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Guatemala

The largest of the three distilleries operating in Guatemala, Industrias Licoreras de Guatemala uses sugar cane syrup from the Tululá Sugar Mill to make rum and molasses from the local sugar mills to make aguardiente and a variety of other distilled spirits.

When distilling fermented sugar cane syrup the condensate is collected at about 92% abv, somewhat lower than the distillation proof when fermented molasses is the raw material. The main difference is that the molasses has a higher sulfur content and must be distilled to a higher proof in order to make a more palatable distillate. The sugar cane syrup is not a byproduct of the sugar making process but rather a concentrated syrup or sugar cane honey collected from the sugar making process after the juice has been heated and some of the solids have been precipitated but before crystalline sugar has been removed from the sweet slurry.

Because this syrup has a high sugar content it is relatively stable and can be stored for several months at the cooler elevation of the distillery before it is turned into rum.

In Guatemala rum has to be made from sugar cane honey, while molasses is distilled to make aguardiente and other spirits including vodka. With a sugar content of about 72% the sugar cane honey is fermented in large tanks in 110 to 120 hours with yeast cultivated from the pineapple fruit. Yeast is continually being cultivated in the lab for each batch of sugar cane honey that is fermented. After fermentation, the wash has an alcohol content of 7.5 to 8.5 % alcohol by volume. During fermentation all of the CO2 is captured, filtered and condensed in an onsite CO2 plant that ships liquid CO2 to commercial customers in Guatemala and neighboring countries.

The rum still is 23 meters tall but configured as two columns since a single column of that height would be suspectible to the occasional high winds from tropical hurricanes. The column itself is made of stainless steel with copper trays and a copper condensor to enhance the separation of alcohol and the sulfur and other compounds produced in the fermentation phase of rum making. Distillation is to a modest 88 - 92% abv. This is significantly lower than the distillation proof of most rum distilleries that produce rum from molasses but the high sugar content and relatively low sulfur content of the raw material make the production of a palatable product at this lower alcohol content possible. Several different product streams are collected and then aged to make the various rums which will be blended to make Zacapa and Botran rums.

In  addition to the single rum still, several multi-column stills produce bulk spirits for export and other products. From the distillery the raw spirit is trucked to the aging warehouse which is located in the mountains at 2300 meters elevation. The spent yeast or vinasse from the distillery is used to irrigate the sugar cane fields adjacent to the distillery.

After distillation, if it is to be aged, fresh distillate at only 60% abv is put into used bourbon and whiskey barrels from the US. The oak barrels arrive at the distillery broken down on pallets. Then skilled coopers reassemble the oak casks, and retoast them with a gas flame. This is one of the few distilleries where all of the barrels are reassembled and then retoasted due in part to the skilled labor required to preform this exacting task. Typically barrels have about 36 staves which must be coerced into fitting together in a leakproof fashion that will contain the alcohol for many years. Sugar cane leaves are used to seal the cracks between the staves and more cane is used to secure the heads of the barrels. Before they are filled with rum, they are filled with water to swell the wood. Then they are ready to be filled with fresh rum and to impart their magic to the spirit in the coming years.

Industrias Licoreras de Guatemala is a company that evolved through the consolidation of the sugar cane spirits industry over the last 75 years. Today only the Botran and Zacapa families of rums are exported.

The solera system of aging used at Zacapa is an adaptation of the solera process developed in Spain for wine centuries ago. All of the fresh distillate is aged a minimum of three years in used whisky and bourbon barrels. After this initial aging period the barrels are scraped and then recharred before being put back into service. During the aging process, French limousine oak barrels and Pedro Ximenez sherry barrels are used to lend finish and color to the aging rum. Large vats are used to blend batches of aging rum. These vats will contain about 100 barrels of rum each and are plumbed so large volumes of aging rum can be married. Rum from barrels that contain the oldest rum are blended with younger rums in a dynamic aging and blending process. The process involves tracking the contents of each barrel and the history of each barrel with computer generated bar codes from a large database so that small changes in the finished product profile can be anticipate and compensated for before the final filtration and bottling. 

Zacapa rums aren't cold-chill filtered, a process that removes some of the flavor of the spirit. The high altitude aging has a couple of advantages. First, evaporation losses are reduced to only about 25% over the whole aging process, a figure that is much less than that found at other tropical distilleries. Second, the lower average ambient temperature generates a different extraction profile from the charred barrels than would occur at a higher temperature.

During the aging process barrels are charred up to three times providing for much more of the sweet vanilla and oak tannin flavors to be leeched from the wood. After the barrels have been used for many years they are much more neutral than new barrels and are used to contain the oldest rums that have been blended that are being stored while the complex flavor are married.

On April 1, 2008, Diageo was granted a three year exclusive global distribution agreement outside Guatemala, Guatemala Duty Free stores and domestic Central American markets for the Zacapa Rum brand by RCP, the marketing company that represents Industrias Licoreras de Guatemala. Zacapa is still a proudly Guatemalan-owned spirit partnered with RCP around the world.

Best known for their Ron Zacapa Centenario, they are just of one of the family of rums produced at Industrias Licoreras de Guatemala. The Botran family created their rums in the 1960's and where one of the founding families of the company. The Botran rums, while certainly representative of the signature Guatemalan style are considerably different from other rums produced here.

The dynamic aging process used for the Botran rums involves sampling thousands of barrels and then blending and recasking aged rums. The Botran profile favors a dry style of rum with a focus toward fresh fruit and oak flavors in the body and dry nut and a subtle smoky oak flavor in the finish. 
Edward Hamilton talks about Industrias Licoreras de Guatemala and Ron Zacapa Centenario Gran Reserva.
There are 12 products in our database distilled by Industrias Licoreras de Guatemala.
Botan - Ron Botran Oro
Botran - Ron Botran Añejo
Botran - Ron Botran Añejo 12 yo
Botran - Ron Botran Etiqueta Blanca
Botran - Ron Botran Extra Light
Botran Añejo Reserva
Botran Ron Añejo 8 yo
Botran Solera 1893
Ron Colonial
Zacapa - Ron Zacapa Centenario Gran Reserva
Zacapa Centenario 15 yo
Zacapa XO

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Last updated July 31, 2010
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