World Class Rums
If at a bar in Berne, Chicago, Madrid or Taipei, you ask someone where Guatemala or Nicaragua are, surely the first thing they'll have at the tip of their tongue is a simple answer that fits the environment: "Where they make this rum." Later, they'll give a more precise answer.
After the national symbols, Ron Zacapa Centenario and Ron Botrán from Guatemala and Ron Flor de Caña from Nicaragua are these Central American nations' ubiquitous icons and points of reference in countries in the Americas, Europe and Asia.
To elevate and maintain the brands at this level (coveted by hundreds of companies everywhere), the manufacturers-Industrias Licoreras de Guatemala and Compañía Licorera de Nicaragua-place in each bottle the spirit of their own history and the aroma and flavor of their lands.
Ron Zacapa Centenario isn't as old as it seems, or rather, as its name indicates. Nevertheless, during its first 30 years of existence, this rum's spirit has brought it from the tropical altiplanos in Guatemala to the busy bars of many establishments in Italy, Spain, Germany, Japan, the United States, Mexico, Chile and Central America.
This liquor came to the party and has earned the favor of consumers and international experts. From them, it has received much recognition and numerous invitations, like one to inaugurate the Rum Festival Hall of Fame. For two consecutive years (2001 and 2002), the Beverage Testing Institute of Chicago even granted it the title of "Best Spirit."
Among cheers and applause, Ron Zacapa Centenario maintains its position in the market because of how
Industrias Licoreras de Guatemala produces it. The company distills and ages the rum slowly to give it its tropical spirit-which at the same time brings the rum closer and distances it from whisky and wine-naturally imbuing it with aromas from oak, pineapple and sugarcane raw juices.
Instead of molasses, Industrias Licoreras de Guatemala uses raw juices extracted from sugarcane plantations in the south of the country, which ferment slowly thanks to the generosity of a variety of pineapple yeast. That's how the rum obtains a distinctive flavor and aroma.
"Ron Zacapa Centenario is also a product of its environment because it's aged in Xela [Quetzaltenango], where the altitude [7,500 feet above sea level with an average temperature of 59ºF] allows a slower and higher quality aging, with minimum variations of temperature and less of an 'angel's share' [the evaporation of alcohol from the product that's inside the casks]," explains Regina Díaz, an executive with the company.
Ron Zacapa Centenario was born amidst celebration. In 1976, Industrias Licoreras de Guatemala decided to invent a new brand to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the founding of the eastern city of Zacapa. Today, this liquor is beloved by millions of consumers around the world.
To show its gratitude to Guatemala for the profits generated, in 2003 the company that manufactures Ron Zacapa Centenario established a production chain of artisans in the town of Jocotán, Chiquimula. These artisans produce the hand-woven palm leaf wrappers (including the ring-shaped handle) that hold thousands of bottles of the liquor.
The artisans from Jocotán, who were undergoing a crisis when Industrias Licoreras de Guatemala came to help them, receive between 200-1,200 quetzals per month (depending on the number of wrappers produced) to pay for the expenses that before they couldn't cover with the 40 quetzals that they made when the business was doing well.
Casa Botrán's aged rums stand out because of the careful selection of the sugarcane used to produce the raw juices. This sugarcane is cultivated in Guatemala's southern coast and watered with vinasse-a byproduct of distillation that's used to replenish several nutrients to the cane-growing soils.
Another one of the features that give Casa Botrán's rums their indisputable quality, delicious taste and robust personality is the aging process called solera.
Soleras are the casks containing the rums with the most aging, whereas criaderas are the casks held immediately above the soleras, which hold rums with less aging. The last row of criaderas on the top hold the youngest rums. Casa Botrán offers different rums like Solera (Ron Botrán Oro), Solera Añejo (Ron Botrán Añejo 8), Solera Reserva (Ron Botrán Añejo 12) and Solera Gran Reserva (Ron Botrán Solera 1893).
Flor de Caña
The spirit of this Nicaraguan rum is joyful and centenary. It was born within a festive environment in Chichigalpa, Nicaragua in 1890, when workers and owners of the San Antonio sugar refinery (owned by the Pellas family) celebrated the beginning of the harvest with glasses of liquor they distilled themselves.
The sweet tradition began in the sugarcane plantations in the western part of the nation. At first, the people from Chichigalpa drank the rum while it was still young-but after a while, they began enjoying an aged Flor de Caña, maintained in reserve for a couple of years by the refinery's owners.
"At first, the production was basically for the consumption of the Pellas family, friends and people from the city. Later, they began mass marketing after founding Compañía Licorera de Nicaragua in 1937," says Cristina Casado, brand manager for Central America.
That's when Flor de Caña began gaining market share in the domestic market. Two decades later, the citizens of the Central American nation and other countries were already celebrating their occasions with this liquor exported from Nicaragua.
Compañía Licorera de Nicaragua keeps among its treasured mementos sepia scenes of the romantic beginnings of the business, and continues gaining ground and prestige in the global market. As of 2007, Ron Flor de Caña is available at bars and restaurants in 40 countries.
More than a century after it was created, Flor de Caña has received awards in international competitions, where la crème de la crème of liquors compete-for example, in London, Chicago, San Francisco and Canada.
"In the past five years, Flor de Caña has obtained more than 72 medals and has been the most award-winning rum brand during this period," Casado says.
Earning the favor of rum experts isn't easy, but Compañía Licorera de Nicaragua has captivated even the most demanding consumers and tasters. To achieve this, it doesn't rush; it moves forward slowly and carefully.
While some rum manufacturers distill the liquor once, twice or three times, Compañía Licorera de Nicaragua prefers the perfect number of a minimum of seven times, to obtain an extraordinarily pure liquor.
The key to its success isn't only the distillation process. Without rushing due to the growing demand and without using accelerating additives, the company ages Flor de Caña for at least four years in oak casks that previously held bourbon-thus obtaining an unequaled bouquet, character and body.
Finally, the natural aging process (which involves just rum, oak casks and time) yields bottles of rum with ages of four, five, seven, 12 and even 18 years-like the label says.
"Flor de Caña is 100 percent aged. We don't have mixtures of rums of different ages," Casado says.
Compañía Licorera de Nicaragua shares the success of its distinguished rum with the Nicaraguan community: it provides education for more than 700 children; builds schools; paves streets in the town near the factory; keeps up a hospital; and has programs to recycle paper, cardboard, aluminum, glass and other discarded materials.