My first taste of Flor de Caña, Nicaragua's famous rum, was poured for me by a Canadian expat.
I was on vacation in Nicaragua, about seven years ago, and I was boogie-boarding the Pacific waves off one of the beaches of Las Peñitas, a small community near León better known as a fishing village than a tourist destination. I caught a great wave and was riding it well when, suddenly, it crested and broke, sending me to the briny depths. Tumbling head-over-heels in the undertow, unable to get my bearings, I fought like hell to break the surface and take a deep breath.
Shocked, I crawled out of the ocean and barfed up what must have been two gallons of Pacific blue. Needless to say, my day of boogie-boarding was over, and I made my way to the beach shack where I had rented my board, dazed and a little embarrassed by what just happened.
"Christ that was a close one, eh?" said the man as he reached for the board and motioned to a barstool. "Looks like you could use this." I sat as he poured two fingers of a brown liquid into a glass. I swallowed the shot in a single gulp without hesitation. (Guess a near-death experience will do that to a guy.) A distinctly sweet taste coated my tongue, and I chewed through the spicy finish that lingered on my lips.
"Damn that's good. What was that?"
"That, my friend," said the expat, grinning, "is Nicaraguan gold." He turned the bottle so I could read the label: Flor de Caña, Gran Reserva 7, Slow Aged.
That first experience with Flor de Caña was all I could think about when I took a sip of the brand's new Centenario 25 ultra-premium rum at a recent release dinner in New York City. The dinner took place in the Gary's Loft event space in Manhattan, and it was not only a celebration of the new rum, which is on sale now, but also the fairly new U.S. distribution partnership between Flor de Caña brand owner Grupo Pellas and spirits distribution giant William Grant & Sons. On hand representing Flor de Caña were many members of the Pellas family, including chairman Carlos Pellas. William Grant & Sons chief executive officer, Stella Julie David, was also at the event.
The night started with a Flor de Caña cocktail hour where I enjoyed a tasty Old Fashioned prepared for me that substituted Flor de Caña Centenario 18 in place of whiskey. The guests mingled around standing tables and a decorative centerpiece that included a crate filled with cut sugarcane, nibbling on appetizers one might find in Nicaragua such as chicken tostaditas, maduro empanadas, red snapper ceviche, grilled shrimp and mini corn tamales. A band pumped out lively latin jazz beats.
It was then time for the dinner portion of the evening, and guests were ushered to the far side of the room where a handful of round tables had been set up. Each place setting included three glasses of Flor de Caña filled from left to right with Centenario (aged 12 years), Centenario Gold (18 years) and the new Centenario 25. We were walked through the progression of aged rums and encouraged to compare each expression's appearance, aroma and flavors.
While all three iterations are good, the 25 stood out compared to its younger brethren. Complex with very little bite, the 25 delivers distinct flavors of fruit, nuts, caramel and toffee with a touch of sweetness to keep the liquid balanced. With a price of $155 for a 750-ml bottle, I can't imagine the 25 is a rum for a daily nightcap, but rather one that should be savored on special occasions.
The theme for the dinner menu was, aptly, Nicaragua, and all of the dishes included ingredients one would find in the country. The mixed salad served first included Nicaraguan-sourced elements such as queso fresco cheese, avocado, heart of palm and yucca croutons. Next was the entrée, a juicy rib eye drenched in chimichurri sauce, with smoked tomato and Nicaragua's traditional dish, gallo pinto, on the side.
I skipped dessert in favor of more Centenario 25, this time adding a single ice cube to my two-finger pour. The latin jazz kicked back into high gear, and for the next 30 minutes I participated in the table conversation while sipping my new favorite rum.