The adventure begins in the land of volcanoes, where spring happens every day and the delicious Thursday paches (amazing potato and chicken tamales) are an ancestral tradition. It was only a couple of years ago that in this place the traditional alcohol industry was able to obtain the designation of origin for its sophisticated rum. It was there, in Guatemala, where Emilio Estefan announced his partnership with the Botrán family to become the new face of their brand in the United States and showcase rum of exceptional quality.
Guatemala has an amazing biodiversity. Its 33 volcanoes frame its landscapes and enrich its soil with mineral characteristics that are incredibly unique, the same ones that give a special touch to their sugarcane liquor.
Our trip began with the Estefan family in the city of Antigua Guatemala; a colonial paradise surrounded by the Agua, Fuego and Acatenango volcanoes. There, nestled in the sleepy valley, with its cobblestone streets, the 19-time Grammy winner Emilio Estefan and his smiling wife, Gloria, met us at the entrance of the beautiful hotel El Convento. Estefan introduced us to the CEO of Industrias Licoreras de Guatemala (a Guatemalan alcohol distillery), Roberto Fernando García Botrán, and his wife, Bárbara.
The afternoon was lovely, as was the city, which is the final resting place of conquistador Bernal Díaz del Castillo. In the beautiful convent of La Merced, the new alliance between the award-winning Cuban-American producer and one of the oldest families in the Guatemalan alcohol industry was celebrated.
The event was animated by excitement and pride as a Guatemalan rum took its first steps toward global expansion. At one point in the gathering, Emilio explained his decision to become the face of the Botrán rums: “For me, it is very important that it’s made with quality here in Latin America; my family and the Botráns share the same values of tradition, passion, respect and excellence, so our partnership was natural.”
The party continued in grand fashion. Gloria and Bárbara were always attentive and smiling, linked to their husbands with glances that conveyed strong, palpable connections. As expected, the evening started and ended with Botrán rum, and in the face of such rejoicing, an always fair and observant García Botrán seemed to honor the five brothers (among them, his grandfather) who came from Burgos, Spain, to Guatemala in the early 20th century and, together with other Guatemalan distillers, managed to create the now successful Industrias Licoreras de Guatemala.
García Botrán talked about the immigrant’s dream, about the strength that a brand gains by succeeding in the United States and about his own hopes that the outstanding quality of his rum would leave an impression on international markets.
The next morning, the Fuego volcano shot up a couple of puffs, as if to give the air a magical touch. After a delicious breakfast that included tamales made with chipilín (a little herb like cilantro with a sensational range of flavors), the delegation flew over beautiful lands on its way to Quetzaltenango, one of the highest cities in Guatemala — altitude is essential for aging rum with designation of origin — and site of the Centro de Añejamiento Botrán (Botrán Aging Center).
There, the Botrán proved what sets them apart from the rest of the rums in the world. To begin with, the rum originates from the unspoiled honey of the first pressing of sugarcane, not from molasses, like most others. It’s aged through a traditional process (solera) that begins in white oak barrels that once housed American whiskey. It’s then transferred to barrels soaked in sherry and port, where it’s mixed with aged rums. Then it rests for years at an altitude above 7,500 feet.
“Once you try good rum, nothing is ever the same,” said Isabel Medina, global ambassador of Botrán, as we walked around the burnt barrels and the samples of freshly distilled rum. By then, the Estefan and Botrán families were more than hosts, they were dear friends who had decided to share their treasures with us; rum was flowing, and with it, the quartet’s superb sense of togetherness, tradition and family.
The next stop was the Tululá sugar factory, just 250 meters above sea level; another requirement for the designation of Ron de Guatemala (Rum of Guatemala). The sugarcane plantations, like the factory, and the beauty of the jungle made a deep impression. But the most endearing memory will always be of Emilio Estefan, with his trademark smile, cutting sugarcane.
The flight to Guatemala City was spectacular; its mountains, valleys and lakes can only be compared to the delicious pepián (a sensational dish made with a stew of tomatoes and spices and combined with beef or chicken) that we had for dinner. The farewell was emotional, but good rum will always bring us back to the traditions, the families, and above all, the friends that we made in Guatemala.