Patagonia, a rugged mountainous region at the southern tip of South America, is the birthplace of Trakal.
Won't blame you if you admit you have never heard of Trakal.
The spirit comes from the other end of the planet, from Patagonia, a place at the southern tip of South America, a rugged mountainous region shared by Chile and Argentina.
True, it is one of the last places you could imagine, from where a popular spirit is slowly growing into a cult in the US.
So what is Trakal?
Sincere attempts to capture the spirit of a place in alcoholic drinks have been a fad even from hoary times. So we have pisco from Peru, tequila from Mexico, champagne from France, and so, why not a drink from Patagonia?
In Patagonia, extremes unite.
Towering spires of granite, the Andean mountain range, fall away into expansive lush green forests that run wild until they are checked finally by the Pacific and the Atlantic. The surreal landscape inhabiting animals like pumas, and dotted with volcanoes, ice fields and glacial rivers was once thought to be ruled by giants! Today, you'd be assailed with the heady aroma of dozens of flowers as you walk along its woods. Could the fantastic experience that is hard to capture in words be translated into a better form, say, a drink? That wild thought occurred to , who in 2013 left his banking career to do something phenomenal. The Argentinian sold everything he had and moved to Patagonia, not only enamoured by the beauty of the surrounding Andean forests, but also immensely inspired by its business prospects.
A land in a bottle, a forest tightly corked down. Possible?
Camorino wandered along the place, meeting people from indigenous communities of Patagonia and taking down copious notes on the native plants and fruits that could be used for his drink. He had already decided he would use only local ingredients to create a spirit that would be truthful and authentic to the place.
Capturing such a large landscape with myriad characteristics in a bottle is no cakewalk, he knew it from the beginning. Camorino commissioned locals to bring crabapples and pears growing wild in the place. They also handpicked locally available herbs, berries, and certain leaves. But soon there arose a problem. Many of the ingredients are only seasonally available and could run out at the wrong time of the year! It was Camorino's mother who came up with the solution. She asked her son to make essential oils out of the herbs so they could be used around the year.
The distillation involves three major steps.
At the first, locally sourced crabapples, pears, and apples are distilled to make the base spirit. During the second distillation, Patagonian berries including maqui and murta are added. It is in the third and fourth distillation that essential oils from indigenous herbs are added to the blend in order to conjure the quintessence of the place.
After three long years of trial and error, Camorino came out of his distillery with a smile - he had rebuilt Patagonia inside the bottle!
He gave the new drink the name 'Trakal' which means 'first warrior in a battle.' Yeah, it was so in every sense. The world had gin, vodka, whisky, rum, brandy, and what is this new thing from Patagonia doing in a bar! Where can you put it! Category, please! FDA could label it only as 'a spirit distilled from apples and pears.' It was in every sense a first warrior in a battlefield yet to be marked and defined.
It is in Osorno, Chile, that the 4000 square-foot distillery, which today produces around 4,200 bottles per week, is located. Do you want to know what 84-proof spirit feels like?
The making follows in the footsteps of gin, but steps out of its path the moment you taste it. There is no signature tang of juniper; dismiss gin, instead, you get the sweetness of apple and pear. The drink is both floral and fruity on the nose, with a smooth finish in the mouth. It recalls something oddly familiar (the day you walk through the Patagonian forests inhaling the heady air, the vagueness dispels).
Today, Trakal can be found not only in the prestigious cocktail bars of Santiago, but it has also reached niche destinations like the US and Canada. Bartenders fly into dizzy heights of creativity with a bottle of Trakal in their hands. Don't worry if you hate cocktails. You can even drink it neat or on the rocks. But first, pull out the cork, inhale the captured air, and open your eyes and step into a magical place named Patagonia.