Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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Touring Chichigalpa, Nicaragua, Friday, 03 January 2014 8:47pm

For my last full day in Nicaragua, I went on two very different tours. In the morning, I stopped by the Cathedral of León and went on a tour of the roof (right now you can only visit a small area, because of restoration work in progress) and some of the crypts. There are some great views from the roof, but the crypts are a bit disappointing: they're just whitewashed rooms underground with a few headstones for people who're buried under the bricks. However there's a tunnel which the priests would use to flee with the good plate when the cathedral was about to be sacked by pirates (apparently this happened often enough to build a tunnel!).

In the afternoon, I headed over to the town of Chichigalpa to visit the Flor de Caña rum factory. This was an unusually good distillery tour. I learned a lot about the process they use, which is remarkably straightforward. Molasses is fermented, and then distilled into raw spirit (they're very insistent that all sugar is removed in the distillation process), which is barrel-aged in former Bourbon barrels for four to twenty-five years (after twenty-five, the barrel needs to be discarded). When a batch is considered ready, it's blended and bottled. There's no process of rotating the barrels or cycling temperatures (they control the heat with sprinklers in the hottest parts of the year, but that's all), and no blending of different ages.

One of the interesting things about the tour is how much effort has been expended to make the production of rum seem eco-friendly and socially responsible. They talk a lot about how all of their energy needs are met using renewable electricity from the cane stalks, how much water recycling they do, the free medical care that their employees and their families receive, and so on. Their museum includes a map which shows the extent of the sugar cane fields that they own... which are immense. They seem to own most of the land between León and Chinandega, a big chunk of the northwest of the country.