The origins of Botran stretch back to the early 20th century. Outside of Central America, Botran could appear to be a relative newcomer appear among dark premium rums. Managing director Frank Quinones said that brand began to look into the big international markets in the 1990’s. Given the overwhelming perception among consumers that rum was just a party drink that people barely perceived as Caribbean and very likely called Bacardi. This fact lead Botran to be part of a tough uphill job to becoming a part of the market. Things have started to change, but very slowly.
The origins of Botran stretch right back to the early 20th century when the family gave up distilling in Spain like so many others of the era and migrated to Guatemala. They began making rum on a small scale, but in the 1940’s the Botrans joined forces with four other family distillers to form the Industrias Licoreras de Guatemala (ILG). For me it’s amazing they’re still together,” says Quinones. “Right now the family’s into its fourth generation, and it’s still surviving and thriving.”. In July 2011, when its three-year distribution deal came to an end, Diageo bought a 50% stake in Zacapa rum from ILG for £150 million. Quinones has no doubt Diageo’s involvement is helping to put Guatemalan rum on the map, but he points out the two brands are totally separate in the way they are produced and marketed. Botran’s quality begins with the sugar cane grown in volcanic soil, adding a mineral richness to the syrup, or virgin honey. As a vertically integrated company, it has its own plantations which supply the majority of its needs.
It has even planted different varieties of sugar cane that are harvested at different dates to provide the master blender with more options. Maybe one day they will go a step further and start producing varietal rums like wine. “It’s possible,” says Quinones. “We’re not getting into that yet, but we have the capacity to do it, so we may do something in the future.” The family’s Spanish roots inspired the use of a Sherry-style solera system and, while it’s not unique to Botran, their take on it is. “We call it a dynamic solera process,” he explains. “The concept is all about blending the old with the new, and its ‘dynamic’ because the rum doesn’t sit still in one barrel for years.” This is a maturation method of mind-boggling complexity. The new spirit spends a while in American whiskey barrels before being tipped into a blending vat to marry with older rums. It is then refilled into the Bourbon barrels that have been re-charred in the meantime. After a couple of years it goes back into the blending vat to mix with more old rum before the whole process is repeated, first with Sherry and then with Port casks. Quinones admits it is very labor-intensive and costly, but worth it. One consolation is that because the warehouses are at a cool 2,300-2,400 meters in altitude, the angels’ share is fairly modest by rum standards. Were they down near sea level the company’s Botran Reserva, aged for up to 15 years, and the 18 year-old Botran Solera 1893 would have all but evaporated.