If your knowledge of Dominican Republic exports is limited to baseball players and cigars, the word “mamajuana” might look like a typo on first glance.
And, like that world-renowned, (somewhat) similarly named substance you perhaps mistook it for, mamajuana is believed to bring special powers and health benefits to those who consume it. But you don’t smoke mamajuana, you drink it, and the benefits associated with the Dominican Republic’s native bush rum aren’t creativity and tranquility but vitality and sexual prowess.
Rum enhanced with roots, herbs, barks, stems, and countless other natural ingredients that vary with each mamajuana is said to improve blood circulation, digestion, and, in a twist on the usual side-effects of alcohol consumption, the easing of liver problems.
(More on the origins of mamajuana here.)
Until recently, however, the drink (which shares many similarities with Puerto Rican pitorro, or canita, and bois bande rums popular in the Eastern Caribbean) was primarily known only by Dominicans and those familiar with her shores. In recent years, a pair of popular bars featuring the tonic have opened in New York City and Miami under the name Mamajuana Cafe. And a small handful of brands have also begun exporting variations on the drink, primarily to the US.
Among these is Don Zavier, whose mamajuana I had an opportunity to sample at April’s Miami Rum Renaissance Festival. And, needless to say, it was quite an interesting experience (and one which I can only slightly recall via advanced grog goggles).
You see, the first thing to note about mamajuana is that, even for those used to very strong rums, the bitter taste can be jarring.
The Mamajuana Store, the New York City-based distributor of Don Zavier, has a few recommendations on how to eliminate and minimize the bitterness through curing and maceration processes on its website. We strongly suggest taking heed. It won’t be quick, though, as the process takes a minimum of five days. For some enthusiasts, curing mamajuana can be a years-long process. There are people who’ve spent nearly their whole lives revisiting the process again and again in pursuit of the perfect batch. If you’re anything like us, though, the preparation process and its associated legends only add to the allure.
Since we’ve yet to find Don Zavier on the cabinet of our local liquor supplier, The Mamajuana Store should also be your first stop for purchases. 750-ml, half-gallon and one gallon bottles, available in traditional and cinnamon flavors, retail for just under $30, $50 and $80, respectively. For those looking to take their mamajuana experience to the next level, barrels like the one in the photo above can also be purchased by special order. If you’re really adventurous there’s even a 20-liter barrel.
To think, all that drinking might even put your liver in a better state than it was before! (Note: mamajuana’s benefits for the liver are not scientifically proven).
Lead photo credit: Erik Ebright