An Alcohol Independence for Bolivia

23 May, 2017 | Federico De Blasi

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Photo: Federico De Blasi

A Truly Bolivian Vodka Takes the Stage

In 1825, Simón Bolívar and Antonio José de Sucre y Alcalá finally defeated the Royal Spanish Army, bringing independence to Bolivia and sanctioning the end of the Spanish reign in Alto Perú.

 

Now, nearly 200 years later, Bolivia is reaching for another independence of sorts, less important of course, but a significant one nonetheless. And this time, the hero doesn’t wear an ornate jacket, nor have a gun, nor travel on horseback. The protagonist is Leonardo Diab, who is trying to gain an alcohol independence for Bolivia, which until recently has imported most of its spirits from abroad (save for the traditional singani and a few others). In 2012, Diab and his partners realised that Bolivia was rich in raw materials that could allow for production of high-quality liquors. And so began their effort to give Bolivians an authentic national vodka.

 

This is the idea behind Bolivian alcohol independence: to abolish the country’s ‘dependence’ on alcohol imports. According to Diab, his mission is ‘to create a national product which can compete with foreign products’. And in December 2014, the first bottle of 1825 Vodka was ready, with a name that intentionally recalls Bolivian independence.

 

1825 Vodka is made with a special trigo amazónico, cultivated during winters in a region close to Santa Cruz. Once harvested, this golden grain is transported from the Media Luna to the Parcopata neighbourhood in southern El Alto, where the distilling takes place. (This location is key, because it allows Leo and his partners to take advantage of a law that grants benefits to entrepreneurs who want to start businesses in El Alto.) Here, the wheat is fermented for four days, distilled, and bottled.

 

The bottle’s design represents the dualism between the Andes (through the shape of its lower half) and the Amazon (its upper half) to show the contrast of Bolivia’s natural landscape. And in order to confer even more Bolivian-ness to the product, the centre of every bottle features the face of Inti the Sun God, a symbol of Inca culture, surrounded by plumages of Eastern macheteros in a fusion of camba and kolla. Diab and his partners wanted to create ‘an imposing and easily recognisable bottle’ that reflects the company’s motto: ‘The perfect balance between the Amazon and the Andes’. Even the water used in the process is carefully selected, sourced from local mountains and rainwater, endowing the vodka with an excellent freshness.

 

Although the Bolivian consumer is often skeptical about new products, and its international competitors are strong and consolidated (think Absolut and Smirnoff), 1825 Vodka can be found in La Paz, Cochabamba, and Santa Cruz. It is also exported to Lima, Peru, and Diab and his partners are reaching out to fine-dining establishments throughout Bolivia, hoping to convert the drink into a cultural staple.

 

As evidence of the success and quality of 1825 Vodka, it has won two international prizes to date. First, at the 2016 San Francisco World Spirits Competition in the United States, it won a silver medal. And later that year, it received the same award at the International Spirits Challenge in London. Vodka 1825 even made its way to the Bolivian pavilion at the Expo 2015 in Milan, Italy.

 

Internationally recognised and increasingly popular at home, 1825 Vodka is leading Bolivia’s alcohol independence, warming chilly Andean nights while cooling broiling Amazon afternoons.

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