A welcome drink is a good way to greet me as I sit on the shaded patio at Landhuis Chobolobo in Willemstad, Curacao. The day is hot, especially so here a bit inland of the city’s waterfront, and an icy beverage is just the thing to relax from the long walk here. (Most will drive or take a cab, but I guess I’m just a glutton for punishment.) The drink is blue, a mixture of vodka, lime, maybe ginger ale, and the most famous export from this tropical island, Blue Curacao. Strong, sweet, cold, delicious.
When I told people I was coming to Curacao, the namesake liqueur was all anyone really knew about the place. You see, unlike champagne, the name “Curacao” for the alcohol can be used by anyone anywhere. But this place, Landhuis Chobolobo, is where it began.
My welcome drink finished, my tour begins, and the guide for my group of about ten starts with a few common misconceptions, things that surprised all of us. First off, the name of the liqueur is not Blue Curacao, although that is what you’ll find in the US. Curacao comes in five different colors (blue, green, orange, red, and clear), all with the same flavor. Clear is the natural form, of course, and coloring is added later, as our guide demonstrates toward the end of the tour. Second, most Blue Curacao in the world is not made with the key ingredient, the laraha bitter orange – a descendent of the famed bitter oranges of Seville – which grows only here on the island. And finally, while the name isn’t trademarked for whatever reason, the distinct shape of the bottle here is, letting you know you are getting the “real” stuff.
Mind blown that the name of the liqueur is not, in fact, Blue Curacao, but simply Curacao, I settle in to learn its history. In 1896, two Jews who had escaped to Curacao from Spanish persecution purchased Landhuis Chobolobo, which had been a salt producer. (Landhuis means “country estate” or plantation as we would understand it in the US, although Curacao isn’t situated for large-scale agriculture.) The two, Haim Mendes Chumaceiro and Edgar Senior, founded Senior and Company to make a liqueur out of the local oranges they found here. Chumaceiro had, according to our guide, stepped on an orange and so loved the smell that came out that he decided he must use it, although it took him nearly 30 years to perfect the recipe.
Laraha oranges are picked and peeled using wooden knives so as not to damage the peel, which is the key ingredient. The peels are then dried and added with spices (the exact recipe is still a secret) to a large gunny sack, and basically steep like a tea bag in water. Sugar is added, the mixture is distilled, and the result is the marvel Curacao is so known for. (Fun fact: it takes only three pieces of peel to make a large vat of liqueur; it is that strong in orange oil.)
Being Jewish, the partners made Curacao liqueur kosher, and it remains so today. Ingredients – all kosher, as they must be for the finished product to be so – are shipped in from all over the Western Hemisphere, with only the water and oranges local to the island (as best as I can tell without knowing the full recipe). The bottles are 100% recycled glass, and made in Spain. They have also never changed shape in the 100+ years of operations here at Landhuis Chobolobo.
Curacao is an orange liqueur, but Senior and Company also make a few other spirits, which our group is able to sample at the end of the tour: chocolate, coffee, rum raisin, and a truly incredible tamarind liqueur that would be coming home with me if it came in bottles small enough for my carry-on suitcase. (I instead purchase a case of one of each color of the traditional Curacao liqueur in small bottles, still with the distinct shape in miniature.) All are delicious.
Tour over, it is time for the highlight of the afternoon, my cocktail making “workshop.” I am given a menu of all the drinks they make here at the bar, and instructed to choose two. One of the bartenders then walks me through the making of those drinks, as I do the work behind a small bar to the side of the patio. I choose one with Red Curacao, and one with the tamarind liqueur as its base and, if I do say so myself, expertly mix and shake the concoctions before sitting with those in my group who also booked this experience to drink the resulting creations. Life could be worse.
While those of you who are regular followers of The Royal Tour know that I am not the biggest drinker, sometimes alcohol transcends being simply a drink and becomes a cultural experience. Port tasting in Porto, wine in France or California, or any other number of traditional drinks in other parts of the world are, to me, essential parts of understanding a place. This trip to Landhuis Chobolobo is no different, learning about the most famous export from the island, the one proudly bearing the name of such an amazing place. So whether you know it as Blue Curacao or just as Curacao (color to be determined), come, learn, and taste your way through this iconic beverage.
Thank you to the Curacao Tourist Board for sponsoring my experience at Landhuis Chobolobo, and for other experiences to be written about soon!
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