First Chilote vodka breaks ground in Chilean liquor market

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Photo: Sirena VodkaPhoto: Sirena Vodka 
By Zoe Baillargeon
Along with its wine, craft beer, and pisco, Chile can now add a new liquor to its top shelf offerings: authentic, Chilote vodka.
The new Chiloé Island Spirits Distillery on San Pedro Island near Quellon in the far south of the Chiloé archipelago has started producing its own handcrafted, small batch Chilote vodka. Named after the beautiful mermaid of Chilote mythology, La Sirena, "Sirena de Chiloé" is the first vodka of its kind to be produced in Chile.
What makes this particular tipple stand out, beyond the novelty of vodka being made in a country that’s so far south, is that its chief ingredient is not wheat, but rather Chiloé’s famous potatoes. With more than 286 varieties throughout the archipelago, the potatoes give the vodka a unique flavor, and also make it gluten-free and therefore celiac-friendly.
“We wanted to do something different,” says Javier Devilat, head of communications for the distillery. “That was our idea from the make something new.”
Masterminded by Roberto Taverne, the vodka is made from two regional varieties of potatoes, michuñe and bruja, and the freshest, Chilote rainwater. Blended and distilled in a wood-burning pot still that was brought over from Germany, the alcohol goes through three stages of distillation, honing in on the purest taste possible.
Roberto Taverne. Photo: Sirena VodkaRoberto Taverne. Photo: Sirena Vodka
Taverne also notes that making the alcohol at sea level is another key to producing the smooth and crisp finish that Sirena is already renowned for.
In Chiloé, mythology and legends still have a strong hold on the culture, with many islanders continuing to believe in the existence of fantastical beings, like La Sirena. According to legend, La Sirena has been tasked by her father, Millalobo, the king of the sea, with the caretaking of the fish in the oceans, as well as aiding her brother and sister Pincoya and Pincoy with collecting drowned sailors and fisherman to deliver them to El Caleuche, the local ghost ship. Now she also adorns the bottle of Chiloe’s premier hard liquor, inviting locals and visitors to come into a whole different kind of drink.
Even though the distillery has only been producing their vodka since 2014, it’s already attracted international prestige, taking home three distinguished awards, including the bronze medal at the 2016 New York International Spirits competition and most recently double gold at the 2017 New York World Wine and Spirits Competition.  
So far, the distillery is keeping their distribution small, focusing on establishing a market in Chiloé and Patagonia, through retail sales and partnering with fine dining establishments and hotels. But Santiaguinos and Porteños can rest easy: "Sirena" is also available from two liquor distributors in the central region, one in Valparaiso and the other in Santiago.
But at home? It’s a grand success.
German wood-burning pot. Photo: Sirena VodkaGerman wood-burning pot. Photo: Sirena Vodka
Sirena has been warmly welcomed by Chilotes, says Devilat. “They are proud of it. Chiloé has many great products, but they are very proud to have a local product that is completely new and so good.”
And other countries will soon start hearing the siren call of ‘Sirena’, as plans move forward for international distribution in markets like the US, Germany, and Spain. “Many people are searching for new flavors in the alcohol market.”
Looking to the future, Devilat says that there are also rumblings of producing a flavored vodka, using flavors that are characteristic of Chiloé.
But until then, a cool drink of "Sirena de Chiloé" vodka is more than enough to hit the spot; a return to the cool, humid forests and haunted waterways of Chile’s mystical islands.
“Drinking ‘Sirena’ is an experience by itself,” Devilat says.“You have to take your time, and when you drink it and feel it in your mouth, you’re going to feel something very special.”

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