My wife just returned from the Dominican and brought back a large bottle that looks like it’s filled with some sort of wood chips that are supposed to be saturated in alcohol. It indicates to fill with 4 parts dark rum, 2 parts red wine, and 1 part honey. The wine and honey supposedly get absorbed by the wood and turn a dark colour.

I’m curious if anyone’s tried this before? I don’t want to waste any good rum / liquor if it turns out gross! Any experience with this concoction?

The accompanying card notes that it was originally prepared by the Taino Indians with tree bark and herbs or herbal tea. When the settler colonials sailed in with Columbus, they brought their European firewater and added it to the mix. It’s apparently considered one of the first distilled spirits in the Americas, predating rum.

When it comes to spirits and infusions, I think I have made just about every type there is, except for ones using insects or snakes, or other critters.

It’s not a distilled spirit, and the Taino were not distilling spirits. They didn’t get distilled spirits until Europeans brought them to the new world. That semi-quote from wiki is misleading. The full wiki quote is, “Mama Juana is considered one of the first distilled spirits in the Americas, even before rum. This is plausible considering that Christopher Columbus mixed European alcohol with the Taino Indian’s herbal tea and this created mamajuana.”

And this doesn’t necessarily have any truth to it either. It originally may have came about over the years when sailors were looking for something to mix with their brandy, and possibly leftover soured wine was added, to create a “punch”. The recipe was refined and first commercially produced in the1950’s. This is when it moved from a home made product, to a recognized commercial one. It is considered medicinal, and an aphrodisiac; rarely just drunk for pleasure.

Mamajuana is basically a Dominican liqueur/fortified wine. A honey sweetened, infusion of herbs, spirits, and wine, and can be very tasty, or horrible, depending upon the recipe of herbs, and liquor ingredients used. I’ve made it several times. Both from bought “kits” like you have. And from researching the herbs and creating my own. I have most of the herbs in my beverage lab. It tastes a bit like a red wine based amaro, and if I were to categorize it officially, it would be in the amaro spectrum. Use a decent rum, not garbage like Bacardi, or bottom shelf stuff. You can get very tasty white, or preferably gold/aged rums for way under $20 a 750ml bottle like El Dorado rums, Plantation rums, Santa Teresa, Appleton, or a decent Domincan rum like Brugal Anejo. Use a decent quality table red wine, something that you would drink, and again, not too expensive, under $15 or even $10 a bottle.

You can control the bitterness ratio of it by curing" it by soaking in rum or gin for a few days, then removing the spirit (save it if you want for medicinal purposes, gin works great for the “cure” then using afterwards), and then following the full recipe of rum, wine, honey. Personally, I think the mild bitterness adds to the final product, and tourist “kits” tend not to be as bitter as traditional medicinal versions. The longer you let it infuse, the better. Minimum of 2-3 weeks, but several months is much better. Any bitterness smooths out and adds richness and complexity. Don’t start out with any honey, or else use 1/4 the amount the recipe says. taste after a few weeks, then add a bit more to taste. 1 part to six parts rum/wine as your recipe says is a lot of honey. I use only half that, or less. The honey becomes more noticeable as it ages and matures. When it is infused/aged to your liking, filter through coffee filters. You can then rebottle and age more to mellow, or drink, typically sipping in small shots for medicinal purposes. Or using as a modifier in cocktails.

Save the herbs, they can, and should be reused several times, and for “up to 15 years.” The bitterness fades after the first use.

Some of the herbs used are :

Albahaca (Ocimum basilicum) aka Great basil, Saint-Joseph’s-wort
Anamú (Petiveria alliacea); aka guinea henweed, pigeonberry
Bohuco Pega Palo (Cissus verticillata), a liana / climbing vine in the grape family
Bojuco Caro: aka Princess Vine, in the grape family
Canelilla (Cinnamodendron ekmanii)
Maguey (Agave spp.) leaves
Marabeli (Securidaca virgata)
Star Anise: (Illicium verum), aka Anis Estrellado
Timacle (Chiococca alba), in the coffee family, aka David’s milkberry, West Indian milkberry, cahinca, West Indian snowberry

Also may contain the following, and others:
Bay Rum Tree
Brazil Wood
Chew Stick
China Root
Coconut Palm Root
Milk Wort


I tried it once and it was one of the worst tasting things I’ve had in my life. Hopefully you have a better experience.

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