Even a short visit to the Dominican Republic like I had last week to Punta Cana’s Bavaro Princess Resort acquaints you with a locally produced beverage….the mysterious mamajuana. My first encounter with it was dining at on site Chopin Restaurant. A waiter brought out a bottle sans label filled with slivers of wood steeped in liquor. This was his own creation and asked if we wanted to give it a try. Being a food/wine/liquor geek, I naturally couldn’t help myself. In fact, I was downright fascinated after taking a sip. The closest taste I can compare it to is sweet vermouth.

Contrary to the initial association factor, mamajuana’s name has nothing to do with a certain green herb. It’s really derived from the French word Dame Jeanne (Lady Jane), a term which is used to describe the short squat bottle that the ingredients are macerated in. In Spanish speaking countries, Dame Jeanne morphed into “damajuana”, and later in the Dominican Republic, into Mama Juana (mother Jane).

Although the recipe for mamajuana has the same basic ingredients no matter where it’s made throughout the country, there are closely guarded local variations on which herbs and bark are used. The mixture of tree bark and herbs are soaked in red wine. After some time, the wine is discarded, rum and honey is added to the bottle and steeped for a few days at room temperature. Servings are taken straight up in a shot glass.

The best part is that after drinking your first batch, you can repeat the honey/rum mixture until the flavor of the bark/herbs disappears. Depending on whom you ask, this can be repeated 15- 20 times or much longer. I bought my bottle filled with the ingredients at the duty free store in the Punta Cana airport. All I had to do when I returned home is pour the residual wine out and add 100 ml. of Punta Cana Forest Honey and top off with Ron Barcelo Anejo Rum. It’s also sold 2 other ways: as a bag of dry ingredients for you to macerate on your own or ready-to-drink in a bottle. I chose the best of both worlds…no fussing with finding the right bottle, stuffing it with the ingredients, and macerating it on my own or merely consuming the contents and having nothing left to regenerate a fresh batch.

photos and article courtesy of Steve Mirsky