Rum is a joyful drink. Eponymous with naval and buccaneer culture, and made famous by Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, rum’s a laidback refreshment with a tropical taste.
Steeped in history, rum was first documented in 7th century Ayurvedic India, with a fermented and distilled sugar cane drink called shidhu featuring in Sanskrit texts.
Drinking rum was considered to be restorative, which is no doubt why it was the drink of choice for sailors at sea for many centuries.
In the 16th century, Sir Francis Drake allegedly drank rum to cure his dysentery on an expedition in Cuba. In the 17th century, slaves working on the sugarcane plantations of the Caribbean discovered that they too had a hot commodity when they fermented molasses, the byproduct of the sugar refining process, into alcohol.
It is in the British West Indies where the history of rum becomes shadowy. On the one hand, rum was a drink by the people for the people under colonial rule. On the other, commercial rum production would often help fund slavery and military insurgencies. In fact, the gift of a bottle of rum had the power to influence a political election.
Rum has also sometimes been involved in politics. During the World Wars, Sir Winston Churchill was linked to the drink in his role as First Lord of the Admiralty of the Royal Navy. And, in 1960s socialist Cuba, private sugar mills and rum distilleries were confiscated and nationalised.
Today, our global love affair for this golden spirit is far less clouded, however it can still play a role in sustainable development, as one particular brand from Nicaragua, Flor de Caña, proves.
Mauricio Solórzano knows a thing or two about rum, having been the Global Ambassador for Flor de Caña Rum for nearly 25 years.
Rum has played an important role in the economy of Central America’s largest country since the 19th century.
“The story of Flor de Caña began in 1875 when Alfredo Francisco Pellas Canessa, a young adventurer from Genoa, Italy, risked everything. He left his family and the comforts of the old continent behind to travel to the exotic country of Nicaragua,” explains Mauricio.
“Initially, he invested in a shorter and safer steamboat route through Nicaragua to transport passengers and goods from the East Coast of the US to the West Coast during the height of the California Gold Rush. The route was a huge success, but when news broke about the construction of the Panama Canal and the US coast-to-coast railroad, Alfredo Francisco knew that it was time to set out on a new adventure.”
Alfredo established Nicaragua’s first - and only - rum distillery, Flor de Caña, in the country’s northwest region in 1890.
“He found the perfect setting for the distillery at the base of the San Cristóbal Volcano, the tallest and most active volcano in Nicaragua”, adds Mauricio.
San Cristóbal Volcano, which is located only five miles from the distillery, is fundamental to the rum.
“The volcano is our biggest ally and our natural laboratory. The fertility of its surrounding lands, the enriched water, and the hot volcanic climate proved to be instrumental in forging the rum’s unique and smooth flavor.”
You’ll notice that Nicaraguan rum is far lighter and more aromatic than Caribbean rums, and has a slightly wooded taste to it. The volcanic climate contributes to the rum’s evaporation rate, fostering a more intense and dynamic interaction between the barrel and the rum.
Like most premium rums, Flor de Caña can be enjoyed neat or on the rocks, but it is especially delicious as the summer thirst-quencher Flor Ginger: simply mix 1.5 parts rum to 3 parts ginger ale, and add an orange peel for extra zest.
130 years on, you’ll find the entire production process under the supervision of the same family, who now boast five generations of rum-making mastery, and hold family values that are anything but watery.
If you visit the Flor de Caña website, you’ll notice an incredible statistic: that only three in 10,000 family businesses make it to the fifth generation.
Maurcio believes the family-run company has made it this far as much because of the family’s shared dream, as it is to the brand’s resilience.
“Each generation has had the same core values deeply embedded in their vision, which include dedication to unity and family, commitment to excellence, innovation, and sustainable development and growth.”
“Sustainability has been a core value of the founding family since the first generation, and has guided how we do business”, explains Mauricio.
In his Global Ambassador role, Mauricio has visited over 30 countries. “I’d say I’ve been enriched by the wisdom of our consumers. They are increasingly interested in knowing more about the brands they purchase.”
“It’s with this mentality that in 2017 we became the first global spirit to be Fair Trade certified by Fair Trade USA, meaning the brand is sustainably produced in compliance with over 300 rigorous labour, social, and environmental standards. Then, in 2020, we achieved our Carbon Neutral status through The Carbon Trust, assuring consumers we compensate for all carbon emissions during the entire lifecycle of our products.”
Today, Flor de Caña is proudly the world’s only spirit to be both Carbon Neutral and Fair Trade certified.
Unlike most drinks brands, the supply chain is straightforward and the sourcing is as honest as it gets, as Mauricio illustrates.
“Flor de Caña is a single estate rum, which means we own and operate every step of the production process, from field to bottle. While it is a big responsibility to be in charge of the entire process, it also gives us the unique opportunity to guarantee to our consumers that the rum is produced sustainably throughout the entire process.”
When asked how a family-owned brand takes on the drinks industry giants such as Bacardi and Diaegeo, who are also making waves in measuring sustainability, Mauricio remains modest.
“In terms of sustainability, we don’t compare ourselves with other companies. We have our own standards and we are constantly challenging ourselves to do things better, led by our profound commitment to ensure a greener and better future for coming generations. We truly believe there are only two alternatives: one, to be sustainable, and two, there is no other alternative!”
The rum distillery is powered by 100% renewable energy, and it captures and recycles all carbon emissions during the fermentation process. Not only that, since 2005, the company has been planting 50,000 trees each year in partnership with the environmental charity One Tree Planted, and recently pledged to plant one million trees by 2025.
“We are constantly looking for better ways to do things, as part of our commitment to innovation and best practices. For us, sustainability is not a corporate guideline, but an attitude shared by the entire team.”
The team Mauricio mentions is what he describes as the core of Flor de Caña’s business, which stands strong at 700 staff. Since 1913, when the company established a school to offer free education to employee’s children, it has been valuing and caring for its workforce. In 1958, Flor de Caña opened a company-owned hospital to provide free medical services to employees and their families.
Flor de Caña has also been the principal donor of APROQUEN, a Nicaraguan non-profit organisation that has provided over 600,000 free medical services to child burn victims since it was established in 1991.
“It is in part because of these programs that we are proud to say that we were named a Great Place to Work 2021 by the Great Place to Work Institute.”
The brand’s most popular rum is the ultra-premium, full-bodied and smooth Flor de Caña 12 Year Rum, which ticks all the boxes on taste, is sustainably produced (Carbon Neutral and Fair Trade certified), has zero sugar content, and is naturally aged in bourbon barrels without artificial ingredients. It’s also KOSHER certified.
So grab yourself a bottle and savour the taste of sustainability. Hic.