La Marielita Rum CEO Janet Bonilla

Published by The Rumlab ago about the La Marielita company

La Marielita Rum CEO Janet Bonilla article cover image

La Marielita brand is a unique, and exquisite seed cultivated to flourish, thrive, and succeed. Yesterday’s “gusana” is today’s butterfly. A delicately crafted spirit, where the richness of their founder’s homeland and the strength and confidence of its people will be savored with every sip. Founder Janet Diaz-Bonilla continues what her grandfather began, by building on a solid foundation of inherent hard work and a penchant for supreme quality. If you want to know about her, enjoy the next interview.

TRL: Who is Janet Bonilla?

I am a daughter, a wife, a mom, a writer, and the first Cuban-American immigrant woman Founder and owner of a rum brand. I am also a Marielita. On April 1st, 1980, thousands of Cubans swarmed the Peruvian embassy in Cuba, begging for political asylum, provoking an exodus known today as The Mariel Boatlift. “Marielitos” was (and still is) the moniker given to those who arrived during that exodus.

I was six years old when, along with my parents, we journeyed from the Mariel Port in Cuba to Key West, Florida, across the Florida Straits; a voyage that lasted seventeen dark and horrifying hours at sea. Upon arriving in Key West, we were transferred to Fort Smith, Arkansas, for further processing at a holding camp at the former Army base, Fort Chaffee. We were held there for fifty-four days and would not be awarded our freedom until July 8th, 1980. A terrifying experience for my parents and me.

TRL: What does the rum mean to you? What made you fall in love with rum and when did it happen?

For me, in micro terms, rum means celebration…of accomplishments, of different chapters in our lives, and celebration of life after it’s passed. In macro terms, it means the celebration of freedom; the freedom to live our life as we choose, distanced from the oppression that accompanies tyranny.

My love of rum began during the writing process of my screenplay, La Marielita. I learned one business confiscated from my grandfather by Castro’s regime was a market named Casa Manolo that imported ultra-premium rums. This brand is an homage to him and to all that was taken away from us. I want to honor and continue what would have been his legacy.

TRL: Three essential characteristics that define the rum according to your perspective.

Our rum ages for at least 18 Years in repurposed ex-bourbon American White Oak casks, enveloped by Panama’s tropical environment. It is blended by the Godfather of Rum, world-renowned Cuban Maestro Ronero, Francisco José “Don Pancho” Fernández Pérez.

There’s a distinct toasted smoothness, within the boldness of flavorful attributes, that makes our rum quite special.

TRL: What is the most important contribution you have made to the rum industry?

First, create a rum without additives. Also, perspective has been my mantra and goal from the beginning of this journey. I created a rum brand for many reasons. Mainly, it was to edify another side of the story about the “Marielitos” detached from the Scarface movie character, Tony Montana. Growing up in Miami, any time I’d mention how I arrived in the US, I’d always hear comparisons to that character. It bothered me, to put it mildly. It was important for me to tell a different side of the story. I wrote a screenplay about my experience with the Mariel Boatlift, and the research and writing process reminded me of the many positive contributions my community has made to this country. We are not all Tony Montana, and a new perspective was long overdue; however, it became so much more than trying to prove a moot point; it became a celebration of freedom and sacrifice.

That said, as the first Cuban-born woman, immigrant, and Founder of a rum brand, my most important contribution has to be diversity.

TRL: Benefits that the rum industry has given you.

Many benefits, but none greater than knowledge about product integrity. Awareness of the importance of practicing integrity in the alcohol industry is acutely fundamental. From the sugarcane to the label, integrity is key.

TRL: What’s another thing you are passionate about, besides rum? Why?

Reading and writing. It’s always been my outlet to purge and develop stronger and, hopefully, a little wiser.

There are two books that I have published. I’ve also written several short films. Amongst them is Ensueño (Daydream), which is about the sacrifices the caretakers make with loved ones who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. I wrote it as an ode to my parents. My mom suffers from the disease and my father selflessly cares for her. It won several Telly Awards for writing and directing, and it also won Best Foreign Language Short Film for Direction at the International Film Festival (Madrid). Most recently, it’s been honored as an Official Selection for the Ibero-American Film Festival Miami, which will take place on January 29th, 2023.

TRL: What is your favorite place for drinking rum?

