Unless you’re Dominican, happen to live in a Dominican neighborhood or have spent a lot of time outside of the all-inclusive beach resorts on the Dominican Republic exploring the real island, you have probably never come across Mama Juana. It’s a concoction that’s made by combining rum, red wine and honey, and then allowing that mixture to soak with tree bark and herbs. The result is an elixir that some say tastes similar to Port or Amaro, but unlike those fabled beverages, Mama Juana promises those who consume it all sorts of incredible benefits, including sexual potency, which has given the drink a nickname of “liquid Viagra”.
Invented by Jesus Rodriguez in the 1950s, Mama Juana was created to be an herbal medicine that apart from acting as an aphrodisiac could rid you of the flu, aid digestion and circulation, and cleanse the blood, liver and kidneys. Basically, it was an all-inclusive healer. The medicinal qualities of the drink derive from the bark and herbs that steep in the alcohol, creating a sort of natural tincture of herbal goodness that is thought to benefit the body in all sorts of ways.
Thanks to the almost immediate success of the concoction, people across the country began making their own versions of the drink, touting different benefits depending on the herbs they’d chosen to use. And this became somewhat of a problem, because with so many different versions of the drink out there, almost anyone could make and sell it. In response, President Trujillo chose to control the production and sale of Mama Juana by restricting who could produce it, decreeing that only those with a certified medical license could produce and sell Mama Juana. In doing so, he also legitimized the drink as a medicinal elixir and placed it on the path to becoming the National Libation of the country.
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Mama Juana can either be purchased pre-mixed or one can buy the bottle sans-liquid, with only the bark and herbs inside. Then it’s up to the purchaser to decide how much rum, wine and honey to mix in, and how long to let the concoction sit before consuming it. While some wait merely a week, others wait months, claiming the longer the Mama Juana sits, the more potent and flavorful it becomes.
Consumed at room temperature – and sometimes, though rarely, over ice – Mama Juana is usually taken as a shot, the effects of which are almost immediate, and cause the drink to be referred to as the “Baby Maker,” or El Para Palo, which means ‘lift the stick.” As a result of this, most who order it at the bar receive a knowing wink from the bartender and good wishes for a successful night.