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"Si tomas Brugal tu resuelve o Peleas - If you drink Brugal you either fight or have sex". Local traditional saying in the Dominican Republic.

Dominican Republic Rums
La Espanola or Hispaniola was the name given to the island by it's discoverer Christopher Columbus, that today is known as home to two Caribbean countries, the Dominican Republic in the east and Haiti in the west. It is often said that this island was the first location in the Americas to grow sugar cane. As a result it can be assumed that the first sugar was produced here too.
With sugar production, rum distillation usually comes hand in hand, even though official documents have not been found to prove that rum was being distilled around the time of the European conquest, but it is safe to assume that many of the sugar plantations were producing some sort of alcoholic beverage from the waste product molasses. This unaged rum was reserved for the indigenous Indian population and the imported slaves, while their Spanish masters preferred to drink the wines and sherries of their homeland.
The earliest documents show that rum was being exported from the Dominican Republic to Spain in 1793, around 300 years after the island's discovery. This is very late when compared with neighbouring islands and surely the island was producing rum a long time before these first recorded documents.
Today in the Dominican Republic rum is considered as important as water is and it is ingrained in the Dominican way of live.

A Sugarfield in the Domincan Republic.
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Sugar has been Hispaniola's money crop since Columbus introduced it.
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Barcelo Barrels stacked high in San Pedro.
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There is only aging warehouses and a bottling plant at this location.

Dominican Republic Rum Trip

The Rumelier was lucky enough to be invited to go on a short trip to the Dominican Republic in July, 2010 with two friends from Scotland. The plan was to fly into Santiago in the center of the Dominican Republic and take a car the two hours south to the capital Santo Domingo. From Santo Domingo the small group of rum lovers would visit the nearby Oliver and Oliver facility and also visit the aging and bottling plant of Ron Barcelo in San Pedro de Macoris.

The following day the group would take the drive back north to Santiago to visit the aging and bottling plant at Ron Bermudez. This was a non-stop whirlwind tour. What you see below is a combination of this short trip and other information about rums of the Dominican Republic previously posted.

Ron Barcelo
Ron Barcelo is lesser known on the worldwide stage than it's closest competitor Brugal is, but most rum experts will tell you that this rum is one of the Caribbean's best kept secrets. Their range of award winning aged rums can compete with many of the biggest named rums in the world. Barcelo Imperial has been voted the best rum in the world on more than one occasion.
Ron Barcelo can trace its roots back to the early 1900's when two Spanish immigrants from Majorca arrived in the Dominican Republic in 1929. Brothers Julian and Andres Barcelo opened their first distillery in Santo Domingo in 1930 and called it Barcelo & Co. But unfortunately, shortly after they had established their distillery it was destroyed by the San Zenon hurricane, which totally destroyed Santo Domingo. As a result of this hurricane Andres decided to leave the Dominican Republic and settled in Puerto Rico. However his brother, 25 year old Julian stayed behind and rebuilt their distillery.
To promote his rum Julian would drive around the island selling his rum from the back of an old model Ford pick-up truck. 

Ron Barcelo bottles passing inspection light.
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Old oak blending vat at Ron Barcelo.
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Slowly but surely Barcelo rum established itself as one of the major businesses in the country. The location of the company moved several times until it found a permanent home located on the eastern bank of the Ozama River.
During the 1980's Barcelo began to establish itself in the premium rum market and began exporting its products in 1992. By 1994 it was exporting rum to more than 10 countries. In 2000 BAINSA (Barcelo Internacional) was created as a joint venture between the Dominican family owners of the Barcelo & Co and a group of Spanish investors, who were the owners of Marques de Vargas and Destilerias MG. The Spanish group invested over 20 million US$ to create a new distillery in San Pedro de Macoris that would meet the new demand for its rum that is now exported to over 40 countries worldwide.
All Barcelo rums are aged for a minimum of 18 months at the San Pedro de Macoris aging warehouses, which is 6 months longer than required by Dominican law. The aging facility has a constant average temperature of 30 degrees C and a humidity of 90%, which are considered ideal conditions for aging Caribbean rum. It is widely acknowledged that one year of aging in the Caribbean is the equivalent to 4 years in the colder climate of Scotland. Currently Barcelo has over 4 million litres of rum aging in American oak barrels from Kentucky that once aged bourbon in them, mainly used Jack Daniels barrels.     

