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Vodka: a new use for Riviera Maya cenote water

Akumal, Q.R. — The envy of restaurant owners in Akumal has led to an innovative concept for Mexico’s Riviera Maya.

Bartley and Jennifer Smith are owners of Turtle Bay Cafe & Bakery in the small town of Akumal. Smith recalls being envious of other restaurants and bar owners who were serving their own locally cultivated products.

“It was very frustrating to see how everyone was producing beverages and cultivating their own inputs and I had to limit myself,” Smith said.

He enlisted the help of Texas distiller, Gary Kelleher, who in 2007, founded Dripping Springs Vodka, a micro-distillery that distills in 50 gallon batches in proprietary handmade copper pot stills using pure, mineral rich Hill Country Artesian spring water.

Keller explained that, “Water is everything. Seventy percent of vodka is water. The flavor comes from there, minerals. It is no coincidence, for example, that there is a boom of craft breweries in central Texas where you can find springs. That water seeps underground through the limestone. The caverns treat it, giving it a special touch.”

Together with Kelleher’s experience, endless cenote water sources and a lot of spirit, the Smiths only need add alcohol.

“Many of the best vodkas in the world are not made from grain or potatoes. That is a common misconception. In fact in Texas, I produce my distilled vodka from corn. Sadly, most  corn in Mexico is genetically modified so to evaluate the quality of the alcohol base that we require, we decided to use sugarcane, ” Kelleher sad.

With defined ingredients and redesigned copper stills, which were handmade in Texas, Cueva (Cave) vodka was born.

“Vodka is easy to distill in the sense that although we need to master the process of distillation and put extreme attention to detail to keep the body and flavor, it’s really not very complicated,” says Smith.

He says that the development of vodka is quite simple. First, alcohol is created by fermenting sugars from rye, corn, wheat, or cane, then it’s distilled several times to remove the impurities. The final process includes adding water and, in some cases flavoring, such as lemon or raspberry, before it’s bottled.

In Mexico, the alcohol market is dominated by 76 percent beer drinkers, while 22 percent prefer spirits. Cueva Vodka is entering a premium luxury segment where there are a large range of flavors and odors.

“Each batch takes shape in your mouth … it’s an art to prepare, but is also an art to taste,” Smith says.

Smith says it is not their objective to flood the local market with bottles of Cueva Vodka. Although they have the ability to produce tens of thousands of bottles per year, they are making small batches and now, operating just three copper stills.


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