Drinks: Journey to the heart of La Hechicera rum and its special editions – Gastronomy – Culture

Giraldo Mituoka Kagana says that the real rum factory is the barrel. The Cuban master rum maker of Japanese origin confirms this daily with his work, taking care of the rums he stores in the barrels of the reduced space of Casa Santana, in Barranquilla. This is the recipe with which La Hechicera, the premium brand of this producer, has reached almost twenty-two countries.

In 2012, La Hechicera burst into a world dominated by centuries-old rums. It was a curiosity because, although it was launched for the first time in London, it spoke of Barranquilla as its land and there were no rums of this origin in the bars of the world.

Throughout this decade, in addition to winning awards and showing the Colombian public that the country has everything to produce premium spirits, the brand begins to experiment with new formulas. All under the supervision of Mituoka, who came from Cuba to exchange knowledge and who ended up staying, being the father of the original recipe and Experimental Sessions n°1 and n°2, his most recent references.

The flavor of La Hechicera Reserva Familiar rum is dry, woody, has notes of coffee, tobacco, some vanilla and cocoa, with some itching but pleasant on the palate.

A visit to the La Hechicera rum factory breaks with the established idea of ​​large cellars coexisting with the landscape of vast, green sugar cane plantations. Its operations center is in the middle of the city and is surrounded by other warehouses and buildings corresponding to the free zone of the Atlantic capital.

“We are in the heart of Barranquilla. At the same time, we are outside Colombia. It is a free zone, outside the territory of the country, explains Miguel Riascos, founder and president of Casa Santana. This would not be relevant , except that in Colombia The production of liqueurs above 15 degrees of alcohol is a state monopoly. A private company cannot produce rum in Colombia, it would need special permits, which is not not easy, or import the product from Barranquilla to the conventional customs territory of Colombia.”

Casa Santana embraced the second way long before La Hechicera rum was born. “The rum factory has existed since 1994 — explains Riascos —. It was born out of a technology exchange agreement between the Riascos family and the Cuban government. The deal lasted 10 years and we had many lessons on how to produce good quality rum. Mituoka, our ‘rum sensei’, also stayed. With him, we created our own style”.

Just as rum waits patiently in the barrel to acquire its final characteristics, they waited years to reach La Hechicera. Casa Santana began producing young rums to sell in bulk or in large quantities to third parties to bottle under their brands. Then came the idea of ​​launching a full-fledged product. “A reserve that is only intended for La Hechicera”, underlines Riascos.

Due to its size, it is and will remain an artisanal pot rum. Since joining Pernod Ricard last year, he is the only one of its kind in the multinational’s portfolio, since the other rum brand is the giant Havana Club. “A free zone is a limited space. We had to create a miniature rum box and make the most of the space,” he adds.

Casa Santana has made the most of its space, with its barrels arranged on different levels from floor to ceiling and a small space for offices and a laboratory. He even had enough to save a few barrels of Muscat that he received in exchange with another company without a clear objective and which will end up being the matrix of his Experimental Edition N°1.

The starting point is in the sugar cane. Rum is made from cane by-products: it can be made from cane syrup, as in Guatemala (an example is Zacapa), or it can be made from molasses. Each of them must go through distillation, resulting in a tafia or liquid ready to age in barrels.

La Hechicera starts with molasses and the second of these methods. “Our process is simple: from barrel to bottle, without any additives. Nothing different from a cane distillate that stays in an American white oak barrel, in the microclimate of Barranquilla”.

At Casa Santana, rums of different ages are stored. The oldest is about 26 years old. To get to La Hechicera, the ‘sensei’ Mituoka gathers in a barrel a mixture of the best, with different ages, starting with the oldest. None of those that make up your recipe are less than 5 years old.

“The alchemy of aging happens inside the cask,” Riascos explains. It is a porous container that prevents the liquid from escaping, although it loses some through evaporation. As Mituoka says, the factory is the barrel, which actually produces the rum. There is no other alternative than to sow a quality liquid in a barrel”.

But these are barrels with a story. Before arriving in Barranquilla, Tennessee and Kentucky, they helped bring to life many of the most famous Bourbon.

This past enriches the flavor of La Hechicera. If they used new barrels, at Barranquilla temperature, the barrel would give the rum an excess of woody notes. It needed a vessel that was already matured — in this case, in American whiskey — and, incidentally, with interesting aromatic and taste notes.

The Hechicera Reserva Familiar, which for years was the brand’s only rum, is the basis of the two new recipes. Its flavor is dry, woody, with notes of coffee, tobacco, a little vanilla and cocoa, with some itching but pleasant on the palate; everything is done without any additives, nor to achieve color or flavor.

After eight years on the market, at Casa Santana they saw it was time for a new flavor. The Experimental Series N°1 was born from the memory of muscat which had not been used for years in the cellar.

“It was a wine that we brought in bulk with nowhere to store it, so we put it in 12 barrels of rum and we forgot about it because we didn’t know what to give it to,” recalls- he. After years we tried it and it was extraordinary. So we emptied the barrels and put La Hechicera Reserva de Familia rum in them for three months.

(More from this story: A forgotten wine gave La Hechicera rum a new flavor.)

Those extra months resulted in the limited edition, with wine notes and 43 degrees of alcohol, of which only three batches of 7,000 bottles each were released. Of these, not much remains: some in Europe and others duty free. But its success opened the door to another limited edition: “We wanted to tell the story of our family in a rum”, adds Riascos. Before making rum, we produced bananas in Santa Marta. We wanted to remember it with a special edition. Experimental Series No. 2 is a rum with a La Hechicera profile, infused in a barrel with dehydrated organic bananas grown in Tolima.

N°2 is the brand’s sweetest sweet rum served as an aperitif or at the end of dinner. From there, a third batch of 15,200 bottles is being prepared, which will be available in Europe and Colombia from July.

Ten years after the start, Riascos happily remembers those first moments, with his older sister, with “samples of La Hechicera in their pockets, taking them to bartenders and journalists. They didn’t do things as planned: with a local launch and a consolidation first. Colombia.”

For now, the experiments are continuing, as well as the possibility of reaching more countries with Pernod Ricard. And those who can visit them will be able to try some of their experiences, such as that resulting from an exchange of barrels with the BBC brewery. It’s a non-marketed sample, but these days they were able to share it with special guests as a way of curiosity and memory. But there will be more of this rum house, they promise.

LILIANA MARTINEZ POLO SHIRT
CULTURAL WRITING
Barranquilla*
(At the invitation of Procolombia, Mayor of Barranquilla, Atlantic Government, -ProBarranquilla, Glenlivet, Hotel El Prado, San Pellegrino and Acqua Panna).

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