Thursday, 11 July 2013

Boozy Holiday Show and Tell: Mamajuana

- By Joe Mandrell

It is a universally acknowledged fact that the best thing about all-inclusive holidays is the booze.

Yeah, it’s nice to get away from it all, soak up the sunshine, splash around in a swimming pool and get three squares a day, all included in one bargain price. But the jewel in the crown is always the copious amounts of alcohol on offer. There is no more liberating feeling than swimming up to a pool bar at 10 in the morning, ordering a beer, and then not paying for it. It’s the pinnacle of Western decadence, and I love it.

The trouble is that the local booze is almost invariably a bit dodgy. The beer generally tastes like watered-down, sandy piss, and the wine like watered-down, sandy piss. But it’s free and it’s not raining, so we lap it up. There is one element that is often interesting and exciting though – the local shooter. Every culture has its own specially concocted beverage, and whilst they are not always palatable, they are usually potent.  The Dominican Republic is no exception.

When I was first offered Mama Juana (also spelt Mamajuana) by a Dominican barmaid, I thought it must be some kind of drug bust. “No,” she said, “MaMMa Juana…MaMMMMMa”. Not entirely understanding the situation, I replied that my mother was not holidaying with me, and that my girlfriend would probably be very offended at the implication. Eventually, I discovered that Mama Juana is a drink. It’s kind of a local cure-all: a treatment for aches and pains, an expectorant, and an aphrodisiac. I0 didn’t have a cough, and I wasn’t in any pain, but I was certainly intrigued.

The drink does not look inviting. It was presented in a label-less bottle, with a screw cap sealed with wax. Inside was a viscous, deep red mixture, and a whole bunch of twigs. Literally, like a handful of actual twigs. From outdoors. I was not convinced. However, with the use of hand-gestures and broken Spanish, it was established that there are supposed to be twigs in Mama Juana. They add flavours and give it its curative (and erective) properties.

But it’s not all twigs and wood. I’ve found it difficult to pin down an exact recipe as it varies from region to region, but generally the drink also contains herbs, dark rum, honey, and red wine. Apparently, the sticks are macerated in red wine, which is then discarded. Honey and rum and a touch more wine is then added. The mixture is allowed to age in bottle before serving.

Sounds awesome, right? But it tastes amazing. You serve it as a shot, and take it down in one. (It’s inadvisable to sip Mama Juana.) But you still get such a heady array of flavours and aromas. It’s almost like a port, but with fire in its belly. The red wine lends it fruit and body, the honey adds sweetness and the rum provides an incredible spicy depth and warmth.

The different pieces of bark and the herbs give the mixture a sweet, sticky, medicinal character. The spirit stops the drink from becoming cloying or overly heavy; it’s a sharp, fresh tasting shot. The finish is long and warming. In short, Mama Juana blew me away. And the best part? You can re-use the sticks! Just add more honey and booze!

Unfortunately, it's not currently available in the UK, but this nice gentleman does try and tell you how to make it yourself via the powers of Youtube. Now, I’m not suggesting everyone should immediately up and fly off to the Dominican Republic and get staggeringly drunk on shots of Mama Juana. But if you do ever find yourself there (or in the States, where you can order it from some select online stores), give it a go. It’s a little piece of Dominican fire that will not disappoint.

Oh, and if you want to enjoy the aphrodisiacal effects, try not to drink a whole bottle…

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