Old Barcelo Barrels piled high.
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The Rumelier and two friends were lucky to be invited to tour the aging warehouses and bottling plant at the Ron Barcelo factory in San Pedro de Macoris during their short three day rum trip to the Dominican Republic. The group were kindly picked up from their hotel in Santo Domingo by Barcelo's head of international sales Miguel Diaz for the drive, over one hour east from the Capital.

Once out of the capital the journey went quickly along the beautiful coast road and past the main international airport. When the group came closer to the factory they travelled through endless fields of sugar cane and passed several trucks laden down with freshly cut sugar cane. 

Ron Barcelo warehouse.
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Barcelo quality control tasting room.
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Rums are tasted blind by a tasting panel.
Ron Barcelo barrels lined-up outside.
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Ron Barcelo automated bottling line.
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Barcelo is experimenting with French Oak Barrels.
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Inside one of Bermudez's Aging Warehouses.
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There are four aging warehouses at Ron Bermudez.

Ron Bermudez 

Ron Bermudez is probably the least prominent of the "Three B's" of Dominican rum production, but should not be overlooked by any serious rum lover. Based in Santiago, the second city of the Dominican Republic, this company does not get noticed as much its closest rivals and is hard to find outside of its homeland. 

When Christopher Columbus took his bold voyage across the Atlantic Ocean one of his companions was said to be Don Diego Bermudez, who bought with him the sugar cane to Hispaniola. However the origins of Bermudez rums can be traced back to the year 1852, eight years after the declaration and foundation of the Dominican Republic, when Don Erasmo Bermudez created the formula for Bitter Panacea. This was a rum to be taken as an appetizer and soon became famous all over the island. Along with more than a century and a half of rum distilling and aging knowledge Bermudez also claim to have the oldest rum aging warehouses on the island.

Sign inside Ron Bermudez Aging Warehouse.
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Until 1927 the company was run by Don Armando Bermudez who turned the company into a major industrial force in the country and was called "Unrivaled Liquors Manufacture". In later years it was turned into a stock company under the present name of "J.Armando Bermudez & Co., C. por A." In 1967 the fourth generations of managers arrived at the company, which is presently run by Don Carlos Alberto Bermudez Pippa, who continues to run the company with the same principle as his earlier forefathers.
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Carbon filters at Ron Bermudez.
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Aged gold rum is passed through these filters to become white rum again.
Entrance to Ron Bermudez Aging Warehouse.
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Aging warehouse at Ron Bermudez.
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Oliver & Oliver
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Outside Oliver & Oliver warehouse.
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Oliver and Oliver, a Domincan Republic based company can like numerous other rums producers in the Caribbean trace their roots back to Spain in the mid 1800's.

This time it was Jaunillo Oliver, a Catalan by birth, who emmigrated to Cuba in the middle of the nineteenth century. He arrived in Cuba as a member of the Spanish military, who at the time were the colonial masters of Cuba. After his military service was concluded he decided to remain in Cuba and become a farmer of tobacco and sugar cane. He decided to establish his farm near the sugar producing town of Las Placetas, in the area known as Villa Clara Province. This is a well known agricultural area east of the capital Havana, in the centre of the island.

Today this area is more known for tobacco growing than sugar cane.

Oliver & Oliver Master Blenders.
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Extremely knowledgeable and friendly Maestros Roneros.

The Oliver family built mills to process their sugar cane and also constructed small stills to produce limited amounts of rum and brandy. The family became wealthy and famous in their locality. Unfortunately things were going to take a turn for the worse when separatists in 1898 burned and destroyed their farms during the second War of Independence.

After Independence had been gained the family abandoned sugar production and concentrated its efforts into tobacco growing. However, the family would face another setback with the arrival of the Cuban revolution in 1959. The country was nationalized and "given" to the people. As with many other Cuban people many family members fled the Caribbean island for greener pastures around the world.  

Oliver & Oliver Aging Warehouse, Dom.Rep.
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All the barrels are set up for the Solera method of aging.

In the late 1980's a young family member decided to return to Cuba and research his family history. While researching numerous documents and files he stumbled upon the secret formulas used to produce rum by previous generations of the Oliver family in the 1800's.

Upon the discovery of the secret formulas members of the Oliver family decided to re-establish themselves as a rum company and picked the Dominican Republic as their base for operations. The Dominican Republic shares similar climate, topography and geology with Cuba, a close Caribbean neighbour. The rum factory was established in San Fransico de Macoris and Cuban immigrant engineers and master blenders (or maestros roneros) were hired to advise on the construction of the factory so that the finished rum could be similar to Cuban style rum.

The factory began by acquiring 100,000 litres of 15 year old rum from Trinidad and Tobago. This stock of aged rum consequently became the mother rum of all the following rums to be produced by the company. Oliver and Oliver currently age their rum using the Spanish style solera method in one large aging warehouse (shown above).

Oak Barrel Aging Rum at Oliver & Oliver.
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The Solera aging system is employed at Oliver & Oliver.

When The Rumelier and three friends visited Oliver and Oliver they had caught a taxi from Santo Domingo to the Zona Franca in San Fransico de Macoris, about a 45 minute drive North West from the capital on Highway 1. When the group arrived at the facility they were first taken to the aging warehouse adjacent to the bottling plant and offices.
Even though it is a relatively small aging warehouse when compared to the larger rum companies, the barrels are stacked on top of each other in the solera method, which takes up more space. In conventional warehouses barrels are usually stacked upright on pallets, which is much more space saving. Oliver and Oliver are actually trying to change this by installing a form of strong shelving to hold more barrels. The barrels will be stacked more in a rectangular shape rather than the triangular shape of the traditional solera method. (If you look closely at the warehouse photo above you can just make out the new shelving at the rear of the warehouse)

Filling new barrels at Oliver & Oliver.
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The barrels shown are wine barrels, a new approach to aging by Oliver & Oliver.

The group of rum lovers were given a tour around the warehouse, where different types of barrels were being used for different rums in their portfolio. Wine, sherry, port and of course former bourbon barrels were all being employed to slow age rum. The company was in the process of establishing a new solera and were actually filling some of the barrels (pictured right) during the short tour. A small electric pump was being used to pump the rum from a plastic drum into the top barrel in the solera.
After taking many photographs of the aging warehouse the group was lead next-door into the blending, bottling and shipping warehouse. Numerous tanks were situated at one end of the warehouse behind the bottling lines. Several workers were busy applying labels by hand to thousands of Ron Atlantico bottles when the group passed them. Apparently all the rum labels are applied by hand for all the rums in the Oliver and Oliver portfolio. Many of these labels are also signed by the master Blenders or the owners of the companies.
After the tour of the second warehouse was complete the group was lead into the laboratory testing and sampling area. Here they met the Master Blenders or Maestros Roneros Cubanos of the company who are responsible for all steps of the rum process.

Some of the fine rums sampled at Oliver & Oliver.
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The Master Blenders proceeded to present the group with several white rums to sample, even some that were still in the developmental stage and not yet commercially available. The group was asked to share their thoughts on their favourite rums in the group. The Master Blenders gave brief explanations on each rum being tasted during the sampling. After the white rums had been sampled they were cleared away and the group were then given the opportunity to sample some of the premium products from Oliver and Oliver. These included Cubaney 21 Year Old, Cubaney Centenario, Opthimus XO, Unhiq Malt Rum and Quorhum 30 Year Old Rum (pictured above). This was a rear treat for the group of rum lovers.

