Friday Happy Hour: Mamajuana, The Taste of Advenuture
Late-February. Dead of winter. A time when an uncommon man’s fancy turns to thoughts of wild adventure. Patrick, is just such a man. He’s in the midst of a week-long thrill ride across the Dominican Republic right now!
It’s only day #2 and he’s already survived some chancy canyoning amid the Ciguapa Falls. Kite surfing in Cabarete is on today’s agenda, while a two-day expedition up Pico Duarte, the tallest peak in the Caribbean, is still to come!
For just such a man, enjoying just such an adventure in just such a destination, only one drink will do when it comes time to toast his accomplishments. That drink, dear friends, is called mamajuana.
The native bush rum of the Dominican Republic, Mamajuana’s origins stretch all the way back to the days when Taino Indians ruled Hispañola, though it wasn’t booze back then. Taino Mamajuana was an herbal concoction brewed as a tea for use in treating various illnesses. After the Europeans burst on the scene and rum rose to prominence, Mamajuana took on a decidedly more decadent nature.
Today’s Mamajuana combines rum, red wine, honey and various tree barks, herbs and other assorted sticks, roots and leaves to create a powerfully-pungent flavor experience best left to the fearless. Lots of other ingredients can be added, and usually are based on old family traditions, whims and experimentation. Raisins, cinnamon, molasses, conch, crab – you name it, and if it can be readily found in the DomRep, it’s probably been added to a batch of Mamajuana at one time or another.
In general, you make Mamajuana by first employing the red wine and honey to cure the wood, removing much of the bitterness. Sometimes gin is used in place of the wine/honey mix. Either way, the curing process usually takes anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending upon who’s making it. Once completed, the wine/honey or gin is poured from the bottle and replaced with rum, which kills any lingering bacteria. Now the bottle’s ready to drink… and later, re-filled.
You see, once you drink out all your Mamajuana, rum can be added to the cured mix of herbs and wood over and over again, til the mix loses its flavor and potency. Exactly when this occurs, like everything else about Mamajuana, is up for debate. The bottle pictured above, which I found in the deep, dark recesses of a friend’s liquor cabinet on my last visit to St. Croix, dates back a good 20 years. The taste: a bit like gasoline-flavored wine or turpentine – a manly man’s drink, easily capable of putting hairs on your chest.
Alright, alright, I can hear the scoffing of those familiar with my chest, naturally hairless all now at age 40 (photo). My hair restoration claims may be unfounded, but true to its original roots, Mamajuana is still used for medicinal purposes today. People take it to treat everything from the flu and indigestion, to liver and kidney problems. It’s even said to aid in blood circulation, which could prove useful to Patrick after that major hike he’s got upcoming.
Mamajuana is also reputedly an excellent aphrodisiac, offering benefits to both men and women. Some say the most potent concoctions include a desecrated turtle penis (I did say wild adventure, right?), though if you look closely at the label above, it states “This product increases a man’s vitality.”, though penis is not on the list of ingredients.
So, where should Patrick (or you) go to get some Mamajuana? Well, in the D.R., it’s pretty easy to find all over the place. Here in the States, you can also buy a commercial brand called Kalembú, which hit the market back in 2005. Kalembú is sold ready-to-drink, so you miss out on the twigs and mess floating around in your bottle.
So, here’s to you, Patrick. Best of luck with your latest wild adventure, and I hope you get to raise a shot of Mamajuana from the roof of the Caribbean this weekend!