Inside a dark and masculine private room of the famous Gansevoort South Beach stands a long table with elegant individual rum tasting glasses. The tone is serious – clearly, there is business to be done. Men enter the private room, scrutinizing their individual station and examining the samples with a sense of urgency and intrigue. This is not your ordinary group of rum enthusiasts. This one room holds some of the most distinguished and significant judges and connoisseurs in the rum business. A fraternity of rum, so to speak, this diverse group hails from across the nation and abroad and could make or break the reputation of a rum brand. And today, they have gathered to taste, feel and experience ZACAPA®, a brand that is single-handedly changing the perception of rum today. The pressure is enough to drive any rep crazy. But not Lorena.
Enter Lorena Vásquez Ampié, Master Blender of Ron Zacapa ® Centenario. A woman at the top of her field, she is one of a small number of female master blenders in the world. Radiating feminine energy in a predominantly testosterone-filled room, she is a delicate firecracker. Sharp, bubbly and standing at no more than 5’2, she is truly the heart and soul of the brand. If there was ever a skeptic in the room, he would be disarmed by her charm. She could turn anyone into a believer.
Not that she would have to. Today, ZACAPA® is one of the finest and most celebrated rums in the world. Produced in the verdant land of Guatemala, ZACAPA® is the result of a unique combination of soil, climate and natural materials brought together with skilled distillation and a special high altitude aging process at one and a half miles above sea level. In addition to many awards and high ratings from the rum community, ZACAPA® has the honor of being the first brand to be inducted into the International Rum Festival’s Hall of Fame.
For Vásquez, being a master blender is not a profession but a way of life. She considers herself as having one of the greatest jobs in the world and has devoted her entire career to ZACAPA®. Nicaraguan by birth, after she finished her degree in chemistry, food technology and business administration Vásquez married a Guatemalan and moved to his home country. Learning from the bottom up, she started working in the ZACAPA® Quality Control department, where she developed her innate sensitivity to scents and flavors. Passionate about the art of crafting premium rum, she is driven in her quest for perfection. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Vásquez after a private tasting. Here’s what she had to say.
Haute Living: What positions you above the rest in this business?
Lorena Vásquez Ampié: While I have a background in chemistry and food technology, I must credit the most unlikely of attributes: my sense of smell. My good sense of smell helps me in analysis. Sensing aromas and flavors is essential.
Haute Living: How does it feel to know you are one of few female master blenders in the business?
Lorena Vásquez Ampié: I didn’t seek to be one. I believe that whatever you do, you must do your best. At the end of the day, my job is a commitment.
Haute Living: What do you say to someone who wants to start a rum collection or learn more about rum?
Lorena Vásquez Ampié: First of all, they must rid themselves of the taboo that says rum is “inexpensive” because a sophisticated rum can compete with any good cognac or wine. When you get into rum, you will want to make comparisons and discover new things. The rums that we make are chic and allow for discovery. In the rushed life we live, we forget to take time out for a good meal or a good rum.
Haute Living: How do you choose to serve ZACAPA®?
Lorena Vásquez Ampié: I choose to serve Zacapa 23 neat or on the rocks as an aperitif or with a great meal. One of the strengths of ZACAPA® is it allows you to marry it with different cuisine. It pairs particularly well with seafood and meat. The only thing I wouldn’t combine with is acidic or spicy food.
Haute Living: What is the future of your brand and rum in general?
Lorena Vásquez Ampié: ZACAPA® is changing the notion of rum. Our efforts have started a trend of enhancing the outlook of rum. Thanks to ZACAPA® leadership, rum has become more relevant today. Because I am responsible for creating new products, I am always thinking of ways to make rum more appealing to the skeptical consumer. I am traveling to Greece, Italy and Spain to continue to talk about rum. In the past, our tasters have been experts, collectors and connoisseur. We are increasingly doing more tastings focusing on food pairings to rid consumers of the notion that a good meal can only be shared with wine.
Haute Living: You have such energy and enthusiasm for the topic.
Lorena Vásquez Ampié: I have a true passion for rum making and I am a perfectionist at heart. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than meeting those who appreciate and enjoy ZACAPA®.