Olga, it turns out, isn’t the only one in Costa Rica making moonshine. In fact, in an effort to curb the production of homemade sugarcane liquor, also known as guaro, the Costa Rican government began manufacturing the stuff itself, according to Wikipedia. Now, bottles of Cacique guaro, produced by the Fabrica Nacional de Licores-Fanal, appear behind nearly every bar in the country.
Of course, I took the opportunity to try Cacique both in cocktails and straight up. Sipped neat, this clear spirit (30% alcohol) reminded some of my fellow tasters at the bar of a smooth vodka. I didn’t disagree, but to my Odd Bacchus mind, it resembled a good-quality soju (a Korean spirit distilled from rice or sweet potatoes). The Cacique had a bare hint of sweetness and fruit at the beginning, followed by some white pepper spice.
Because of its basic lack of flavor, Cacique (translated as “chief,” as in the head of a tribe) makes for very versatile cocktail ingredient. I sampled it in a number of different concoctions during my stay in Costa Rica, each one more delicious than the last.
At a swim-up bar — a ridiculously fun addition to any pool — I sampled a wonderfully refreshing Mojito made with Cacique, fresh limes and fresh mint. Another evening, lacking electricity in my accommodations, I decamped to the bar for a delicious “Guapiriña,” a Caipirinha which substituted Cacique for the usual cachaça (a Brazilian sugarcane-based spirit). The simplicity of fresh limes muddled with sugar and mixed with guaro was pure delight. And at the very fancy Grano de Oro Hotel in San Jose, I indulged in a Tico Sour, a light and perfectly balanced mix of Cacique shaken with lemon and egg white.
As a matter of fact, as I go through the list of cocktails I sipped while in Costa Rica, I can’t think of a single stinker. The cocktail menus may not include the most innovative concoctions, but the bartenders I met excelled at mixing the classics. Fresh ingredients were the norm, not the exception, which made coming back from a day of steamy jungle hiking all the sweeter.