Oscar Lafuente, global ambassador of Arehucas distilleries. Interview conducted by @loretosocorro
In the city of Arucas there is a corner where, once a year, something unique is celebrated and that no one should miss: the sugar cane harvest.
Oscar, is sugar cane cultivation very demanding?
We cultivate the cane in a sustainable way, which is in the process of obtaining the ecological plantation certificate. When the grass begins to grow we release chickens, which discard the cane leaf because it is hard, and eat the rest. For the rest, the cane only asks for water and sun.
From the time the cane is collected until it reaches the factory, how long does it take?
We take it as soon as possible, so that it does not lose liquid and thus maintain the maximum of guarapo: that is the quality of our cane; On the ground we make a first selection of the canes and another as soon as they arrive at the distillery, in case there is any damaged.
Oscar Lafuente tells us that the variety grown in Arucas is Creole cane and with his eyes full of desire he gives us more information: that this cane is very resistant to high temperatures and that its origin dates back to 1400 BC; sugar cane traveled the world from New Guinea to India, Persia and Europe and, upon reaching the Canary Islands, sugar cane wanted to discover the New World, led by Christopher Columbus; From here we took her to America in 1493.
Oscar, what is the cane harvest?
What you see now in the field: harvesting the cane from April to May, although this year it was brought forward to March. And, in addition, this harvest we wanted to give an addition that are the visits to the farm.
Why in the same plantation?
So that you can feel how we take the product from the field to the bottle. Let the people who set foot on the farm see the cane juice being made, live. That they realize that the land they walk on is where the rum they drink was born two years ago and to say: here we are!
Is the rum tasted on the same plantation?
You have to take advantage of the fact that this is something like no other: you go to a whiskey factory and they show you the distillery but they don't take you to see the grain fields. On the farm, we set up a "speakeasy" -an intimate bar, reserved inside the plantation-, and we do a master class for a small group: visitors taste one of the most popular cocktails and that is the daiquiri. Where in the world do they do this?
Why the daiquiri?
The three ingredients of the daiquiri are: white rum, one part citrus and one part sugar; We contribute this with some lemons from the country, the guarapo, freshly squeezed with the mill and from the same cane that has just been cut, and our family selection white rum, which also comes from the canes that are harvested here.
The daiquiri that we drink today is the result of the field to the bottle, but today we also return with the bottle to the field, to the Finca de las Vegas de Arucas, to its birthplace. It is a devastating concept.
Who were the visits for?
During the time of the harvest we have made visits for the general public and for hotel and tourism professionals from all branches: chefs, bar and room people, cocktail shakers, managers, directors, distributors...
Is this putting in value the professionals around the rum?
The client is going to ask the professionals for advice from the person in the dining room or in the kitchen. The final consumer demands and wants to know. For this reason, we have taken a step forward to focus on the most professional part and go beyond the events.
Oscar speaks to us with knowledge and, furthermore, he is a man who has charisma, both for his presence and for that truth with which he shakes the air when he speaks. He is someone who is generous and takes care of everything he does. And we want to know more about this barman that Soria gave us.
How did you get started in the world of cocktails?
At the age of 16 I did a few first steps in the hospitality industry and at 22 I started managing premises. As soon as I started working, I was lucky and they asked me to be a manager, until I started running my own premises. With cocktails I started in a brewery-cocktail bar, where they asked me to prepare a cocktail menu and I thought that asking for help is never bad: I started calling the brands and asking them to send us their ambassadors. Little by little, he was receiving classes. And above all I learned by traveling and spending money on training. I was clinging to great professionals, almost without winning, but the reward is not always money.
Do you also transmit that to your students?
I tell them that not everything in life is money. Inside a bar and here my prize is that someone, -of the eight hundred who have passed through the Zafra, since the beginning of February-, come back and be happy and that the whole team is also happy, it is priceless.
How has your experience been with your Zafra team?
When I enter a new place, I am very explosive: I shake the cocktail and everything mixes, transforms; but the great team of Arehucas distilleries is fantastic. My reward is that: that everything has gone better than we expected. They have hit a brutal job. Everything started from scratch and the friends who have passed through here, because they are all friends now, have given us love and are still happy with the experience. They are looking forward to coming back.
Are you leaving seeds for others?
I went from student to teacher. If now there are students of mine and professionals who do the same and we collaborate, then we all grow together.
How did you prepare for the Zafra?
I already knew how a rum was made, because of my profession, but the idea here was to see how Arehucas was made. So every week I was with a different department: with the commercials, I went with them to listen to what the bartenders, managers wanted... and I wrote everything down. The following week I went with the master distiller, then with the visiting girls -we are the second most visited place in Gran Canaria, after the Maspalomas Dunes, 98 people before the pandemic.
How did you design the Zafra tastings?
I worked with chefs because our tastings are personalized. We wanted to offer one hundred percent natural essences.
How natural were those essences?
Instead of buying barrels, we broke and chopped one of our own. If we wanted honey instead of buying it we used the one from our honey rum; With the coffee, we went to the La Laja farm so that it would be coffee from the island and we used freshly diced cane, to start the tasting by trying the cane that grows on our plantation.
We have not used anything purchased, chemical or elaborated, except for some candies for one of the rums that has hints of toffee. The same thing happened with the pairing: instead of going for the usual and easy: cheese, quinces, nuts or chocolates, what we did was get together with chef Alejandro Bello and his team. From there came such curious things as potato chips with almogrote, winking at the people of the countryside, of the land. We are making pairings that can accompany throughout the day and with Canarian product. We are not just gold and white to party
How has the reception of these “complete experiences” been on the farm?