After the second sampling had concluded the group was lead to the office of Pedro Ramon Lopez Oliver, the President of the company. Here the talk was all about rum and the current trends in the marketplace.

After several minutes of discussing all things rum the group was persuaded to return to the sampling room for yet more samples of Oliver and Oliver rums. This time it was four limited edition rums that had been finished in various types of barrels, not usually associated with aging rums. After this quick, final tasting the group had to say their farewells and thanks before making their way back to Santo Domingo.

Although Oliver and Oliver are one of the smallest rum producing companies on the island they are certainly the most interesting and are unique in the Dominican Republic. They produce some fine and wide ranging rums from such a small facility.

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Ron Atlantico 

Ron Atlantico is one of the newest rums to be developed in the Dominican Republic. It is described as a super premium rum that is a blend of hand selected small batch casks of rum. Once the rums are selected and blended they are then re-casked in small bourbon barrels (private Casks) to mellow the rum, for a period of 1 to 2 years. The blended rum is then transferred to a solera aging system under the watchful eyes of the ron maestros of Oliver and Oliver, who developed this fine rum. This long and intricate process can take between 15 and 25 years.

Filling Bottles of Ron Atlantico.
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The young owners of Atlantico Importing Co., Aleco Azqueta (shown Below) and Brandon Lieb both held marketing positions in the world renowned Bacardi Rum Company before deciding to develop their own brand of high end rum. They met at Georgetown University before deciding to venture into the liquor business and set up shop in Coral Gables, Florida.

The owners of the company are very hands on and oversee every aspect of rum production, and even personally sign each bottle of the hand labelled Ron Atlantico before it leaves the Dominican Republic.

Ron Atlantico Bottling Line.
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To match the fine quality of Ron Atlantico it has been packaged in a distinctive bottle that comes from Ormelle in Italy. The top of the bottle has a mahogany wood cap with a cork stopper from Portugal and the smaller labels on the top are designed to look like old cigar labels from the Dominican Republic.

Atlantico Owner Aleco Azqueta Pouring a Sample.
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Atlantico Attending Rum Renaissance in Miami, Fl.

Ron Matusalem

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Ron Matusalem can trace it's roots back to the late 1800's when two Spanish immigrants decided to sail for Cuba with the intention of opening a rum distillery. They were Benjamin and Eduardo Camp, who in 1872, along with their partner Evaristo Alvarez established a distillery on Cuba's east coast at Santiago de Cuba, also the home to Bacardi. The company was originally called Camp & Brothers, S.A.
The two brothers and their partner used a closely guarded secret formula to produce their rum. They incorporated their distillation and blending skills and combined it with their knowledge of ageing the rum using the Spanish Solera method, to produce a rum often compared to fine cognac.
The Solera method of ageing was developed in Spain as a way of ageing their famous wines, sherries and brandies, of various ages and characters and maturing them in select oak barrels. This enabled Matusalem to craft products that were not only superior to other rums in Cuba, but were equal in quality to the finest spirits in the world. Solera is a tier system where the oldest rums lay at the bottom of a rack and have progressively younger rums laying above them. Once the rum for bottling is drawn from the oldest barrel at the bottom, this barrel is then topped up with rum from the slightly younger barrel above it. The same happens to this younger barrel, as it is filled from the younger barrel above. Depending on how tall the rack is, this process will be repeated several times. The barrel on the bottom is called the Solera and the layers above are called criadera's.
The name "Matusalem" comes from an old Spanish proverb "Esto es mas viejo que Matusalem" which translated means "It's older than Methuselah". Methuselah is the Old Testament patriarch who is said to have lived for 969 years. This name was chosen to try and impart how many years it takes to produce a fine rum using the traditional method of Solera ageing.
The end product was a far cry from the raw harsh aguardientes that were the norm in Cuba at the time. They had been replaced with a smooth, mellow rum of distinction that would be at home in any upscale tavern. By 1881 Matusalem was winning international awards for excellence.
In 1912 Benjamin Camp returns to Spain, so leaving the company to his brother and Evaristo Alvarez. Alvarez' son Claudio then joins the company and his daughter marries the son of Eduardo Camp. Ron Matusalem truely was now a family company and went from strength to strength with Claudio Alvarez at the helm.

