We at Sated were lucky enough to attend a rare foray into the making of premium Colombian spirit, La Hechicera Fine Aged Rum, at 68 & Boston. Third generation rum-maker and brand co-founder, Miguel Riascos, took us through the company’s riveting history and hosted an unusual masterclass where we were encouraged to sample 96% extra neutral alcohol – that he was delighted to have gotten through Customs! With a logo inspired by a cultural joke, this is a company that celebrates the joyful Caribbean spirit and produces some of the best rum in the world.
Whilst only launching in 2012, La Hechicera has been 25 years in the making. The family’s original business in the Caribbean was in growing bananas but political circumstances led to them considering a change in field in 1990s. Miguel describes his father as a “fun-loving party guy: a dancer, a drinker, a joker” deeply rooted to the Caribbean. This made it easy for him as the head of the family to come to the decision to make the switch from agriculture to rum.
Setting up their little bodega in the heart of Barranquilla (the largest city on the Colombian Caribbean) they have been ageing and blending rum for the past two and a half decades under the watchful eye of Master Blenders from Cuba, such as Giraldo Mituoka Kagana – the son of a Japanese immigrant who started his career cutting sugar cane for the Cuban Revolution. So, if they have been running for quarter of a century, why is La Hechicera as a brand only five years old? Miguel explains:
“Colombia has an atypical rum landscape. It is run by the state as a monopoly. If you want to produce any spirit above 20% abv, it can only be produced by the state. There are a few huge state brands so we started by blending and making rum for these companies and leaving our rum in the barrels to perfect and age until they eventually became something we could market as our own rum and tell our family story.”
For the narrator of that tale, they chose “La Hechicera” (translated as “The Enchantress”) a character who for them very simple and accurately articulated everything they associate with Colombia. As the most biodiverse and fertile country in the world, Colombia is considered by her children as unquestionably female. Her unique climate owes its dues to the Caribbean coast to the North, the Pacific Ocean to the West, and the Andes coming up from the South. All these variables give way to a country that can produce and sustain a million different ecosystems completely endemic to Colombia alone.
This is something that they wanted to celebrate in the bottle, which is covered in illustrations of local botanicals, subtly visible against the alluring darkness of the enclosed liquid. A classic style but quirkily large azure blue seal is emblazoned with a Praying Mantis – the company’s logo and an insect considered by Colombians to be elegant and beautiful. Her poise and fiery female character – she has a tendency to bite the head off of her mate during copulation – lend themselves to this striking and sophisticated rum. However, not those to take themselves too seriously, Miguel lets us in on the fact that local folklore also states that, if you get bitten by a Praying Mantis, you have to have sex within the next 24-horus otherwise you die – a legend drunk men tend to use at parties a fair bit.
With the country’s identity stamped onto its surface, it is only natural for us to hope that the content is equally as authentic. We have nothing to fear.
Miguel gives us each a canvas pouch containing five small pipetted bottles. Each contains a distillate of varying age and ABV, ranging from an extra neutral spirit at 96% to a cask-strength 12-year-old new make that is the youngest spirit to go into the final La Hechicera blend.
We are encouraged to try a few drops of each to garner an appreciation for how the liquid evolves at various stages. The 96% is as high and pure an alcohol as it is possible to get through distillation and we are warned that this stuff can set a car on fire. Even though it is strong, it is very clean and Miguel promises that it would make an amazing vodka if you were to bring it down with water but it would never develop into a rum. However, if you rewind the distillation process back a few steps, you get Tatia Crudo at 93%. This is likewise very strong but not quite as clean. There is a bit of sugar and some vegetable memory from the cane. It’s already more complex and interesting with potential. This is what goes into the barrel. After this, it’s a matter of waiting.
Three years later, we get the 66%. The congeners (organic compounds) in the barrel is what helps it to breathe and starts the interaction between the temperature, the humidity and the liquid, which gives us the flavour of rum. Unlike with the previous two samples, we find subtle fruitness and floral notes in these droplets.
The next is double the ageing time at six years and 64% ABV. More caramel and spice (associated with the tannins from the wood) are apparent with added heat and overall complexity. There is still some of the three-year-old’s ripeness but it is layered in the properties from the wood. The final distillate is a 12-year-old at 50% ABV. Whilst the youngest blend to go into the final product, it is surprisingly well-rounded and balanced, making us excited to taste the bottled spirit.
Tasting Notes: La Hechicera
Created from a selection of rums aged for between 12 and 21 years in ex-bourbon American white oak casks from Brown-Forman – the only whiskey distillery with its own cooperage, ensuring that barrels are identical – La Hechicera is a carefully crafted rum with no added sugar made in the Hispanic style. Woody and complex without being overly dry, this is a rum that would appeal to a whiskey or perhaps Speyside whisky drinker.
An intense yet smooth aroma of wood from the barrels, a waft of coffee and a decided hint of dark chocolate. After this rich profusion of scents has carried itself through the nose, a tickle of peppermint and a light rip fruit makes itself known.
Gorgeously complex with hefty punches of cinnamon and espresso mixed up with black pepper, chilli and a plum jam.
Supremely, smooth, this can be enjoyed happily on its own. Miguel recommends having your first glass (let’s not kid ourselves, you’ll be having more than one) neat and then adding a cube or two of sugar to the second as it opens the drink up in a different way. If you care to add a cube of ice, this brings out the subtle nuances and softer notes of the rum.
Unlike a lot of premium rums however, La Hechicera revels in being mixed up with other fine ingredients to create cocktails. The team experiments with Paolo Santo bitters and mandrake root, but don’t feel the need to constrain their spirit to any singular favourite serve. Just have a play and enjoy!
La Hechicera retails for about £40 and can be purchased at a number of retail and online stores. For information on where to buy La Hechicera, visit their website here.