Zacapa Rum is one of many brands participating this week’s Miami Rum Renaissance Festival, but its story is unlike any other. Nearly every detail that goes into producing a bottle of Zacapa rum, from aging to bottling, lies in the hands of one woman: master blender Lorena Vásquez Ampié, one of only four female master blenders in the world.
Produced in the Guatemalan countryside and aged within old American whiskey barrels at almost 1,500 miles above sea level, Zacapa slow-ages its rums using a signature Sistema Solera method. “By slowly aging our rums at altitude and using the complex Sistema Solera, we allow the rum and the wood sufficient time to exchange their individual virtues,” explained Vásquez. “This results in the incredible profile and depth that define Zacapa.”
Vásquez has been largely credited for perfecting the Sistema Solera process and thus distinguishing Zacapa in the spirits market. The brand’s use of first-pressed sugar cane in place of molasses (as used by the majority of rums) has also helped Zacapa win top taste honors. At the International Sugar Cane Spirits Festival, Zacapa took home the 2006 gold medal and, in 2007, the highest award in the aged rum category (15+ years).
We chatted with the woman behind it all to learn more about what it takes to become a master blender and the many virtues of fine sipping rums.
As one of four female master blenders in the world, what has your experience within the spirits industry been like?
LORENA VÀSQUEZ: It took a great deal of time and dedication to reach this position, and I’m extremely proud of my role with Zacapa Rum. I’ve devoted the majority of my career to Zacapa Rum. As master blender for the past 28 years, I believe I have one of the greatest jobs.
What type of challenges have you faced while establishing your career within such male-dominated industry?
LV: Males have consistently dominated the art of blending; the spirits industry has always been focused on masculine tastes. Due to the perceived male influence on the industry, the toughest challenge I faced while establishing my career was shattering the illusion that blending is a man’s job.
In addition to degrees in chemistry and food technology, what other sort of training do you have?
LV: Upon graduation from Universidad Nacional Autonóma de Nicaragua, I married a Guatemalan and moved to his home country. I then joined Zacapa Group, working in the quality control department. My extensive education along with this experience helped me develop an innate sensitivity to scents and flavors. I was passionate about learning the intricacies of crafting premium rum, which led to my position as master blender.
What do you find yourself drinking most often from the Zacapa stable of rums?
LV: I frequently enjoy Zacapa 23, served either neat or on the rocks and paired with a delicious meal. Zacapa XO, on the other hand, is more sophisticated, making it the perfect after-dinner drink. It’s quite delicious with a specialty dessert incorporating dark chocolate.
How do you see the brand, and sipping rums in general, evolving in the next few years? LV: Spirit connoisseurs are becoming more educated about the versatility and complexities of rum. I would like people to appreciate the quality and robust flavors that rum has to offer, similar to other ultra-premium spirits such as scotch and Cognac. As more rum aficionados appreciate sipping rums, I hope that the deep aroma, full color, and rich flavor of Zacapa Rum will become a household name.=
Zacapa Rum will participate at the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival Grand Tasting, April 21-22, at the Deauville Beach Resort. 6701 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 305-865-8511