Get to Know the Rum Rising from Nicaragua's Volcanic Ashes

Get to Know the Rum Rising from Nicaragua's Volcanic Ashes

To hear Mauricio Solorzano tell it, it was 22 volcanoes that sealed the fate of Nicaragua’s favorite Rum. But we’ll get to that in a second.

Aged at the base of an active volcano, Flor de Caña has withstood a lot of turmoil since its inception in 1890. Political strife, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions and monsoons have tested the mettle of this Nicaraguan Rum, but the company—much like the spirit itself—has proven itself strong, resilient and robust. And a helluva advocate for the Nicaraguan people and environment.

So we sat a spell with Mauricio Solorzano, Flor de Caña’s global brand ambassador, to learn about the company’s long family line, how a volcano makes a killer tasting Rum and what he’d choose to eat (and drink, naturally) for his last meal on Earth.

Tell us about the history of Flor de Cana and the Rum.

Mauricio: This is a company that has been in Nicaragua since 1890. Everything started with an Italian visionary that left Italy—Genoa, specifically—and came to Nicaragua to construct the interoceanic Canal. And when he was here, he bought around 11 steamboats. Because the important thing to understand is that at the time, it was very important for the United States to reach California because of the Gold Rush.

When you get a sugar mill, you obtain two products: sugar and molasses. And molasses is the raw material used to produce Rum, so that's how the story of Flor de Caña began.

The best way to reach that coast is to take a steamboat in New Orleans to the Caribbean Sea, get into Nicaragua, and navigate through two of its big lakes into California. Trekking through the U.S. would’ve taken a dangerous 180 days. Using Nicaragua, it took only 35 days. It was a safe route, and Nicaragua was very important for that purpose.

So this Italian, who’s name was Alfredo Francisco Pellas, ran a very good business until the railroad was finished from coast to coast in the United States. And then, the United States decided to build the Cañal in Panama instead of Nicaragua. One of the main factors that led to the decision was Nicaragua’s 22 active volcanoes—it was deemed too dangerous.

How did the family go from essentially running an infrastructure business to Rum?

Mauricio: So in that very moment in 1890, Mr. Pellas decided to buy a sugar mill. And when you get a sugar mill, you obtain two products: sugar and molasses. And molasses is the raw material used to produce Rum, so that's how the story of Flor de Caña began.

Tell us why the volcanoes in Nicaragua are important to the Rum and the company.

Mauricio: The volcano is our biggest ally and our biggest laboratory because we are located in fertile soil, only a few minutes from the biggest, tallest and highest volcano in Nicaragua. The name is San Cristóbal. And the location of our sugar cane fields are very, very close—only five miles away. So when it's raining, the volcano captures a lot of water. So water goes beneath the soil, and the soil is enriched by the mineral and organic material—even the water that we use to water our sugar cane field.

The sugar cane grows very well in that fertile soil enriched by volcanic material. And when this volcano makes a minor eruption, the ashes serve as a natural fertilization of our sugar cane fields. But the most important facet is our location. In Nicaragua, our distillery and our sugar cane fields lie between the Pacific Ocean and the volcano. So these conditions create a microclimate that helps a lot in the aging of our alcohol in Bourbon barrels. It's not the same to age one year in Nicaragua and then age one year in a place with a colder temperature.

The interaction between the alcohol and the wood of the Bourbon barrels is more intense, it's dynamic. It’s how the magic happens in the aging process of Flor de Caña.

In the colder place, the pores of the wood start to close. But in a humid, tropical place like Nicaragua, the pores of the wood start to open intensely. So the interaction between the alcohol and the wood of the Bourbon barrels is more intense, it's dynamic. It’s how the magic happens in the aging process of Flor de Caña. That is how we obtain this volcanic character of our Rum that transmits all the smoothness in this aging process, because we age patiently from 4 to 30 years.

Tell us a bit more about the distillation process and how the aging is different at Flor de Caña. What makes the Rum special?

