We sat down with Andres Chopite-Parra to chat about his work, Venezuela, rum, and his drink for November’s Rums of Origin Box, the Tipo Chichero!
S&S: How important is rum to Venezuelan history and culture?
ACP: It’s imbedded in our culture. It’s part of who we are. I’ve always said there are three things that Venezuela didn’t create, but definitely has mastered. And those are: beauty pageants, baseball, and RUM!
S&S: How and when is the spirit enjoyed traditionally? Is there an official rum cocktail of Venezuela?
ACP: Rum is enjoyed year-round and on any occasion. Lighter rums are definitely enjoyed with coke oftentimes. During the December holidays, everyone is drinking ponche crema (eggnog) with a healthy amount of rum in it. Or during a special occasion, say a wedding, you’ll find us drinking more aged rums, like Santa Teresa 1796 on the rocks, neat, or maybe with just a splash of soda.
S&S: What would you say is the current state of rum, and what recent innovations have you been seeing?
ACP: I think rum is finally being respected in the way that it always should have been. People are opening up to it, because it used to always be, “I had a terrible experience with rum in college and I don’t drink it anymore.” And I get that. They probably had a sugar or fruity packed rum and mixed it with a super sugary mixer and had an incredible hangover the next day. And so that was their perception of rum. But that’s not rum at all. Rum has so much more to offer. You can have your sugar fruit rums—which we all know are delicious when you’re beachside in Margarita—but you can also have your minerally, earthy rum like agricole and cachaça, or your real funky pot still rums from Jamaica, or you can have beautiful blended and aged rums that “sip like a whiskey.” The genre of rum is being taken out of its vacation mindset pigeonhole and re-introducing itself to the world. And I love it!
S&S: So you have been noticing a growing respect for rum over time? Where do you see the future of the spirit’s reputation and status?
ACP: Absolutely. I let people try an aged rum, say ST 1796, without letting them know it is a rum, and they love it. They very much enjoy it and you can tell they’re a little confused because they know it’s not a whiskey, but surely it’s not rum because they “don’t like rum.” And then you tell them and they are very much surprised.
S&S: What’s one unexpected ingredient you’ve experienced in a rum cocktail that pleasantly surprised you?
ACP: Just recently I was at Sweet Liberty in Miami and had their piña colada and woah! They blend coffee beans into it and I believe float oloroso sherry on top. My god was it the best piña colada I’ve ever had! The coffee was so unexpected and delicious, and the crunchy texture, and the sherry . . . it just works so incredibly well. I ordered a second one immediately!
S&S: We’ll have to try it next time we’re in Miami! And speaking of great rum cocktails . . . we can see in your Tipo Chichero that rum fits right into chicha’s flavor profile. Is there an adult version of chicha in Venezuela that does include rum?
ACP: I think the closest would be a boozy eggnog, which is super traditional during Christmas holidays. The textures and sweetener (condensed milk) are very similar. I chose to go down the chicha road because it’s so nostalgic for me. I absolutely loved it as a kid, and in Caracas there were these little stands, Juan Chichero, that I could probably drink every day. However, at 31, I don’t think it’d do my waistline any good. Ha!
S&S: Ha! Would you say that the chicheros are a prevalent part of the cities and towns of Venezuela?
ACP: For sure. And every part of Venezuela kind of has its own twist on it. In the Andes, for example, they have a different type of chicha that is fermented . . . which as a kid I hated because it tasted like it was “off” compared to the chicha casera that I was used to. I haven’t been back to that part of Venezuela in probably 15 years, but I had a similar chicha in Peru (also Andean), which I can’t say I like much either. Give me the condensed milk–packed thickened rice milk with a ton of cinnamon!
S&S: Yum! Have you been able to work in some of your Venezuelan influences while working at bars in Austin?
ACP: Not so much to be honest. It’s been a while since I was in charge of a bar program and I’ve never really worked at a place that was truly trying to push the envelope or introduce new flavors, if you will, to guests—sans Fino (now closed) for a brief stint. I focus more on having an eclectic and balanced selection that allows for speedy and friendly service, i.e. very high volume cocktails.
S&S: What a shame! Maybe in the future. What types of flavors, fruit, or other cocktail additions would you say scream “Venezuela” for you?
ACP: Guanabana, plantain, mango, guayaba, lechosa (papaya), and caramel.
S&S: Is there any specific food you would recommend pairing with the Tipo Chichero?
ACP: Empanadas or arepas. If you aren’t worried about your diet or are on a cheat day, get a canilla (baguette), spread a bunch of butter on it, season it, and then place an empanada de carne mechada (shredded beef) in between. So good!
S&S: What music do you hope people are listening to as they mix and enjoy it at home?
ACP: Whatever makes them happy. But if they want the full-on Venezuelan experience, they should put on Simon Diaz or Gaitas Maracuchas.
S&S: What would you say has been your biggest cocktail hit?
ACP: Probably the Mint and Honey at Clive. It was a mint, cantaloupe, and honeydew shrub made with turbo sugar and champagne vinegar. That, with some lime and vodka. Very simple but super delicious.
S&S: Sounds like it! How about the weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted?
ACP: I tried making a Blood and Sand with dehydrated oranges that I pulverized and cherry heering “blood” pearls. It was unpleasant.
S&S: What do want to be when you grow up?
ACP: Happy and content.
S&S: What do you do when you’re not working?
ACP: I work a lot. And even when I’m not, I’m still kind of working because of my job. But I enjoy going out eating and drinking and hanging out with friends doing cookouts or the like. Most of my life revolves around food and drink.
S&S: Hey, isn’t that one of the best parts of life! What’s your go-to drink order when trying out at a new place?
ACP: If a cocktail bar, either an old fashioned or daiquiri if something off the menu doesn’t catch my eye.
S&S: What do you miss the most about your time spent in Venezuela?
ACP: Simply breathing the air. It’s home to me. And you know how you can’t always explain what it is about home that feels so good, that’s somewhat what it’s like with me and Venezuela—the people, the food, the language—everything . . . even the shitty parts.