Pickled Eggs & Cold Beer
Episode 26: Presidente with Lori Rouse Mann
From its independence in 1844 until the year 1916, well, the Dominican Republic had a rough go of it. More than 50 presidents came and went, as well as 19 different constitutions. Instability was the name of the game, and was only to grow worse as the world itself became generally more unhinged in the looming shadows of the First World War. The internal chaos led government to grind to a meager pace in the Republic, including in terms of its ability to collect and redistribute income.
This was a problem – the Dominican Republic owed many nations a great deal of money, and with most of the great powers on war-setting, the failure of the small nation to pay its debts to the USA and other nations invited foreign interference. Acting on the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine the US took this moment to invade the Republic, imposing its rule on until 1924.
Five years later another American invasion, of a sort, would occur – Charles H. Wanzer, an American industrialist whose fortune was founded in light generators and petroleum development in Latin America founded a brewery in the city of Santiago. It took awhile, another six years in fact, but eventually that brewery began selling the earliest version of the beer we’re discussing today.
Hold on! In 1930 one of the nastiest characters in modern politics comes into absolute power in the Dominican Republic, Rafael “El Jefe” Trujillo – a cruel man responsible for tens of thousands of deaths – thanks to the combined efforts of a coup, some of the least subtle voter fraud in human history, and of course a rather nasty hurricane. Trujillo would rule the eastern half of Hispanola until 1961 when, on a dark road, he was shot by a group of conspirators. While he ruled, however, it was generally considered sensible to butter Trujillo’s biscuits, so to speak, and so Wanzer and his co-investers named their beer after the dictator, if only indirectly – “Presidente.”
A lot has happened since those dark days. In the unstable years after Trujillo’s death there would eventually be a military uprising, prompting the US to fear the emergence of another Cuba and, predictably, invade, occupying the island this time from 1965 to 1966 and leading to the imposition of the kind of democracy one wouldn’t necessarily call free nor fair. At around the same time Presidente beer made a major shift as well, from a dark beer to a light, pilsner-style – unsurprisingly, perhaps, an American style adjunct.
The Republic would continue to be plagued by instability and illiberal rule until the end of the Cold War, stabilizing in the 1980s (when Presidente became the property of Grupo Leon Jimenes, a Dominican tobacco company) and achieving what political scientists would deem full democratization only in the 1990s. But with the post-Cold War period came post-Cold War beer politics – including the Beer Wars, and eventually the little Dominican brewery that could found itself enmeshed in the machinations of two giants – AB InBev and Heineken. In 2012 the former would finally win out, acquiring 51% shares in Presidente and dominance of the Caribbean market.
Brought to you by Eric Drummond Smith of Pickled Eggs & Cold Beer