Mauricio: We age our Rum 100% naturally, with no artificial ingredients. And we don’t accelerate the aging process. There’s also zero sugar content. That’s very important because we have only three elements: five-time distillation, Bourbon barrels and time. That’s how we obtain everything natural as our color, our flavor, our aroma. We don't add any caramel. We don't add any artificial flavor, everything is natural. We age from four to 25 years, 100% naturally.

The warehouses are totally natural. We don't have AC and we don't disturb the process of aging in any manner.

Almost all the spirits are distilled twice in multiple columns. So when you distill twice, you can age or you can barrel. In our case, we took our distillation to three more distillation counts to be sure that 100% of the alcohol’s bad congeners, like methanol, were removed. That’s one of the important reasons to distill five times.

After that, we age the Rum patiently in our Bourbon barrels that we bought from the Bourbon industry. They’re premium Bourbon barrels with charcoal inside. It’s aged from four years, which is our minimum aging, up to 30 years with no artificial ingredients. The warehouses are totally natural. We don't have AC and we don't disturb the process of aging in any manner.

Tell us a bit more about the flavor profile of the Rum.

Mauricio: With this natural process we obtain the magic in our alcohol. In our portfolio, we have different categories.

The first one is the four and five years. We call it premium Rums, perfect Rums for mixing in tropical cocktails—those Daiquiris, those Piña Coladas, those Mojitos. All those tropical cocktails which are very easy to produce with lighter Rums, like the one we have in our portfolio.

Then we move on to our seven year Rum, which we call super premium category. This could be a mixing rum, but it’s also more mature. Very good with sparkling water, or enjoyed with a cola or natural juice. For those who want those specific flavors, this is a Rum with more character.

The other category we have is the ultra-premium category, which is the 12 and 18 year. They’re sipping Rums that can also be used for classic cocktails, like the Old Fashioned, Manhattan or even a Martini.

In the case of the 7 Year, our flagship cocktail is the Flor Ginger, which is a Flor de Caña 7 with ginger ale or ginger beer and a peel of orange. It’s a very refreshing cocktail. In the case of our 4, we can even use our Flor Tonic, which would be our Flor White with tonic water.

And for those classic cocktails, we use the 12 Year in a Flor Fashioned. It's a derivation of the Old Fashioned, but instead of using Whiskey we use Rum. The 18 Year is a sipper. It's one of the Rums with the most character in the industry, perfect to be enjoyed neat or on the rocks with a peel of orange.

The orange peel has a very specific role in our drinks, because it opens all your senses and is very refreshing. It gives dimension to all the exotic flavors that the 18 has, and adds intense vanilla, cocoa and dark chocolate—all the flavors you can only obtain when you really age something in Bourbon barrels.

Then, we have our next generation of categories, which is the luxury collection. That it is our 25 Year. And our new release that’s coming out next month will be our V Generaciones or Five Generations, which is a very fine and rare product in the industry. It's a Rum that’s been aged for 30 years and comes in a bottle with a real volcanic rock cap.

What would be a great food pairing for Flor de Caña?

Mauricio: Mixology and gastronomy—we’ve created a fusion of those words: Mixtronomy, by Flor de Caña. So these Mixtronomy Nights are held in different parts of the world. We're doing these Mixtronomy Nights in very famous places and very famous restaurants around the world. It varies, in Madrid, in Lima, in the United States.

For example, in Lima, there is a famous chef named Gastón Acurio, the owner of Astrid y Gastón, one of the most famous restaurants in the world. And we invite personalities of Peru, in that case, and we have a four-course pairing with different cocktails. It’s the best chef of Peru, with the best mixologist, with the best Rum in the world. We start with a Flor Ginger to host the people we invite. And then when they are sitting, we produce a volcanic cocktail that we call San Cristóbal, in honor of our volcano, which is a cocktail that will use our 7.

Using dried ice or things that can produce steam, they create these cocktails. And then we can pair it. We always try to start with something light, like a ceviche or some fish.

