was launched in 1961 and six years later it became the brand leader in its domestic Venezuelan market.
Seagram's initially held 51 per cent of the company but in 1992 took full control. That lasted until 2001 when Seagram's itself was purchased by Diageo and Pernod Ricard. In November 2002 the two conglomerates relinquished their holding in the distillery to a newly established company, Distilerias Unidas S.A., led by the charismatic José R. Ballesteros Melendez. The purchase agreement came with a bulk supply contract to continue production of Cacique rum for Diageo and also to produce heavy rums for use in the blending of Pampero.
Venezuela is a large country with a very diverse landscape including beaches, plains, mountains, jungles and desert. It's possible to set off to a perfect beach in the morning and then ski down a mountain in the afternoon without leaving the country. So where to site a distillery?
A number of factors influenced Seagram's choice of a site just outside the town of La Miel in Lara state, besides the town itself providing a local workforce. The first influencing factor was the five sugar processing plants nearby three lying within an 80km area: the neighbouring ŒLara' plant; the second lying in Yaracuy state to the east; the third in Portuguesa state to the south. These three refineries supply some 80 per cent of DUSA's molasses.
The area is surrounded by forestry reserves so Terepaima National Park provides a plentiful supply of very pure water carried in aquifers which supply the distillery's five 100 metre wells. This water has a low 200ppm mineral content so no treatment is necessary for use in fermentation or distillation.
Average temperatures during the day of 30-31šC drop by 6-7šC at night and this temperature differential, coupled with high humidity, helps sugar cane growth: it concentrates the sugars in the cane and favours the ageing process. Incidentally, it also makes for one of the hottest and most sauna-like still rooms I have ever been in. Escaping to the air-conditioned control room which houses the computers which control the column stills was an indescribable relief.
The plant covers 12 hectares and has a production capacity of some eight million 9-litre cases a year. Although chiefly a rum distillery, the facilities also house a self-contained grain processing plant and grain distillery as well as a separate gin distillery. DUSA distils from corn, rice, malted barley, molasses and sugar cane honey to make a wide range of products from liqueurs to whiskey and gin, in addition to rum. Again, the local region provides a bountiful supply of cereals and even rice, with a government rice plant the distillery's immediate neighbour and the area's other major employer.
The whole operation is overseen by the erudite Tito Cordero who has worked at DUSA since 1988. He is only the third Master Blender to work at the distillery since it was founded in 1959. Prior to the distillery he worked in the petroleum industry and José jokingly says "he preferred the taste of alcohol to oil". The truth is that it was not his love of rum that most influenced his career change, but the love of a woman. Tito met his wife while working at the petrochemical plant and she came from the area where the distillery lies, so the move to Lara provided him with both two loves of his life again something José told us with a smile.
Ron Diplomatico Master Blender Tito Cordero with Ron Diplomatico Ambassador