Please state your name, title, company name and location:
Luis R. Alvarez Master Blender and Chairman of the Board of Directors licorera Cihuatán, S.A. de C.V. El Paisnal, El Salvador
Q: When was the distillery established? And when was the brand officially launched into the market?
Licorera Cihuatán is a subsidiary of Ingenio La Cabaña, one of six Salvadoran sugar mills. Ingenio la Cabaña was established in the 1920s and has almost a century of experience crushing sugarcane, producing sugar and developing the community that surrounds it. in 1999, Ingenio la Cabaña invested in a distillery and we have been distilling and aging since 2004. We are proud to be the only distillers in el Salvador. Ron Cihuatán Solera 8, our first product, was launched into the Salvadoran market in February 2015, over ten years after we started aging!
Q: Your company name has a fascinating story behind it. Can you tell us more where the name comes from and what it means?
When naming our company (and our rum) we were inspired by a Maya-Pipil civilization called Cihuatán. Its remains are in an archeological site that is five minutes away from our facilities. Cihuatán was a Maya-Pipil civilization that developed in the region between 900 and 1200 A.d. and whose people inhabited the land where we now grow our sugarcane, process it and produce Ron Cihuatán. Cihuatán means “next to the woman” and refers to the nearby Guazapa mountain whose silhouette resembles that of a sleeping woman. We believe that she protects Cihuatán, the sugar fields and the aging of our rum.
Q: I understand that there is a sugar mill next to your distillery. Was this proximity one of the main reasons you turned your focus to developing a rum, or was that the plan from the beginning?
Ron Cihuatán began as the dream of the people working at the sugar mill 16 years ago. The opportunity to invest in the distillery located right beside the mill sparked the project to develop a rum that would represent El Salvador around the world; a premium product that would share our culture with the world. Having the distillery next to the mill ( just a few meters away) allows us to use fresh high test molasses (above grade A) for fermentation. Also, we are able to control the entire process: from the seed of the sugarcane to the bottling of Ron Cihuatán, all in the same site, under the watchful eye of the sleeping woman.
Q: When is the sugarcane harvest in El Salvador? How much of the land growing cane belongs to the company and how much belongs to individual owners?
The harvest season in El Salvador starts in November and ends in may. About 5% of the land growing cane belongs to our parent company, Ingenio La Cabaña. Over 700 sugarcane producers, who we consider our partners, cultivate 95% of the land. Ingenio la Cabaña works together with each producer supplying them with varietals, financing and technical support to guarantee the quality of the sugarcane.
Q: You must be very proud to be the first company to produce a rum 100% from El Salvador. What are some of the obstacles you faced and how did you overcome them?
We are proud, but above all, we know that producing El Salvador´s first rum entails a huge responsibility: we have created a rum that will be the ambassador of our country around the world! Knowing this, we couldn’t produce just anything; Ron Cihuatán has to be superb, and i think it really is. In terms of the challenges we have faced, i think they are the same challenges any entrepreneur faces: learning about a new industry, doing things for the first time ever; these are the type of challenges we have faced, and they are the fuel that has kept us going.
Q: Can you list all the rums in your portfolio (present and near future), along with a description of each one?
Our first product is Ron Cihuatán Solera 8, a rum that truly represents the spirit of Salvadorans. It is a complex rum that balances the sweetness of sugarcane with the tannic astringency provided by the used American oak barrels in which it is aged. Ron Cihuatán is amazing both neat, as well as, mixed. I´m sure people will love it because it lends itself to experimentation in terms of mixology. We are currently in the process of unveiling Ron Cihuatán Solera 4, which will be available in the near future.
Q: How is your rum being received by the local community?
With great excitement. Salvadorans are happy to have an ambassador that will share our culture with the world. They are excited to let the world know we have a Premium rum that tells its story and inspires people to tell theirs.
Q: Where in El Salvador is your rum currently available for purchase?
Ron Cihuatán is available at Super Selectos, a local supermarket chain, in its 93 stores around the country. Also we are available in several bars and restaurants in El Salvador. We have joined forces with Diprisa, one of the strongest local distributors to promote and position Ron Cihuatán locally.
Q: Do you have any plans for exporting your rums? If so, what countries will be your primary focus and when do you plan on exporting to these countries?
Ron Cihuatán was developed with export markets in mind. We are currently in negotiations to export to Europe and the United States. Our team is very excited to share the product of so much patience and hard work; a rum resulting from the volcanic soil of El Salvador and the great care of the Salvadoran people, destined to travel the world.
Q: How important is it to you for Ron Cihuatán to become a symbol of national pride for people from El Salvador?
I´m sure Ron Cihuatán will become the ambassador of El Salvador around the world. it will tell the story of our country and the great things we do here! We hope Ron Cihuatán, through its heritage, will inspire people around the world to explore their own heritage, their own story.
Q: What has been the reaction from your government agencies, relating to the approvals needed for you to produce and commercialize a domestically-produced rum?
The government agencies have been supportive and have shown appreciation since we are developing a new industry in El Salvador. Licorera Cihuatán will be a job creator in the northern region on El Salvador and will certainly bring development to the communities that surround it.
Q: If our readers would like to learn more about Ron Cihuatán and/or they would like to contact your facility, how may they reach you?
The most direct way is to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments. We are also on Facebook as Ron Cihuatán, Instagram and Twitter as @roncihuatan.
Q: Are there any plans to have a visitor center and tasting room/store at the distillery?
We are in the process of building the permanent home for Ron Cihuatán within our sugar mill complex. We certainly have plans to accommodate visitors in order to share our story with them!
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Mainly our excitement to share with the world the first rum made in El Salvador; the product of the hard work of a community, from the cane producers who till the soil in the sugarcane fields to the women who, with great care and pride, bottle and label Ron Cihuatán to share with the world. We are eager to share our story and inspire others to share theirs. Mr. Alvarez, thank you again for taking the time to grant me this interview, i am ver y excited for you and your team. I congratulate you all for producing the first ever Salvadorian rum and wish you much, much success!
Publisher of “Got Rum?” magazine