Anywhere my loved ones are.

TRL: Favorite drink + Recipe

During this rum process, my finance-savvy husband became quite the mixologist. He’s brainy and dextrous (I know…that’s not an actual word)! He’s left and right-brained!

He created a few incredibly delicious drinks using our rum, but by far my favorite one is Flor de Lola. Lola was the name of a small doll. The guards at the Mariel Port took away from me right before we boarded the vessel that brought us to the US.

Ingredients:

2 oz, La Marielita Rum

1 oz, Elder Lower

1/4 oz, chile syrup

Basil leaves

Instructions:

Muddle basil leaves, Elder Flower, and chile syrup (spicy) in a shaker, then add ice and La Marielita Rum. Shake vigorously. Pour into a coupe cocktail glass. Garnish with a basil leaf.

All the Signature Drinks on our webpage have a story directly connected to our brand’s core.

TRL: Why is it important to educate the rum consumer?

Rum is the humblest spirit—from its origins to its gentle emergence into the distilled spirits industry over the years. Also, rum is presently having a renaissance, so I guess we can say that rum has smoothly taken center stage. For this reason, rum remains a bit of a mystery to many, which has led to misconceptions about rum, such as that all rums have a lot of sugar because it’s made from sugarcane, molasses, or both, which simply isn’t the case. In fact, sugar is completely stripped away during distillation, and while some brands may add sugar and other additives to their product during the blending process, not all rums have a high-sugar content or any sugar at all. For instance, our rum, La Marielita Rum, contains less than 1% sugar per 750ml bottle (1% per liter), which derives naturally from the repurposed ex-bourbon barrels’ chemical compounds within the wood during the aging process. We are proudly a very low-carb rum.

The same goes with the misunderstood “solera process”, which is a fancy term often used not to disclose the youngest year in a rum; however, regulations have changed to offer the consumer more transparency. As a consumer myself, I want to know what I’m drinking. For example, if a label says “No. 23” or “30 Year Anniversary” it doesn’t mean that it is aged that many years. It could be a “solera process”, or a batch number, or a celebratory year for that rum. Many reputable websites offer truthful facts about spirit sugar content and actual aging time.

As a supplier, I have a responsibility to transparency toward the retailer, who will represent my product on their shelves or their bars for the consumer to purchase and enjoy. It all goes back to integrity.

TRL: Any tips to train the palate and taste a good premium rum?

I’m still learning! I can say that—at least for me—a premium rum will introduce itself to your palate boldly initially, become more flavorful as you savor it, and leave you with a smooth exit.

TRL: How can rum contribute to improving the crisis in some countries?

For many countries, sugarcane is an essential element for the production of agricultural goods, which translates to more jobs being created in the industrial sector. Rum can contribute when farms and distilleries collaborate with respect and care toward the land that grows vital components needed to continue moving their economy forward.

TRL: Who would like to meet in the rum industry? What would you say to him/her?

Carlos Pella, CEO of Flor de Caña. I have the most respect for what he has created with consistency and loyalty to his consumers, his employees, and his country. He respects the land and is keenly aware of the importance of sustainability. Flor de Caña is an organization to emulate in every way, and their rum is delicious!

TRL: What are your next goals in the rum industry?

To continue growing the Florida market and expand our footprint into other states. We are also preparing to enter other countries, mainly Panama and the UK.

TRL: Plans you have when you leave the rum industry.

I don’t plan to leave! I plan to have my screenplay produced and show the world how this whole thing got started!

TRL: Why is the role of the bartender important in the rum industry?

Perhaps the most important ally of a brand is the bartender. If our spirit is the paint, then the bartender is the artist, who can extract the essence of our rum and create exquisite cocktails. They are an integral and crucial element of our industry; the door to the consumer opens through them.

TRL: What is your advice for new generations in the rum industry?

I am in no position yet to offer any advice! I still have so much to learn and to grow, but I would suggest practicing transparency and responsibility to consumers is crucial. Also, respect for the bartenders and the retailers, as they are the ones who open the doors for our product. Without them, there’s no spirit to share.

TRL: How can people learn more about you? Website? Social media page?

La Marielita Rum https://www.instagram.com/lamarielitarum/ https://www.instagram.com/janetdiazbonillawriter/ https://www.facebook.com/shoplamarielitarum