Then we move to the main course. We're using our 12, and basically we choose a meat or lamb, and we're pairing a Flor de Caña Old Fashioned with those meats or lamb that the chef prepares. And then we finish with the jewel of our portfolio, the 25. Usually pairing it with chocolate of at least 70% cocoa. That’s how you can have a sensory-filled night.

1. If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
To clean the Earth.

2. How would you describe Flor De Caña in three words?
Best Rum worldwide.

3. What is your favorite music and what drink goes with it?
Classic rock with a Flor Ginger (Flor de Cana, ginger ale and an orange peel).

4. What would you eat and drink for your last supper?
Gallo pinto from Nicaragua—it's rice and beans mixed together. That's the local dish in Nicaragua. So gallo pinto from Nicaragua and Flor de Caña with sparkling water.

5. Assuming Flor de Caña is your favorite, what's your second favorite Rum?
There are very good Rums all over the world—excellent Rums, prestigious Rums, and absolutely wonderful Rums—but the best is Flor de Caña.

Can you tell us more about how you have incorporated fair trade practices into your business?

Mauricio: Flor de Caña is a company that's been ahead of its time in areas like social responsibility. Since 1913, we’ve had a company school‚ the first company school. We have a school that we're very proud to promote. It was started in 1913 and now it's a very good school—bilingual. As an example, our current master distiller came from humble roots. He was born in the sugar mill. He studied in the school. He graduated in secondary, and went to high school. Then, he went into university, and is now one of the most successful professionals in Nicaragua.

So that model indicates that if you invest in your people and you take care of your people, you can grow with your people, build a better country and build a better company. And you can conquer the world with a product. We are the fifth highest-selling Rum in the world, and we’re aiming to be number one.

We are one of the first global spirits in the world to be certified for Fair Trade since 2018.

In 1958, we founded and created a hospital. This hospital takes care of all of our collaborators and the families of the collaborators. It's very important for us to grow with our people. In 1989, the owners of Flor de Caña, the fourth generation, went on a plane that crashed in Honduras. And among 150 people, 135 died and only 15 survived. Fortunately, the president of the company and his wife, survived. But they suffered burns on almost 80% of their body.

After that, the wife of the owner created a fund, an NGO, a hospital, to help all the burn children in Nicaragua for free. And this is the program that Flor de Caña sponsors in a very big way every year. We're very proud to sponsor that program, because we turn the tears into smiles. So that's three elements: the promise to the community, the promise to our workers and the promise to the environment. That's how we obtain this very important certification as a factory. By the way, we are one of the first global spirits in the world to be certified for Fair Trade since 2018.

Fair Trade is one of the most prestigious and rigorous certifications in the world. When you choose Fair Trade, you're voting with your dollars, supporting income sustainability, work empowerment, community development, and environmental stewardships. Through the unique Fair Trade Community Development Fund, workers can address local needs so that their families and children can thrive for generations to come.

On your website, it says that your Rum is created and produced with 100% renewable energy. Tell us more about that.

Mauricio: For example, we chop the sugarcane, we extract the juice and the leftover is the bagasse. We chop the bagasse and we transform it into a fiber. The fiber goes into an oven, the oven produces a steam, the steam moves a turbine, and voila—we produce energy. With that model, we avoid using the amount of fuel that can turn on 44,500 cars per year. Can you imagine the contamination or the pollution that they produce using that amount of fuel? So that's the amount of fuel and contamination we’re able to avoid using thanks to this model of renewable energy.

This is something that we will give as a legacy to the next generation.

Along with that, we capture the CO2 created in the process of fermentation. CO2 can cause damage to the ozone layer, which is why we capture it and we resell it to the brewery industry in Central America. So we don't let anything escape—it's a very closed circuit.

We’re very proud to say we're the most eco-friendly Rum in the industry. Also, every year, a group of our collaborators go to the ladders of the volcano and plant seeds. It started fifteen years ago, 50,000 trees per year. This is something that's in the top place of our pyramid model, because we know that we inherit this. This is something that we will give as a legacy to the next generation. We are on this planet for a moment, so the next generation to come will have to use it better than us.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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