What an absolute treat to get to spend a few hours with Lorena Vasquez on her recent visit to Australia. The lady whose palate, nose and passion are behind the Ron Zacapa 23 Solera and the XO.
This was Lorena’s first visit to Australia, having tried and failed to get approval to visit during the last bar awards. It was definitely worth the wait. Lorena has the type of deep familiarity with the processes of production and answered each of the question the team threw in her direction. I’ve written before about Ron Zacapa and their extremely complex Solera aging and blending processes and thankfully I had managed to get the basics right just on research.
I did pick up a couple of other tidbits as she spoke extremely in depth about her rum.
Guatemalan law requires barrels to remian sealed for at least a full year when they are aged. Each barrel is sighted, signed and sealed by a government representative. There is an age statement written on the barrel as well. The official gets changed every few days so there is no chance that the full year aging can be avoided or interfered with.
Partial year aging is possible, but only if you are not “aging” the rum. The upcoming Zacapa Black release, which is finished for a partial year in a heavily charred barrel is a perfect example. The finishing stage is not to age the rum, merely to flavour it, so this practice sits outside of the legal framework set up to govern rum production in Guatemala.
Sugar cane honey is a slightly caramelised form of sugar cane juice. Lacking a sugar refining industry, Guatemala does not have a ready supply of molasses. The refinery is some distance form the fields, so the producers cook the juice to remove water and facilitate transportation.
Some of the barrels are extremely important. Lorena said the bourbon barrels weren’t important, and while she wouldn’t name producers of sherry in Spain, or the cognac producers in France, but she would say that they prefer to deal with the smaller houses as the big ones are just too hard to deal with.
There are more great things coming. Lorena and her team are constantly experimenting with new styles, so expect more new products to come out of the House in the clouds soon.
The final part of my time with Lorena was a blind blending test. She married a selection into an interesting savoury blend. Ever the perfectionist she worried it wasn’t up to scratch, but seemed happier when she was allowed a measure of the Solera 23 to even out some of the more glaring aspects in the much less smooth rums she had been tasked with playing with.