For Costa Ricans, Guaro can be personal. The spirit is a part of Costa Rica’s national identity and has, along with coffee and bananas has helped the country’s economy for decades.
Cacique Guaro is a clear alcohol that is distilled from sugar cane juices, giving the Guaro a distinctly sweeter taste than similar clear liquors. In fact, the name “Guaro” basically means sugarcane liquor.
Since Cacique Guaro is a uniquely Costa Rican drink and beloved by so many and we’ll be taking a look at everything you need to know Costa Rica’s national liquor. We will talk about why it is so popular, how it came to be and the most popular way to drink it. Ready? Lets get started!
What is Cacique Guaro?
Guaro is a popular liquor in Costa Rica and is also considered their national drink. In fact, despite there only being one brand of Guaro being sold in the country, named Cacique, the number of sales remains very high.
Traditionally, Guaro has a high alcohol content, with many being produced at 60 proof, or 30% alcohol. Recently, more alcoholic versions are produced, and it’s not uncommon to find 70 proof or even 80 proof Guaro in the market.
Guaro can be consumed straight, but it’s also a popular base for many cocktails. When drank straight, people would normally chill it before it’s served with either a sugar rim, salt rim, or a slice of lime, just like tequila.
3 Types of Cacique Guaro
There are three variants of Cacique Guaro being produced in Costa Rica. Each one has a unique distilling process, hence producing a different flavor and texture. Each one is distinguished by a differently colored label.
- The Cacique Guaro is characterized by a red label and is also popularly known as the Pacha.
- The Superior Cacique Guaro is distinguished by a black label and is only produced in 375 mL and 500 mL bottles.
- The third type is the Roncolorado Cacique Guaro, distinguished by a yellow label.
The Origin of Guaro in Costa Rica
Guaro pretty much started the same way as the other liquor in the Caribbean, like rum and Aguardiente. Sugar was a money crop back during the colonial period, and countries in Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean islands, were perfect for growing it.
Sugar plantations began cropping up, and as excess sugarcane became available, the locals started fermenting and distilling them into alcohol. Each region had their own recipes, with Costa Rica producing Guaro.
Now, Guaro production wasn’t at all standardized before the 1800’s. Pretty much anybody with a backyard can produce their own version of Guaro. In fact, people used to call it the “rural kitchen sink alcohol”.
It was basically Costa Rica’s version of Moonshine. Of course, this process wasn’t safe. The whole distilling process could go awry, and methanol poisoning was a real problem. Numerous people went blind or simply died due to this.
By 1850, the then President of Costa Rica, Juan Rafael Mora Porras, signed a resolution that would nationalize and centralize the production of Guaro, making it illegal to produce Guaro outside of government-sanctioned facilities.
By 1853, the Fabrica Nacional de Licores (FANAL), or the National Liquor Factory, was built, producing Guaro that was safe to consume for the masses. Naturally, since Guaro production is closely associated with the government, the proceeds went to bolstering the country’s treasury.
The Costa Rican government also maintains a monopoly on Guaro production to this day.
How Guaro Is Made
The production process for Guaro starts with the distillation mills in Guanacaste, a province located in the northwestern area of Costa Rica. It’s here where the sugarcane is turned into pre-processed alcohol, which is pretty much the fermented raw material for Guaro.
Once that’s done, it goes to the National Liquor Factory, where the pre-processed alcohol is distilled and purified. The resulting product is then stored and aged appropriately before it is bottled and packaged.
Once ready, the Guaro is then sent to the bottling facility, where it is received by machines that handle the filling process. Once the appropriate amount is placed into each bottle, a capping mechanism places caps over each container, and a labeling machine adheres the proper labeling.
The bottles are then placed inside cardboard boxes and then shipped out to various warehouses where they’ll be stored before being distributed to local businesses.
Why the Name Cacique Guaro?
Nowadays, the Cacique brand is pretty much synonymous with Guaro, and in Costa Rica, you will always see these two words side by side. This is despite the fact that the word “Guaro”, which means “sugarcane liquor”, is much older than the word Cacique. In fact, Cacique wasn’t used as the brand’s name until the 1980’s.
Between 1977 and 1980, an excavation near the National Liquor Factory has discovered the remains of one of the largest indigenous settlements in Costa Rica. In honor of this great archaeological discovery, the National Liquor Factory rebranded their Guaro to Cacique.
The word “Cacique” means “leader of the tribe”. The face of a native American chief is then placed on the label as the brand’s logo, which also gave Cacique Guaro its nickname, which is “Cuatro Plumas”, or “four feathers”, referring to the feather headdress of the native American logo.
The Typical Way to Drink Guaro
Traditionally, Guaro is taken as a straight shot. No fuss, no muss. In fact, in certain bars in Costa Rica, you can get a straight shot for less than $1 each during happy hour. Of course, Guaro is a very flexible drink, so it’s a perfect base for cocktails. One of the most popular being the Chili Guaro Shot.
The Chili Guaro Shot is Costa Rica’s version of a Bloody Mary. Instead of using vodka, as is the case with a regular Bloody Mary, Guaro is used. Everybody has their own way of making a Chili Guaro, each with a different ingredient, but the basic components are tomato juice, hot sauce, lime, and another Costa Rica staple, Lizano sauce.
It’s a simple drink, but the taste can vary greatly between every bar, and if you’re touring Costa Rica, it’s not a bad idea to have a taste in each place you visit to find your all-time favorite.