In "One for the Road", one of the guys takes a quick run at a topic for your reading pleasure. Themes will vary, from classic drinks to hand-crafted ingredients and creations of their own, or whatever suits them at the moment. This go around, John presents an original: the Old Diplomat.
Back in June our friends over at Cait+Tiff presented me with a small but thoughtful gift: a bottle of Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters. Never having worked with chocolate bitters before, I immediately started researching and testing recipes, including a variation of the Sparrow, a distant cousin of the Boulevardier. The great thing about new ingredients, of course, is that it sparks the imagination.
A few weeks later in July, I did a shoot with Tiff at Samai, a local rum distillery here in Phnom Penh. In between takes, our host Daniel let me try some of the high end rums Samai keeps on hand for inspiration. Being something of a rum novice, it was an eye opening experience. There was one bottle in particular, Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva, that I just could not get out of my head.
It took another month or two before I finally caved and picked up a bottle of Diplomático for myself. Again, when it comes to rum I bring about as much sophistication and hands on experience as an Anthony Michael Hall character circa 1985, but even I knew this is a rum primarily meant to be enjoyed neat or with a single, large ice cube. And enjoy I did, soaking in the caramel, spice, and cacao flavors with great satisfaction.
While this love affair with Diplomático was evolving, I continued to experiment with the Xocolatl Mole bitters on a recipe of my own. Bourbons and amaros, tequilas and vermouths were at various times cajoled and married with the bitters, with some promising returns. But nothing worth presenting to you, dear reader. This is an intensely bitter ingredient, with strong notes of cacao and cinnamon on both the nose and tongue. It is not shy and is quick to overpower a drink, and I was decidedly stumped.
A Stroke of Luck
Then one night, perhaps out of serendipity, or perhaps out of sheer laziness, it occurred to me that the experience of a rum as fine as the Diplomático could perhaps be enhanced with the addition of an extra ingredient or two. A healthy pour of Diplomático, a dash of bitters, and a touch of sugar later, and I was on my way to a tasty play on the classic Old Fashioned.
It did not take long before the standard Angostura was replaced with a dropper's kiss of the Bittermens. Suddenly, I had a drink of local influence, if not local ingredients. The last little bit of inspiration was a legitimately local substitute for the sugar: a honey syrup made with Mondolkiri honey. Honey on its own is to thick to use in cocktails, but by adding a dose of water you can loosen it up enough to serve as a flavorful replacement for your standard simple syrup. I originally made my syrup - 3 parts honey to one part water - for use in another cocktail, but it fit perfectly with the sweet and bitter chocolate and cinnamon flavors already presented by the rum and bitters. It's also a great ingredient to keep on hand: unlike simple syrup, it will keep indefinitely and does not even have to be refrigerated.
A Gateway Cocktail
Unlike bourbon or rye, which might scare away the uninitiated, the Diplomático rum has a remarkably smooth finish and leaves little lingering burn. For those who haven't succumbed to the wiles of the Old Fashioned, this might be the drink that helps illustrate what makes the spirit-sugar-bitters combination so very right. While a tad on the sweet side of things, that can be adjusted to taste by decreasing the amount of honey syrup used.
For those who might be dismissive of rum generally, the Old Diplomat provides a window into the possibilities this spirit provides beyond Cuba Libres and Daiquiris. The sweetness of the rum is both complemented and countered by the honey syrup and xocolatl mole bitters, adding a layer of depth and nuance. Brought together, these three ingredients create a thick, silky potable of pure pleasure.
2 ounces - Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva
1 bar spoon - Mondulkiri Honey Syrup*
1-2 dashes - Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters
Combine the ingredients in a mixing glass and stir with ice, then strain into chilled old fashioned glass with one large ice cube. Garnish with an orange twist, if the mood suits you.
*Mondulkiri Honey Syrup (makes a little under a cup of syrup)
0.25 cup - water
0.75 cup - honey
In a saucepan, bring the water to a boil, then pour into to a separate bowl and add the honey. Stir/whisk until well mixed, then pour into a bottle for storage.