Ron Cihuatan, El Salvador’s ambassador to the world

Ron Cihuatan, the first rum ever produced in El Salvador, is expanding its range of handcrafted rums as it grows its international business, including to travel retail.

Licorera Cihuatan Vice President Juan Alfredo Pacas tells TMI that Ron Cihuatan takes its responsibility as El Salvador’s rum very seriously.

“Ron Cihuatan began as a dream to create an ambassador for El Salvador to the world, because not many people in the world know about El Salvador. We wanted to create a brand which would travel the world,” says Pacas.

“It has been quite an adventure because El Salvador had no real rum culture and is not a traditional rum-producing country. We are the first rum ever to be produced here and we really believe in our product.”

Ron Cihuatan is truly a craft product; Pacas emphasizes that the company controls the entire process from the seed of the sugar cane all the way to the bottling of its product.

“The project started with a local sugar mill, one of six sugar mills in the country, which has almost 100 years of operation. We work hand in hand with independent sugar cane producers providing them with training, technology, and variety that will maximize the return they have for their investment. We process the sugar cane they produce in our mill to produce sugar and molasses. This is where the magic of the rum begins because we hand pick the best molasses to ferment and distill our rum.

“We take the fresh rums we produce and age them and then our master blender blends them and crafts them into our final products. We are able to produce several kinds of fresh rum because we control our own distillery.”

Ron Cihuatan began aging its rums in 2004, but did not sell a single product until 2015, says Pacas.

“We recognized that for our rum to be really outstanding and represent our country in a proud way required time. We had to be very patient to allow our rums to mature before we sold our first product. In 2015 we launched our 8 YO rum and in 2016 we launched our 12 YO rum. These are the rums that we have been focusing on in key countries in Europe and in our local market in El Salvador.”

In Europe Ron Cihuatan is now available in about 10 countries, with a focus on France, Germany, Belgium, and Italy. In the U.S., the rum has been available in California and New York since 2017.

“We have been working hard to position our rum in the market. We have only a limited amount of rum and can’t be everywhere, which makes the rum very exclusive. Little by little we have been growing and become very successful in those markets.”

The rums have been available in El Salvador International Airport since 2015, and the company is now ready to expand in the channel with the right strategic partner.

“We know that the travel retail channel is very specialized and requires a very specific approach. We are looking to find a strategic partner. We are currently in negotiations with a global partner who is focused on developing the travel retail channel and values a true craft premium product. I think too many brands are using the word craft very lightly and we want to be known as a brand that is truly craft. Our rum is a really hand-crafted product. We want a partner that can communicate this to the travel retail channel.

“By Cannes we hope to have signed with our strategic partner and plan to announce that we will be working hand in hand with them to develop a travel retail exclusive rum that communicates our premium craft positioning. Our strategy for this channel is to continue working the way we have in the local markets, creating brand value through communications, packaging, and our relationships with our partners.”

The company released its first blended and limited edition rum in September, of which there will only be about 6,000 bottles available worldwide.

“I am really proud to launch our limited edition blend, which communicates some of our Mayan heritage, from the design of the bottle and packaging to the concept of the rum, all the way to how the rum tastes. As this was our first blend, we were inspired by the Nahual, whcih was a blend of sacred animals.”

Pacas says the Mayan heritage of El Salvador has played an important role in the development of the entire brand.

“Our inspiration for our brand was a Mayan ancient city located about five minutes from our distillery. The city is only about 5% uncovered; 95% of the city is still below ground. Every day there is a new discovery there. When we began with our rum company Cihuatan and still to this day we feel that every day we are discovering new things.”