Head in the Clouds: An interview with Lorena Vásquez Master Blender of Zacapa

By SMW Staff

analorenaMaster Distiller of Zacapa Rum, Ana Lorena Vásquez Ampié, began her career in Guatemalan rum 22 years ago.  Today, she is one of only three female master distillers in the world.

Rum lovers are probably familiar with Zacapa Rum. It is popular for its rich, deep flavor, and is one of the most celebrated brands in the world and that is thanks to Lorena Vásquez.

She oversees the blending and aging process of Zapaca, using only the first pressing of sugarcane (referred to as “virgin honey” in Guatemala) and does most of the aging work in the “house above the clouds” – a compound 8000 feet above sea level. This allows the rum to age at just the right pace, giving the spirit its signature color and flavor.

”I consider myself to have one of the greatest jobs in the world.”  Vasquez said.

And that’s not the altitude talking.

1.  You have studied pharmaceutical chemistry, nutrition and business administration. How did your path lead you to this business, and how did you get into it initially?

Becoming a Master Blender has been a life encounter.  When I finished my studies in Nicaragua, I met a Guatemalan, and for family reasons, came to live in Guatemala.  After a couple of years I joined Industrias Licoreras de Guatemala. I started in the Quality Control Department, which helped me to develop the innate capacity for aroma and flavor sensitiveness.

One year later I was involved in the process of Ron Zacapa production, doing research, blendings and product development, which still is my job today.

2. What are the challenges you face being one of only a few women in a male dominated field?

Alcoholic beverages have always been conceived as a strong beverage for masculine taste, and therefore the art of blending was always done by men.  This is why women did not feel attracted to work in this area.

3. How do you handle the pressure of that?

First you have to develop knowledge through studies, then you have to gain respect, especially from your male counterparts, in order to break the paradigms and been seen as part of a team.

4. What is a typical day like for you?

I get up very early in order to exercise, have a light breakfast (tea and fruit). After arriving to the office, I check my mail, make a plan for the day, have a look at the production schedule and spend some time checking blends and tasting rum samples.  At lunch, I like to eat with some colleagues in order to catch up.  In the afternoon, I check my mail again, have a look at inventories, spend some time checking blends and tasting rum samples and meet with my team. Once I’m home, I have dinner with my daughter, share some time with my 3 dogs, watch the news and read a book until I fall asleep.

5. How do you balance your family life and such a demanding career?

I have a 28 year old daughter and a 30 year old son.  I live with my daughter and, as I said, always have dinner with her and we plan activities together on the weekends.  I call my mother every week, who lives in Nicaragua and my son who lives in Florida.  Every year we plan a trip together and always to travel to a new place.

6. Tell us what makes Zacapa Rum special?

What makes us different from the other brands is that Zacapa is a rum produced in Guatemala, a country known for its diversity from a cultural, ethnic, natural, and environmental point of view.  All of these aspects help create Zacapa Rum, where time, patience and devotion are present in each drop.

The difference starts from the quality of sugar cane that’s cultivated in order to produce virgin syrup (called virgin honey in Guatemala). Fermentation and distillation are also important, which are very specific for Ron Zacapa.  Aging Zacapa above the clouds and the solera system, which was specially adapted for Zacapa, also make Zacapa unique.

7. You must throw great cocktail parties. What are some tips/tricks to pulling off a great one?

You must think about the guests first (what they like to do, eat, etc.).  I always try to cook a great meal and of course greats cocktails too.  I like to prepare cocktails in front of them and I am a dance lover so the music selection is very important also.

8. What is your favorite meal? Favorite childhood memory of food?

My favorite food must have French influence, but also like to discover new fusions and tendencies. When I was young, I loved to eat ‘tostones’ which are made of green smashed fried plantain with fried cheese.  Also I liked ‘hilachas’ which are meat in thin pieces with tomato sauce and Worcestershire sauce.

My newest goal: to eat at the 10 best restaurants in the world!

9. Can you provide some recipes for dishes cooked with rum?

•    Make a reduction of Zacapa 23 with balsamic vinegar; perfect for a great steak.

•    Create a sauce with an infusion of coffee and Zacapa 23 with a touch of virgin sugar cane honey; for salmon or tuna.

•    Grill tropical fruits and make a topping with Zacapa, condensed milk, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg.