Palo Santo for Dogfish beer barrels // Bacardi as window to Cuban History

"This involves Paraguay and artisanal beer, so obviously: you." Thus wrote a good friend as he sent me the link to the following story. A better compliment I cannot imagine. Burkhard Bilger's New Yorker piece "A Better Brew: The Rise of Extreme Beer" chronicles John Gasparine's, professional wood expert and amateur beer specialist, treks to Paraguay to procure palo santo, a local hardwood, to build a 9,000 gallon barrel for Dogfish Head, an excellent brewery in Delaware. Palo Santo, Bulnesia sarmientoi, is native to the Chaco, the dry north-west region of Paraguay (bordering Bolivia and Argentina) much of which is impassable and unpaved (though my friend Richard Lavielle, a French photographer based in Asunción, has ventured into it to take amazing photographs). It's increidibly hard and fragrant and used in indigenous religious ceremonies (see The Curse of Nemur) as well as in aging alcoholic beverages (wine and beer).

Tom Gjelten's new book Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause is fashioned like a cigar box. The NPR correspondent looks at Cuba through the lens of one of its most famous families and products. And, in the spirit of an honest grad student, I must admit that I haven't yet thumbed through it, but can, in the spirit of an intrepid grad student nevertheless, still make a comment about it: The 1862 founder of the company, Facundo Bacardi, was a French Catalan immigrant, one of a larger migration in the mid 19th century as Cuba attempted (and, unlike Argentina, generally unsuccessfully) a whitening of its population via European immigration. He brings to mind another significant Cuban-Catalan culinary contributor (no lie, the alliteration was unintentional): Juan Cabrisas who, in 1858, wrote one of the first Cuban cookbooks Nuevo manual de la cocinera Catalana y Cubana which I discuss in my new article in the Latin American Research Review.

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