It is November and time for my monthly Let’s Get Real Series. This month I am focusing on the Flor de Caña rum made in Nicaragua. What is the history of the rum? Who makes it? What problems exist with the sugar cane workers who cut the sugar cane for the rum? And why the heck did they decide to child-proof the Flor de Caña rum bottles?
Let’s Get Real About Rum in Nicaragua
The history of Rum in Nicaragua
Flor de Caña has a history of rum production that dates back to 1890 at the San Antonio Sugar Mill in Chichigalpa, Nicaragua. The company was founded by Francisco Alfredo Pellas, and today the company is led by the fifth generation of the Pellas family, Carlos Pellas. Not only is it one of Central America’s leading brands of rum, it is also one of the most recognized brands of rum in the world.
Francisco Alfredo Pellas, who arrived in Nicaragua from Italy in 1875, got rich from producing sugar and operating steamships on Lake Cocibolca. When the Sandinista National Liberation Front, led by Daniel Ortega, took over Nicaragua in 1979, one of their first acts was to seize the properties and assets of the country’s largest businesses. The FSLN seized the assets of Carlos Pellas, the great-grandson of Francisco Alfredo Pellas. First, they took his bank, Banco America, then later they took his sugar mill.
Carlos and his wife, Vivian, were forced to commute between Miami and Nicaragua during the eight years of the violent Contra war. In 1987, an agreement was brokered, the war ended and Carlos and his wife returned to Nicaragua to rebuild their lives. However, tragedy struck again, when they were almost killed in 1989 in a horrible air crash. Love Without Limits, the story of the airplane crash in an interview with Vivian Pellas.
Between surgeries, Carlos worked quietly to recover his sugar factory, which he did in 1992, when President Violeta Chamorro, a distant relative, returned expropriated properties to their original owners.
Today, the privately held Grupo Pellas runs four sugar mills, produces ethanol, and provides the raw material for Pellas’s Flor de Caña brand of rum. The group controls over 20 companies, boasts $1.5 billion in annual sales, and employs over 18,000 people. This makes Carlos Pellas at 61 years old, Nicaragua’s first billionaire, with an estimated fortune of $1.1 billion, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index.
However, growing sugar cane for the production of Flor de Caña rum has turned into a deadly business.
The Island of the Widows
Thousand of sugar cane workers have died since 2002 in Chichigalpa, the town where Pellas’s biggest business is based. Chichigalpa has become an island of the widows and after years of investigation medical researchers haven’t pinpointed a cause for the deadly kidney disease the workers experience.
Read my post about this devastating tragedy here: The Island of the Widows
Who doesn’t love Flor de Caña rum and what’s with the child-proof bottles?
Did I tell you that my husband’s name, Ron, means rum in Spanish? Everyone on Ometepe Island knows him by name and they enjoy saying his name with a chuckle over and over again. A fine smooth rum gives you that kind of feeling.
But, can someone be so kind as to tell me when and why they decided to child-proof the Flor de Caña rum bottles? Someone on a Nicaraguan forum said, “I remember the good old days when you could just pour a glass of rum without shaking the bajeesus out of the bottle. Is there a trick that I’m not aware of for bypassing the plastic/marble contraption in the top of the bottle?”
I would like to know that, too. Since we drink a lot of rum and the bottles are not recyclable on Ometepe Island, I am at a loss as to do with our collection. You can’t fill them with colorful water and set them on the porch as sun catchers because it is impossible to remove the child-proof top.
Here is a suggestion from the forum, “Hold the bottle vertically give it a good healthy smack, in about 15 seconds you should have broken the vacuum and it will flow. Do miss the good old days of no insert.”
Someone else suggested that they put the child-proof caps on the bottles to keep bars and restaurants from refilling the empty bottles with lesser grade rum. That sounds like a good reason to me.
I’ll leave you with a good rum drinking toast for those hot days when all you want to do is sip some rum and lounge in the hammock because time flies when you are having rum!
May your ANCHOR be tight,
Your CORK be loose,
Your RUM be spiced,
And your COMPASS be true.
What are your favorite rum drinks?