Dr. Alvarez, the owner of Ron Matusalem.
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Thanks to prohibition Cuban rum becomes popular with visiting tourists from the USA, who go back home to spread the word about this fine Cuban rum. During this time the company experienced  a period of tremendous growth and by the 1950's had captured 50% of the Cuban domestic market. However, all of this success would change in the 1950's. First, the company's leader Claudio Alvarez and his only son who also worked for the company would both die within the space of six months leaving the company with no effective leadership. Secondly Cuba was in a state of revolution when Fidel Castro renews his guerrilla war against President Fulgencio Batista.
In 1959 Castro takes control of the Cuban Government and begins to nationalize all rum production and in the process confiscates all the assets of Ron Matusalem. The family is forced into exile, and the family owned bussiness is relocated to the United States by three branches of the family.

After many years of family feuding the company was neglected and wandered around the Caribbean looking for a home. The rum was produced in Puerto Rico, the Bahamas and in Florida, at different stages of its new life. It now appears to have found a permanent home in the Dominican Republic, where the company is concentrating on producing premium rums once again, that are as close as possible to its Cuban tradition and roots, the Solera system included. The Cuban government even launched its own version of Matusalem rum that was produced for a while, but after a legal battle it now seems to have disappeared again.

Ron Matusalem is now made in Santiago by Ron Bemudez who do not distill rum anymore. They import rum from various countries and slow age it for the Matusalem company, as close as possible to the original Cuban formula.

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Vizcaya

Vizcaya VXOP rum is distilled by a family that has been making rum since 1820. They founded one of the first rum distilleries in Cuba and for 130 years they perfected their craft. Since 1960, they have produced their rum in the Dominican Republic, a land with a climate and terrain similar to the island of Cuba. In 19th century Cuba, this family began a tradition of reserving special barrels of rum for the governors of the island, with Cask 21 containing the finest and most exquisite of rums. Vizcaya VXOP rum continues that tradition by offering the finest of spirits to its aficionados

Vizcaya VXOP rum uses sugar cane harvested at the peak of freshness and quickly presses the cane to collect the fragrant sugar cane juice. Once pressed, the juice is fermented and distilled in small batches and aged in selected oak barrels that formerly held bourbon. This process, known as ‘methode agricole,” is the unique distilling method that infuses Vizcaya VXOP rum with its exquisite bouquet, smoothness, and delicately refined taste.

The Cuban ronero, or master rum maker, ensures that the quality of Vizcaya VXOP rum is consistently held to the highest standards.

All of these pure and natural elements, the quality of the soil, the fermentation process, the distilling, aging and blending of the rum, supposedly contribute to the rich and distinct, sweet, smooth qualities of Vizcaya VXOP rum.

Ron Brugal
The most popular rum in the Dominican Republic by far is Brugal. Depending on who you believe Brugal rum has an 80% share of the local rum market, with Barcelo coming second and Bermudez coming in third. There also numerous other rums being bottled, many just for export.
The Brugal Company was founded in 1888 by Andres Brugal Montener, a Spanish immigrant who had first migrated to Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, where he lived for 29 years before settling in Puerto Plata, a booming city on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. He arrived in Puerto Plata with his wife and sixteen children. This is a familiar story that is repeated numerous times around the Caribbean during the middle part of the 19th Century. Many Europeans emmigrated to the Caribbean bringing with them their knowledge of distillation and spirit production. Over 120 years later and members of the Brugal family still continue to operate the company in Puerto Plata. 
Many Cubans emmigrated to Puerto Plata to work in the sugar production process. As many as 400 men with their families came to work in the sugar fields and factories. This represented about 10% of the population of Puerto Plata in 1888.

