Just when you thought you knew about all the Rums of the world, along comes Charanda...
The Rum world is vast and follows wherever sugar cane travels so it should surprise no one that it made it to southern Spain with Islamic invaders and was taken from there to the Central America by Spanish conquistadors.
The very hospitable climate around Veracruz - one of the main ports of Spanish entry into Mexico - opened the door wide for its diffusion across what we now call Mexico. There are fantastic Rums from across Mexico’s cane growing area all the way from Veracruz, to great examples from Oaxaca, and over to the west coast of Mexico.
So, what’s Charanda?Charanda is a very specific Mexican Rum from the state of Michoacan. The word means “red colored soil” in the local Purepecha language which speaks to the high iron content. Charanda is different because of the way it’s made, where it is made, and because it managed to get legal approval of its name.
Let’s start with the sugar cane because, as we all know, the raw material is most important to the final product. As the saying goes, garbage in, garbage out and Charanda is never one to skimp because it’s made from sugar cane grown at an unusually high altitude - generally at or above 1,500 meters above sea level - which results in a higher sugar content.
Maybe it’s no mistake that another prominent Mexican Rum, Paranubes (translated as “in the clouds,” get it?) is made high in the Oaxaca back country. Charanda’s local well water is also highly praised for its purity and since water is critical for distilling, that’s another major factor in its identity.
The distillation method is pretty similar to most spirits within Mexico, all that high altitude, high sugar, cane is, crushed, fermented with wild yeasts, and then twice distilled in copper pot stills.
Some Charandas are distilled from 100% sugar cane juice, others contain a mixture of molasses, piloncillo (dehydrated sugar cane juice), and pure sugar cane juice. One other wrinkle: Like Tequilas and many Rums, Charanda can be aged in wooden barrels.
Charanda can only be made within 16 municipalities in the western Mexican state of Michoacan because it developed there. With a history dating back to the 16th Century it’s a very long and well established tradition which was recognized with a legally defined appellation in 2003. So, any bottles that sport the name “Charanda” have to come from that area and will contain a spirit made with that sugar cane, the local water, and traditional techniques.
What should you try?You’re lucky because Charanda is finally being exported outside of Mexico so the rest of us get to try something that has been a local secret for years.
Charanda UruapanCharanda Uruapan is fresh to the US market but represents a 112 year tradition so it has the age and experience to represent this spirit. There are currently two labels of Uruapan available in the US differing by proof and water source.
Uruapan add layers to the classic Charanda by blending two types of sugar: Half is sugar cane fermented with spontaneously occurring wild yeasts and distilled on wood fired copper pot stills. The other half is molasses distilled in a traditional copper alembic still. The result is rich and warm so savor it neat.
Charanda Colectivo Regional MichoacanCharanda Colectivo Regional Michoacan is another bottle to seek out and the El Tarasco line which is modeled on Tequila with labels for various aged Charandas ranging from plata and silver through reposed and añejo.
How to drink it?The best way to drink Charanda is neat so at least sample it pure to see if you like it that way. If cocktails are more your thing then try it in a Charanda Old Fashioned which really puts the spirit front and center instead of hiding it with lime in the traditional tropical cocktails!
Cover image: Charanda Uruapan