What is Mama Juana?
The Dominican Republic (DR) is an island paradise for visitors and tourists all year long, it’s culture and island landscapes are breathtaking and easy to submerge yourself in. It’s an island vibe with a latino twist that doesn’t compare to anywhere else in the Caribbean. Naturally, rum is the spirit that comes to mind when grouping all the islands together, but DR’s people were innovative and creative. Mama Juana is one of the most interesting spirits we have ever encountered.
Ingredients wise Mama Juana is made from the mixing of rum, red wine and honey, the recipe then directs to let the mixture soak in a mix of herbs and tree bark. So that should give you a hint already that, no two are made the same.
The ABV ranges, there are three different types of it, so you’re getting at least 20-40%. That also kind of affects the taste… Depending on how much of each ingredient is added + certain tree and herb mix, Mama Juana can only be described as tasting similar to Port Wine. Some love it some can’t stomach it.
Like many spirits, it used to be medicine and has grown into other things as well, as you’ll soon find out. Nowadays, there are three types of Mama Juana available for purchase:
DIY Mamajuana: Dry Mamajuana ingredients in a bag. Add rum and honey to your liking, it’s really not terribly hard nor a secret.
Ready to drink but with the barks still in the bottle.
Or from a distiller, where it has been filtered, one of the most popular brands is named Candela.
In DR it’s very common to see Mama Juana in restaurants and for sale in markets. Usually, it is paired with typical island seafood. Mama Juana is usually drunk neat, at room temp, no ice, and as a shot. So very quickly and without thinking. Which might explain why the Mama Juana is better known by the locals as “liquid Viagra” True story. But it’s long-rumored medicinal uses have been known to not only help men perform but aid women in ovarian issues and when herbs named “nail of a cat” or “claw of parakeet” are thrown in the mix it can help chances of getting pregnant. So maybe, it is useful to put a little thought into it before you knock a few back.
The filtered version is used in cocktails such as, “Punta Cana” made of Candela Mamajuana, Passion Fruit Juice, and Lemon Juice.
The word itself, “Mama Juana” literally translates to Mother Juana, which makes no sense, that’s because it has the French origins of the word “demijohn” which is a word used to describe a bottle with a skinny and short neck, usually covered in wicker. The French term for said bottle is “Dame Jeanne” which translates to “Lady Jane” not sure where the jump for Mama Juana happened but that’s that.
A Brief History:
Before Columbus came about and colonized the Americas, DR was made up of different tribes such as the Taíno People, which inhabited most of the Caribbean.
The recipe creation is credited to them and if the timeline of it’s creation (the late 1400s) serves right, Mamajuana was the first liqueur in the Americas. Of course, back then it was more like a tea, and some accounts claim it was Columbus himself who poured liquor into it, and therefore it became a libation but he gets enough credit for stuff already.
It was such an easy recipe, given that most of the ingredients were readily available on the island, that many townfolks began making their own. Some decided to monetize it and therefore brutal Dominican dictator, Rafael Trujillo (AKA El Jefe), caught wind of what was happening. He made it so that anyone with the intent of selling Mama Juana had to have a medical license.
The greatest recipe of the new medicine wasn’t invented until the 1950s when Mr. Jesus Rodriguez became famous for making the best of the aphrodisiac. His signature ingredient was Carne De Carey (Tortuga), which is the key to making it a powerful “viagra”.
As a native of San Juan De La Maguana. Rodriguez would commute with others in trucks to Barahona, Azua, Pedernales, and many other provinces in the Dominican Republic to collect everything he needed to make his version of Mama Juana. In the 1970s,
Rodriguez was forced to flee to the United States and relocated to Manhattan, New York where he later passed away on May 26, 2013, due to pneumonia. We couldn’t find a reason why but we will keep looking and update this article.
Another notable figure in Mama Juana’s history was Porfirio Rubirosa, a famous Dominican playboy, polo player, race-car driver, and secret agent. Rubirosa was famous for his sexual prowess and was known to be an avid mamajuana drinker, as mentioned in his biography, “The Last Playboy.”
Porfirio Rubirosa married two of the richest women in the world in his lifetime.
He was also rumored to be a political assassin. What a story!
Mama Juana can be pretty hard to find in the US, New York might be your best bet, considering the number of DR expats that live there. We will have to check next time we visit!
We do hope you’ve enjoyed learning about this uplifting liqueur (get it?) stay tuned for a Drink of the Week recipe with Candela. Until then, thanks for reading and as always…