The story goes that unemployed youth tried to rob the owner of Santa Teresa, a Venezuelan rum factory. As a way to thwart the robbery, he offered the would be thieves jobs instead. Now, Santa Teresa employs local community members, runs a rugby team, and provides job services (aka Project Alcatraz). I can applaud a “vice” company that at least tries to empower people. In my mind, that makes Santa Teresa a damn good rum even though I know companies like to show “what they do for the community” as a way to increase sales.
During the last week of school a group of us got together and made the 90 minute drive to the factory for a tour. I’ve taken a tour of Ireland’s Guinness factory, a beer brewery in New Zealand, and a wine vineyard, but this was my first rum factory.
After waiting in line for over 30 minutes just to be told there were no more tickets left, the trip was not off to a good start.
However, my mom always told me you catch more bees with honey than with vinegar for a reason. My friend went back up to the ticket counter and asked ever-so-sweetly if the tour could squeeze in just two more people.
An hour later, myself and another co-worker were bumping down the dirt roads of the sugar cane factory (I’m not comfortable saying plantation, even though that’s the word that is used) and tasting the different rums.
Drinking rum straight up is not my forte. I need it mixed with something. Nevertheless, I forced down each rum sampling even though all I could tell is that they kept getting stronger in potency and in smell. In one storage facility, the sweet fragrance of sugar filled your nose as soon as you entered its dark, dank environs.
To build camaraderie, and highlight the factory’s support of rugby, we even played rugby-inspired games throughout the tour. Thankfully, no one was woefully drunk, but by the end of the tour people were singing a drinking song and translating for me the saying “upwards (while lifting the glass up), downwards (while lowering the glass), in front (extending the glass in front of you) and inside” that drinkers proclaim before downing a shot.
I enjoyed the people watching: from the grandma who could knock ’em back better than an underage college student to the kids and pregnant women who were there but not partaking; it was fascinating to see what was considered a family outing.
A week later, before boarding my plane back to the US, I stopped in a duty-free shop and got one of my favorite Santa Teresa productions: a coffee flavored rum. I dislike all things coffee-flavored, yet I enjoy this rum.
I thought my family would like it. I was wrong. I don’t know how I’ll finish a bottle of rum, but I think it’ll be my inspiration for some baking recipes throughout the summer and a reminder of some Venezuelan memories.