It’s easy to assume that a trip to the Caribbean will be filled with rum. This assumption, of course, is not wrong. However, when you make friends with locals or pay attention to random people yelling at the bar, you learn about a certain treat.
On a recent adventure in the Dominican Republic, a simple conversation with the concierge at the airport —“What and where should I eat and drink?” — led to an excited response of “Mamajuana.”
If you’ve been to the island nation, you probably already know Mamajuana. If not, you should.
Dating back to pre-European discovery and the native Taino population, Mamajuana is a concoction made with rum, red wine, and honey soaked with a collection of barks, herbs, and roots.It is delicious — sweet and viscous, like a dessert wine — and can be aided by any number of flavors like cinnamon, raisins, and molasses. (Alcohol, it should be noted, probably wasn’t added until after Christopher Columbus’ arrival.)
Sure, Mamajuana can be a bit sketchy. While packaged versions are available at many of the gift shops, including the airports, behind the bar, the packaging is not consistent. The bouquets of additions are in anything from crushed plastic bottles to growlers and topped off with eyeballed measures of wine and rum. Bartenders seem to have their own proprietary mixture for an ideal Mamajuana. They’re also quick to offer it up most of the time.
Locals are excited to tout Mamajuana’s medicinal values and its promise to increase vitality, often accompanied by a strong-armed hand gesture. It’s also supposedly a great digestion aid, flu medicine, and organ tonic.
While those health properties are questionable, at best, the true benefit is the way it brings people together. Most often served as a shot, bartenders can be seen pouring shots for everyone nearby (and themselves) and are excited to share the island’s beverage.
Bottled and filtered versions are becoming more popular, like Candela and Kalembu, so it wouldn’t be a complete surprise to start seeing Mamajuana become a staple behind bars in this age of growing demand for obscure spirits from around the globe. While a swanky bar’s use of it in a cocktail is certainly welcome, there’s nothing like walking up to a beachside bar and shooting a warm tipple of Mamajuana as the ocean breeze rushes by your sand-crusted skin.