5 Spirits Made From the Magic of Volcanoes
Volcanoes might regularly appear on tiki bar walls, but the lava-spewing landmasses influence more than tropical decor when it comes to cocktails. Distillers are using them to make booze. Here, five distilled spirits made through the power of volcanoes.
At the small distillery, master distiller Thordur Sigurdsson, takes barley spirit produced in Scotland and heats it using a geothermic heat-transfer system sourced from one of the nearby hot springs. He then runs it through Reyka’s famous Carterhead Still—a rare still that’s usually used for gin production. The still has a side chamber loaded with lava rocks instead of herbal botanicals, which are meant to remove imperfections during distillation, while adding a distinct minerality to the vodka.
“The lava rocks are a natural, effective, efficient way to remove impurities,” says Reyka Brand Ambassador Trevor Schneider. “They have a porous quality which acts as a sponge. During this process, the impurities stay in the rock and smooth spirit is filtered through it.”
Before bottling, Reyka is cut with Icelandic water that has been filtered through 4,000-year-old lava fields, which accounts for 60 percent of what ends up inside the bottle. This produces a clean, citrusy vodka with slight flavors of sea salt and vanilla.
Patagonia usually brings to mind fleece jackets and hiking gear, but soon you’ll be thinking drinks. Träkál, the South American region’s most recent foray into the spirits business, will be available in the U.S. this summer. Made from a base spirit distilled from pears and apples and infused with indigenous herbs and botanicals, Träkál (which translates to “first warrior into battle”) is unlike any spirit you’ve ever tasted.
“All our native herbs and berries thrive because of the soil composition, the topography—the micro-climates are all affected,” says founder and master distiller Sebastian Gomez Camorino. “It wouldn’t be this beautiful if it wasn’t moving and changing due to the volcanoes.”
In creating Träkál, Camorino intended to bottle the experience of walking through the forests of Patagonia. The resulting spirit, made by blending the apple- and pear-based spirit with essential oils from herbs, has an aroma of caramel, anise and fresh trees after a rainfall, followed by flavors of moss, sage, spice, blueberry and fresh herbs. It also has a salty minerality that Camorino credits to its water source.
“Three hundred-foot wells that source from underground rivers all feed from Andean and volcanic run-off,” he says. “It is all authentic and native—it can only exist here. It can only be made here."
A not-so-distant cousin of anise-flavored ouzo, Mastiha is produced on the Greek Island of Chios, which is known for its black beaches, created by the island’s dormant volcano. According to Artemis Kohas of New York’s MastihaShop, these shores contain “the right soil to produce the Chios Mastiha tree, which is only able to be cultivated on the southern portion of the island.” Local producers like Skinos use the mastic (resin) from the Mastiha tree to flavor a brandy-based liqueur of the same name, giving the spirit flavors of anise and pine. After putting the spirit through a double distillation, producers filter it through the roots of the Mastiha tree. Typically served as a digestif, Mastiha is an explosively good pairing for nearly any dessert.
Volcan De Mi Tierra Tequila
Volcan De Mi Tierra is making tequila differently. The brand is focused on creating a terroir-driven spirit that speaks directly to Jalisco—the Mexican state that’s not only famous for its booze, but also for its whopping 600 volcanoes. The most famous of these is aptly named Tequila and has had a tremendous impact on the agave grown there for thousands of years.
“Tequila volcano last erupted 230,000 years ago,” says Volcan De Mi Tierra president and CEO Trent Fraser. “Volcanic dust and ashes were scattered to different areas of the valley of Tequila. The climatic conditions since then have allowed for the region to create and nurture ideal conditions for the development of the agave.” Fraser also notes that the volcanic elements in the soil have an effect on both the pH of the soil, which is slightly acidic, and its mineral wealth. Manganese, potassium, phosphorus and nitrogen can all be found in the soil where agave is grown, which Fraser adds is “the best kind of soil to cultivate agave plants.”
A precise blend of spirits made from agaves from both the highlands and lowlands of Jalisco, Volcan’s crystal-clear blanco expression is a revelation—a combination of jammy stone fruits, fresh herbs, crisp salinity and sweet, cooked agave.
Mezcal, too, is influenced by Mexico’s volcanic region and the mineral-rich soil in which the agave plants grow. However, tequila’s smoky older brother also comes into contact with volcanic rock, which is typically used to build the large, underground pit in which the agave piñas are cooked before fermentation.
“Some pits may be built with bricks instead of volcanic rock, depending on the region and producer,” says Ivan Saldaña, creator of Montelobos. “For Montelobos Espadín Mezcal, we use volcanic rocks that are incorporated into the walls of the pit.”
The harvested and trimmed agave plants are piled in a 10-by-10-foot conical pit—the walls of which are lined with large, volcanic rocks—on top of a wood fire. The agave is then buried with agave leaves and earth and left to cook for days. The rocks insulate the fire, and the thermal mass of the stones keeps the fire as hot as possible, while imparting salty, mineral flavors to the agave meat, which eventually make their way into what we taste in the glass.