The Brugal Bottling Plant in Puerto Plata.
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Brugal rum goes through a fermentation period which lasts between 24 and 48 hours where the sugar that remains in the molasses is transformed into alcohol by the yeast. The sugar cane molt that is produced from this process is somewhere between 4 and 6% in alcohol. It is then sent straight to the still for distillation where it is heated to vaporize the volatile elements and condense them into a clear alcoholic distillate.
After distillation the rum is transferred to oak barrels for storage and aging. The rum has to be aged for a minimum of one year which is required by law in the Dominican Republic, but most of the rum goes though a longer aging process depending on which rum is being produced.
Brugal produces several types of rum. The dark rum was first introduced in 1888, but it was not until 1920 that the first aging warehouses were built.
The Brugal Blanco, a clear white rum is considered the purest white rum in the Dominican Republic. The Carta Dorado which came to the market in 1920 is a gold rum that is aged for 3 years. The Anejo is a darker rum and is aged for 5 years and was introduced in 1952. In 1976 Brugal Extra Viejo was introduced, this rum is aged for 8 years. Brugal also produce two premium rums, the Siglo de Oro, which is aged for 12 years and the Unico, which is aged for 30 a lengthy 30 years. 

Old Brugal bottle from Puerto Rico.
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Brugal Rum has reportedly become the world's third largest producer of rum behind its Puerto Rican neighbour's Bacardi and Captain Morgan. They have aging warehouses than can store almost 200,000 American white oak barrels and produce over 4 million cases of rum a year. They produce 75,000 litres of rum every 24 hours.
Brugal rum is now produced entirely in the Dominican Republic. Sugar cane is grown all over the country on plantations and its sweet juice is turned into molasses, much of which is exported to other rum distillers around the Caribbean and beyond. The sugar cane fields are largely worked by Haitian migrant workers or poor Dominican workers who get paid very little for cutting the sugar cane by hand. The syrup from the sugar cane is taken to the large distilleries in San Pedro de Marcoris where it is stored in large tanks and diluted with water.
Brugal rums are still produced and bottled in Puerto Plata. The distribution and marketing offices are located in the capital city of Santo Domingo, and there is also a regional office in the country's second city Santiago de los Caballeros.

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Hispaniola Rums

Hispaniola the Original Mamajuana.
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Hispaniola rums appear to be fairly new to the Dominican rum market. They produce a variety of rums including a Dominican favourite, Mamajuana. Mamajuana is a combination of endemic herbs, leaves, roots and spices. These are mixed with sweet red wine and honey and left to rest for a couple of days. The liquid is then discarded and rum is then added. It is then left to rest for a few days more, resulting in a much more pleasant taste. The rum acquires a very peculiar taste and aroma from the roots, leaves and spices. Many Caribbean islands have their own version of this type of infused rum. 

In 1995 Mr. Angel Alberto Beltré Báez founded Mardi, S.A. in the Dominican Republic for the importation of alcoholic drinks.  From that time on, the company was dedicated to commercializing Aguardiente and Whisky until year 2000.

With the development of its operations, the business begins to export its products aswell. The company soon reaches its goals by being classified as a liquor manufacturer in June 2000, and it received License #49 under the rules and regulations that govern the alcoholic drink industry in the Dominican Republic.

During its years in business, the company has maintained its objective of consolidation in the national and international alcoholic drink market and is now exporting to several major countries. They now produce four types of rum, Añejo, Gran Añejo, White and Mamajuana.

Rum and Sugar Museum, Santo Domingo.
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Sugar Cane in the Hills behind Puerto Plata.
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The Rumelier Boarding an old Sugar Train in the DR
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The Rumelier Travelling Through Cane Fields Behind Puerto Plate.
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