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Venezuelans Returning to Long-Snubbed Local Rum to Drown Their Sorrows

by Bidita Debnath on  October 4, 2014 at 11:43 PM Lifestyle News   - G J E 4
Whiskies have been the status beverage of choice in Venezuela for decades: an expensive, imported taste acquired during the country's oil boom.

But with the economy now in a bust, Venezuelans are increasingly returning to long-snubbed local rum to drown their sorrows.
 Venezuelans Returning to Long-Snubbed Local Rum to Drown Their Sorrows
Venezuelans Returning to Long-Snubbed Local Rum to Drown Their Sorrows
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Runaway inflation, a foreign exchange crisis and chronic shortages of basic goods have shut the door on the golden days when Venezuelans announced their country's arrival as a major oil power by buying up Scotch and Irish whiskey.

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Sales of whiskies fell 29 percent last year in Venezuela, while rum sales rose 22.6 percent, according to International Wine and Spirit Research (IWSR), a London-based consultancy.

Domestic rum production meanwhile jumped from 15.8 million liters in 2012 to 21.8 million liters last year.

"The fall in whiskey sales is due to the foreign currency shortage. There are no dollars to import it so they have to get them on the black market -- nearly 15 times more expensive -- and the price has greatly increased," said food and drink critic Miro Popic.

"That, combined with the fact that rum distillation has improved a lot in recent years, has made a lot of people choose rum, the cheaper option," he told AFP.

On the shelves of Venezuela's liquor stores, bottles of imported whiskies like Chivas Regal, Johnnie Walker, Old Parr and Buchanan's compete with domestic rums with names like Pampero, Santa Teresa, Cacique and Ocumare.

But in the current economic climate -- with annual inflation of more than 60 percent, President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government battling crippling shortages of basic goods and dollars in short supply because of strict foreign exchange controls -- a bottle of Scotch costs two or three times as much as a good rum.

"A lot of people have also switched to vodka or beer, but rum has made the strongest gains," said Fernando Barreto, the manager of a liquor store on the east side of the capital Caracas.

- Scotch, rum and oil -

Venezuela's love affair with whiskies is linked to its birth as a petro-state.

Consumption leapt with the arrival of European and American oil companies in the early to mid-1900s.

As oil rose to become the century's dominant commodity, Venezuela, home to the world's largest reserves, exported crude and imported fine Scotch and Irish whiskey, a new symbol of status and wealth.

Today Venezuelans are known for drinking whiskey with dinner and for the distinctive way they stir ice cubes around their glasses with an index finger.

Rum for its part has been distilled in Venezuela since it was a Spanish colony, but it was long considered an inferior beverage.

Its prominence in the national liquor cabinet has had an inverse relationship with crude prices, rising when they are low and falling when the oil money is flowing.

This time, however, domestic rum distilleries are trying to follow the example of Colombian coffee producers and Mexican tequila makers by refining their brand.

In 2003, the country's largest distilleries, some of them more than 100 years old, launched a "Rums of Venezuela" label that sets a high bar for quality: To sport the sticker on its bottle, a rum must age for at least two years in oak barrels.

The distilleries have now launched "premium" and "ultra-premium" brands, some of which have won international awards and drawn rave reviews from critics and connoisseurs.

"Having this economic cycle in our favor is an opportunity that we failed to take advantage of in the past," said Alberto Vollmer, president of the Santa Teresa distillery.

"Before it was just a price war to see who could get the most local market share. Now it's about building value to export more."

Source: AFP
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