How do you make a premium vodka that is different from the traditional brands or the new artisanal products coming out of Texas? On the Mayan Riviera, you use cenote water!
Cueva Vodka is a new brand being produced on the Yucatán Peninsula, and it’s breaking ground in the world of locally produced, artisanal products by using water from the underground springs so common in the area (and which caused the collapse of a piece of highway Thursday between Cancún and Playa del Carmen).
Bartley Smith is a restaurant owner in Akumal, a small beach town halfway between Playa del Carmen and Tulum. He was envious of other restaurants that had found their own locally grown or brewed products, and became frustrated by not being able to do so himself.
Until he and partner Jennifer came up with the idea to make a vodka that would appeal to consumers who want products made from locally-sourced ingredients.
They teamed up with Gary Kelleher, owner of the Dripping Springs distillery in Texas and together they have created an artisanal distillery that will produce a local vodka using the most local of ingredients, cenote water.
“Water’s everything; 70% of vodka is water,” says Kelleher. “The boom of artisanal distilleries in central Texas is not a coincidence as the zone is rich in underground springs where water filters through the limestone. Water ends up treated by the grottos, giving it a special touch”.
“Many great vodkas aren’t produced from potatoes or grains, that’s a common misconception. Texas vodkas are corn-based, and for our Mexican vodka we decided to use sugar cane,” he explained.
Kelleher redesigned his still to fit the particular needs of sugar cane vodka and with an investment of US $350,000, he and Smith were set to go.
Cueva Vodka is targeting the premium market for alcoholic beverages, which is characterized by the care taken in their production and the complexity of the product. Cueva’s goal isn’t to flood the market with the product, but to produce small batches, adapting to the demand but always maintaining the hyper-artisanal nature of the vodka.
Bart Smith suggests that Cueva vodka should be enjoyed very cold and sipped slowly, almost as if one were kissing it.
The Mayan Riviera will be the initial market for it has a constant flow of international tourists whose vodka consumption is above the national average. Subsequent expansion will take place in other tourist destinations such as San Miguel de Allende, Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta, Oaxaca, Guadalajara, Monterrey, Puebla and Mexico City, markets known for their appreciation of local and fair-trade products.
The biggest hurdles that Cueva Vodka has had to face have been legal and administrative. One of the last requirements needed by the brand in order to sell the product are the registration decals issued by the Finance Secretariat.
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