A Liquor Entrepreneur Proposes Trakal as an Indigenous Spirit
Sebastian Gomez has come up with a spirit, Trakal, that embodies the flavors and essence of Patagonia.
It's not mainstream, but Trakal is popping up in the East Bay.
Photo courtesy Trakal
To taste is to travel. The quickest way to visit any part of the globe is with your tongue, not your legs. Flavors are the ultimate shortcut.
That’s because most food has what vintners call terroir, the unique ecological attributes of any region which manifest in its crops and plant life. Sometimes we’re aware of it — the taste of wasabi, for example, instantly evokes Japan — and sometimes not: True cinnamon, case in point, is native only to the island of Ceylon, but when you eat cinnamon toast, you’re generally not thinking, “Aha, Sri Lanka!”
The same regionality holds true for liquors. Mezcal is inherently Mexican, just as cognac is pure French, and ouzo inescapably tastes like Greece. But not every region has an indigenous liquor.
“Anywhere you go in South America, from Colombia to Tierra del Fuego, you’ll find the spirit known as chicha,” said Argentinian-born liquor entrepreneur Sebastian Gomez.
“But in truth, ‘chicha’ is not a clearly defined type of spirit. It simply means ‘booze,’ basically. It can be made from anything — corn, cassava ... any fruits, grains, or roots you might have. And it’s almost never exported.”
While working for the multinational liquor conglomerate Diageo — think Smirnoff, Tanqueray, and Seagram’s — Gomez started wanting to strike out on his own and launch a new liquor brand honoring his beloved Patagonia, the southern tip of South America, shared by Chile and Argentina.
“When people think of liquor from the Andes, they of course think of pisco,” noted Gomez. “Even in Chile, it’s pisco, pisco, pisco. But pisco comes from Peru and the central part of the Andes, not Patagonia. In southern Chile and Argentina, there is no local spirit. So I decided: I must invent my own.”
And so was born Trakal, officially spelled TRÄ•KÁL: a new category of spirit made entirely from Patagonian plants.
“I start with wild apples, pears, and crabapples that have become nativized to the Patagonian climate,” Gomez explained while launching Trakal recently at Uptown’s Drexl bar.
“I ferment them, then distill them, then triple-distill the alcohol to give me a pure starting point. Then we harvest seven different herbs and four different berries that only grow in Patagonia and nowhere else.”
These include canelo, aka Drimys winteri, a tree whose parts have a distinctively peppery taste, and paramela, aka Adenosia boronioides, a plant used medicinally by native healers.
“Because most of these botanicals are seasonal, we extract the essential oils from them, then infuse the blended essential oils into the spirit to make Trakal.”
Offering a sip of the limpid brew, he marveled: “When you’re up in the forests of Patagonia, this is what it smells like. The soul of the place.”
Since few American consumers have the slightest notion of how Patagonian herbs taste, it’s almost impossible to articulate Trakal’s flavor profile; our vocabulary is deficient. Woodsy, tingly, herbal, piquant: Perhaps its closest comparables are Alpine liqueurs such as Chartreuse and génépy, or perhaps a floral gin such as G’Vine Floraison.
Currently, Denver is the only American city where Trakal has gone mainstream. But it’s now being launched here in the East Bay and in New York soon after. Although no local menus yet feature a permanent Trakal-based cocktail, several bars — including alaMar Kitchen (100 Grand Ave.) as well as Drexl and neighboring Parlour (382 and 357 19th St. respectively) have bottles behind the bar for tasting and improving on-the-spot mixed drinks.