La Hechicera: a brand historyBy Amy Hopkins
Proud Colombian rum La Hechicera is seeking to bring the story of its enchanting homeland to the world. And with a host of activity planned for the coming years, the brand’s best chapters are still to come.
*This feature was originally published in the November 2019 issue of The Spirits Business
Colombia, with its fascinating landscape, culture and history, is cloaked in mysticism. Indeed, this is one of the countries where the magical realism literary genre emerged, and according to Miguel Riascos, the truth in Colombia is often far stranger than fiction.
La Hechicera rum was founded in 2012 to encapsulate the spirit of Colombia and tell the nation’s story to the world. Its name translates as ‘The Enchantress’ in Spanish, and its bottle is adorned with images of local flora and fauna.
“We wanted to celebrate that magic, that enchantment of Colombia from a feminine perspective. We feel Colombia is above all a feminine entity – it’s the most fertile nation on earth per square kilometre,” says Riascos, who founded the brand with his sister, Laura, and friend Martamaria Carrillo.
But, he adds that “way before La Hechicera existed as a brand, it existed as a vision”. Riascos’s father, Miguel Riascos Sr, started the family’s journey into rum. A banana farmer based on the Colombian Caribbean coast, in the 1990s Riascos Sr set off to explore other business opportunities. After 17 consecutive trips to Cuba, he landed an agreement with Fidel Castro’s Sugar Ministry, which allowed him to work with some of the island’s leading rum makers and invest in a facility based in Barranquilla, the capital of Colombia’s Atlántico Department.
The factory, Casa Santana Ron y Licores, was established as a third‐party producer of rum. Unusually for a Colombian spirits maker, the majority of which are government‐controlled, Casa Santana is independent thanks to its location in Barranquilla’s Free Zone, or Zona Franca. Unsurprisingly, the area is in high demand, meaning Casa Santana has had to expand “creatively”, says Riascos Jr. “We have built a dense factory. We are constantly putting one structure on top of another, so what you would find at any other rum factory over a few acres is concentrated into a few neighbouring warehouses.”
Almost two decades after his father started selling rum as a commodity, Riascos discovered barrelled liquid he believed “deserved an amazing brand to tell an amazing story; the story of our family and the story of our country”. He adds: “Colombians are faced with a challenge of creating what their national identity is and telling the story of Colombia, which is a country that in many ways is yet to be discovered by the international consumer.”
La Hechicera’s ageing and blending process is overseen by Japanese‐Cuban master blender Giraldo Mituoka Kagana (pictured above), who joined Casa Santana in 2002. The liquid used to create the rum is sourced from Colombian and Cuban distilleries, and is aged for between 12 and 21 years. The brand made its maiden voyage to the UK in 2012, and launched in Colombia the following year. After winning a plethora of awards, La Hechicera has seen demand grow rapidly, and in seven years the brand’s inventory has grown from 3,500 barrels to 12,000. “The plan is to expand to 24,000 barrels by March 2021,” says Riascos.
Next year also promises to be significant for La Hechicera, with plans under way to install its first still. “Our factory has been up and running for about 25 years, so the natural next step for us is to explore distillation, and we are extremely excited about this,” says Riascos. A distilling area has already been designated at Casa Santana, marking a “completely new chapter” for La Hechicera. “You have great versatility when you have your own distillery, especially if it’s a small still,” he adds.
However, since the distilling operation will be small scale, and to support Colombia’s economy, Riascos says the brand will continue to use sourced liquid. “We will distil, but that will not be a replacement for the great relationships we have built.”
The expansion into distilling follows another milestone for the brand: the release of its first line extension.
Unveiled earlier this year but awaiting a wider roll out, La Hechicera Serie Experimental No.1 – The Muscat Experiment is the first release in its new limited edition range, with 7,200 bottles available. It is a bottling of barrels discovered by the team at Casa Santana when the facility moved from analogue to digital systems. The barrels were brought to Barranquilla by Riascos’s father after he accepted Muscat wine as part payment for rum. “But he forgot about these barrels for 12 years,” Riascos claims. “We poured out the wine and filled the barrels with La Hechicera, waited a few months and created our first barrel finish. It’s extremely unique and very flavourful, almost nutty. It’s got this leathery prune body and it’s stunning.”
Numbers two and three in the range will follow next year. As well as barrel finishes, the collection may explore rums created in different types of stills, or rums with “different congeneric make‐ups”. In addition to these limited editions, La Hechicera is planning to introduce new bottlings to its permanent range. “We have a special liquid coming up in 2020, for which we have already decided on a liquid, name and bottle. It’s probably the one I am most excited about,” enthuses Riascos.
With new liquid comes market expansion, and Riascos has his sights set on the US, Latin American countries such as Mexico, Peru and Chile, travel retail and “gateway” Asian markets including Singapore and Hong Kong. He says: “Premium rum is still rather unknown in Asia and there is huge potential, but that is probably still years ahead.”
But Riascos will not neglect La Hechicera’s homeland, which has become its biggest market. “I would have a hard time deciding between the pride I get from the actual rum‐ making and the pride I get from contributing to the Colombian story,” he says. “We underestimated the sense of national pride in the fact that La Hechicera is selling in more than 20 markets, in some of the top venues. Colombians are proud of the achievements of La Hechicera and feel part of its success. That means Colombia is our number‐one market, and we are the best‐selling premium rum in Colombia. We think that’s a testament to La Hechicera’s true potential.”
Click though the following pages to see a timeline of La Hechicera.
1989 – Alfredo Riascos convinces his son, Miguel, to go to Havana in search of something to trade
1991 – Miguel Riascos Sr begins conversations with Fidel Castro’s government in search of a business agreement
1995 – Miguel Riascos Sr establishes Casa Santana Ron y Licores in Barranquilla, Colombia
2002 – Giraldo Mituoka Kagana (pictured above) joins Casa Santana Ron y Licores as master blender
2011 – Third generation siblings Laura and Miguel Riascos Jr, along with Martamaria Carrillo, create La Hechicera
2012 – La Hechicera launches in London, followed by Colombia in 2013 and Europe in 2014
2017 – La Hechicera launches in the US, Canada and global travel retail
2019 – La Hechicera launches its first limited edition, Serie Experimental No.1 – The Muscat Experiment