Mamajuana

Mamajuana

Product of:  Dominican Republic
Aged:  NA
Price: $5/bottle; $1.50/bag
Alcohol: % ABV varies
Sugar:  vries with recipe
Context: Flavored/Spiced Rum 
RG Rating: from 5 to 8

Tasting Notes
On the RG scale, different mamajuana concoctions vary from Harsh to Very Smooth depending upon the preparation, organic ingredients and the rum used as the foundation.  Likewise, a mamajuana batch’s color depends on the production technique, and can range from reddish (cherry wood) to golden amber (mahogany). To the primarily cinnamon aromas, “foresty” and herbal scents are added, along with clove and other spices, but with so many ingredients acting on the mix, instead of being complex and individually discernable, they merely coalesce into a cohesive treat.  Initial tastes are sweet, herbal, woody, and can be quite bold or mellow, depending on the ingredients.  As you’d expect from the numerous and variety of ingredients, the body is of medium weight, with to a long sweet finish.

Mamajuana on the shelf in DR

Anecdotes
While traveling in the beautiful Dominican Republic, the large variety of mamajuana blends and flavors available in rum shacks is so intriguing that I purchased two forms of do-it-yourself kits to take home, neither of which listed the ingredients by name or type.  One brand was effectively an “instant mamajuana kit – just add rum,” consisting of a repurposed hipflask-shaped bottle already stuffed with branches, bark, spices and herbs.  The home made label embellished the suspicious looking bottle, which was topped off (sort of) with a mismatched and leaky plastic screw cap.  Feeling morelike Merlin with each new experimental batch, I added a different brand of rum, from smooth and sweet to a slightly overproof aromatic agricole rhum, hoping to tame the devil inside. No matter how many times a new and different rum was substituted, the resulting drink always turned offensively harsh and unsuccessful.  Blame it on the branches, which could just as well been used as compost mulch.
 

Next, the second “kit” was packaged in an unassuming plastic bag.  Back home in the RnD lab, a more scientific approach was taken.  The bag’s contents were halved; one half went into a jar of mildly tannic red wine to be softened for a week, then out goes the wine and in goes the rum for three weeks.  The other half of the bag was aged only in rum for three-four weeks. Cruzan Single Barrel rum was used for both batches, because it is known to be smooth and relatively light, and already possesses a nice vanilla flavor that would enhance and soften the mamajuana.  A fresh vanilla bean was also added to each batch to further aid smoothing.  Some mamajuana recipes call for up to 25% honey added to the final blend.  Instead, a shot of agave nectar was added, as I prefer it for its characteristic earthiness.  DR locals use miel de caña (a syrupy, reduced cane juice honey) to sweeten their mamajuana, as it’s inexpensive and available in every little market.  Whatever you use, sweeten according to taste. 

Home made Mamajuana

Results were impressive and distinct.  The red wine marinade dyed the assorted spices and brambles a distinctly red hue, which in turn colored the rum. The unaltered organic material of the second half only slightly darkened the amber Cruzan rum.  For both batches, aromas were nearly identical, consisting primarily of cinnamon, an expected dry wood scent, accompanied by less pronounced inert smells of small green leaves and hard green berries.  The agave nectar only subtly influenced the aroma.  Cane juice would provide a drier, grassier, but equally nice flavor. 

As for smoothness and taste, the batch that was first mixed with red wine is noticeably smoother, with an inviting initial taste and rounder body.  Both blending methods produced an acceptable drink.  I believe the ingredients that were not marinated in wine will soften as they soak in future batches of mamajuana.  If not, the red wine trick can be retrofitted. 

Curiously, some of the smoothest tasting mamajuana I’ve found is served at Big Banana’s Paradise Club, located in Cane Garden Bay on Tortola.  Apparently, the owner has a connection in the Dominican Republic.  When on Tortola, give it a try.  You will be pleased. 

Opinion 
Mamajuana can range from delicious to downright nasty tasting.  Depending on how it is made and what it’s made from, including the bramble, spices and rum, mamajuana is varied and should be sampled before buying.  The best of it is worth seeking out and/or making by yourself.  Avoid the worst tasting stuff, unless you enjoy spending way too much money on potting soil. 

Very soon into any conversation with someone from the Dominican Republic, when the subject turns to mamajuana, you’ll hear grand claims of its aphrodisiac qualities, similar to the claims for Eastern Caribbean rums spiced with Bois Bandé (“hard wood”).  Other claims include greater daily vitality, long life, healing powers, etc.  Undoubtedly, many people owe much to this indigenous spirit. It’s likely that local conditions and attitude contribute to the affect.  Regarding its – ahem – amorous properties, I’ll leave that up to you and your partner to decide. 

Reviewed:  February 2008 in the Dominican Republic, and again in December 2008 and 2009 on Tortola, BVI, and August 2009 at the Rum Gallery, USA.

© Dave Russell 2017