Now, I must admit to being a fairly late convert to the dark, sultry charms of rum; unless of course you count the Barcardi and cokes I used to force down as a student in the interests of swift and efficient inebriation. Like many late converts though, I am somewhat evangelical about my chosen subject - there are some truly outstanding examples of this versatile spirit out there, and none more so than Diplomatico, who last week hosted a rum tasting evening in the bar at Manchester House with matched canapés by Aiden Byrne.
The twelfth floor bar at Manchester House is perfect for this sort of event, with its stunning views of the Manchester skyline providing an ideal backdrop for the equally beautiful selection of rum brought along by Skippy and Mark for the occasion. Diplomatico is a Venezuelan rum and as such is subject to strict rules and regulations: all the sugar cane used must come from there, and all production and ageing must take place in Venezuela - the rum must also be at least 40% ABV and aged for a minimum of two years (hence there are so few white rums from Venezuela). All of this makes for something pretty special, particularly as Diplomatico use sugar cane honey as well as molasses, leading to that sweet, rounded mellowness that makes a really good rum so irresistible.
We began with a Mai Tai cocktail and a shot of the Anejo, the Diplomatico entry level rum. Skippy described this as good for mixing but I also found it more than acceptable on its own thanks to its 5% sugar cane honey and four year ageing process. The Mai Tai was exemplary (as it should be, with its name meaning "out of this world"), and was followed by a tot of the Diplomatico Reserva that had gone into it. The canapés were also starting to come out by this point, with each one designed by Aiden Byrne to complement its partnering rum - the chocolate lychee, Szechuan and rose was a work of art in its own right but went perfectly with the sweetness of the Anejo, and the cherry filled with foie gras mousse and served with palm sugar (a Manchester House classic) provided an indulgent pairing with the Reserva.
Next up, the Blanco (which had far more flavour than any white rum I've ever tried before, and is certainly the only one I've ever been able to drink neat), a killer Daiquiri and a canapé of crab and curried papaya - along with a visit from Chef Byrne himself. Rum number four, and we were starting to get to the good stuff - the Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva is 80% heavy (much like myself by this point of the evening); in other words, it is 80% sugar cane honey and thus a perfect match for the spiced bread and pressed plum.
The final two rums were ones to savour, as they would both be way out of my price range in real life. The Diplomatico Single Vintage 2000 is a 43% heavyweight and is aged for 11 years; it also came with most people's favourite canapé of the night - a roasted scallop with white chocolate and truffle risotto (this is currently on the lunch menu in the restaurant, and would quite frankly merit a trip to Manchester House on its own). Last but definitely not least was the Ambassador, aged for 12 years in Pedro Jimenez sherry casks and quite simply one of the nicest things I have ever put in my mouth (no sniggering at the back please). The same goes for the cured foie gras, spiced banana and speculoos biscuit, and the final cocktail of the evening, a twist on an Old Fashioned called The Treacle.
All in all, this was one of the most enjoyable couple of hours imaginable, and offered quite ludicrous value at £30 for six rums, three cocktails and canapés. The cocktails at Manchester House are something special anyway, but Business Development Manager Emma Cottam says they're planning to host more of this type of event in the future, and to get the chance to sample some of Aiden Byrne's creations as well was an added bonus. Keep an eye out for the next one, as it's likely to sell out in the blink of an eye - and I'm willing to fight in the most unladylike manner for a place.
- Manchester House has streamlined its impressive cocktail menu and made it more user friendly, with a helpful contents page separating the different options into their base spirit and making suggestions for variants on old favourites. You can, ahem, see from the pictures below just how frightening user-friendly I found the new menu when Emma invited me in to try it. Some of these are from a paid visit, some from a comp - but I loved them all equally.