It has been magnificent. We come to the kitchens, which have had open rooms, open kitchens, chefs in the room, and have successfully tried to put together a real story with what it is to prepare a dish, live, based on the ingredients.
Until now, what we did was arrive and serve a cocktail at the bar and that's it...; From Arehucas we believe that it is not the right thing to do, so we have opted for these visits with tastings and that something else.
Tell us if you have been especially surprised during any collaboration with chefs.
It is a “quid pro quo”. I have worked a lot with great chefs and when you sit down to work and study the product with someone from the sector, but from different branches: cooking, pastry...; each has something to contribute to the other. We always surprise each other. Now the rum is being used in pairings and putting it in dishes. One of my strengths is to use the technical part of cooking in cocktails: airs, jellies, dry ice, liquid nitrogen...
To take this to the bars of the world?
That the bars are something more than preparing and serving a cocktail: informing about the ingredients that each one has, where they come from, boasting that they are their own reeds, with organic guarapo instead of molasses and that the customer knows the quality of the product. Now the client drinks less but drinks better.
You also take care of the environment...
We seek to surprise: something that is a reserve, a cocktail bar with cool crockery, the detail in the ice, a professional who knows what product he has in his hands and the raw material, which is the main part: we were covered and we are going to uncover!
There is a desire to show itself to the world as it is, but also to facilitate paths, to teach...
As a teacher at Hecansa, of cocktails, I am lucky to have students with a brutal desire to go out and, at the same time, to be able to work with many chefs. I always tell them that to be good mixologists you have to take a cooking course and a pastry course, because in the end that opens your mind.
On the other hand, in Arehucas, we have open doors: wherever you go in the distillery, without secrecy.
Tell us about the cocktail line you have started
We are taking the first steps and working on collaborations and synergies around low-sugar cocktails.
There are great world-class bartenders who have visited us with curiosity. People like Diego Cabrera, who has the best bar in Spain, Adal Marquez, from Boadas, the best cocktail bar in Spain, David Ríos, World Cocktail Champion, or Patxi Troitiño, professor at the Basque Culinary Center, who is interested in his team and all his students coming to visit what is happening in Gran Canaria.
Will it be something available to everyone?
Of course, we will soon launch a website: “rum culture”, which is now only on Instagram, because we were focused on the Zafra. The website is designed to bring out cocktails without secrecy, to give weapons to those who want to work with Arehucas distilleries and adapt, transform or copy it for their premises.
With the desire you put into it, I think this looks like it will grow a lot...
Little by little, maybe edit a publication, make tutorial videos on how it is made, spread the cocktail classroom, which is a bar-classroom inside the distillery and we offer it to any team, so that they can experiment making cocktails.
Having your professional and teaching experience is a great help to those who come…
That is “rum culture”. That big word is: help, share. All those times of hiding have to end. The entire Arehucas team and I invite people to come and enjoy and create a menu in which they feel comfortable.
The cocktail bar with Arehucas and the cane from this farm is coming a long way…
We have to boast that we are one of the oldest distilleries in Europe and the largest rum cellar on the continent, in addition to the few rums that are worked worldwide only with the guarapo and with a distillation that reaches a maximum of 70 degrees. , so as not to lose nuances of vanilla, pineapple, coconut.
How do you get those nuances Oscar?
Depending on the treatment received or where the rum comes from, whether it is guarapo or molasses, it will get different shades. We use barrels more typical of American oak. We are not a distillery that steps directly into sherry, cognac or brandy barrels, but rather a semi-toasted wood. The final nuances are those that the teacher wants to give. Now we are getting closer to what the bartender is looking for. We are doing little tests and people give us their feed back.
The work to get there is pure research...
In the facilities of Salinetas (Telde), it is where we develop the R&D part; there we have two great rum masters: Jose Luis and Cristo.
What is a master rum?
He is the one who controls everything, except the sale. The alchemist who makes the potion and gets the plant that you see here to transform into the liquid that is later inside the bottle. The rum master manages to transform a simple plant with processes of grinding, pasteurization, fermentation, distillation, aging... into a quality rum and in an artisanal way. The rum masters are the ones who bring out the first nuances in the mouth.
The visits to the Zafra have already finished, for this year. What do you plan to do to continue creating and spreading around cocktails and rum?
We want to reach all places. I am going to travel, as an ambassador of the brand, and to form a team, to visit people who have shown interest in knowing what Arehucas is. I bring the family range to taste it, some videos that have been recorded during all these days of Zafra and, even so, there are teams that want to come and make a direct visit to the distillery. There is curiosity and a lot of desire.
We can't leave without you telling us what your favorite rum is...
Our Captain Kidd, who is 39 years old, is special, but I like them all because choosing one rum or another depends on the moment, the place and the company. Depending on these three parameters I like to take one or the other.
An ancient legend tells that at the bottom of the Atlantic there lives a being that is half octopus, half jellyfish and that it is poisonous. If the smell of an old boat reaches him, he goes up and bites the sailors. That's why they always carry a bottle of rum on hand: to stop the poison and remove the stinging. I also heard my grandfather say, while he was sewing pots, that it was mosquito repellent and that if you rinse your hair with white rum, the sun gets jealous of the shine you give off.
The pirates must have known all this and more because they walked around the planet with rum, with more attachment than to their wooden legs and they enjoyed it, combining it with gunpowder to feel more courageous. It was they who invented the mojito with the sole purpose of saving the crew from scurvy.
Thank you Oscar for sharing this Zafra with Sal del Atlántico. As you say: being nice, pleasant, honest, with a good presence and that way of being, apart from how good a professional you are, the only thing left to do was to choose the raw material that Arehucas gives and to wish that the months go by quickly until the next Harvest of the sugar cane.