‘Vodka made from ancient Italian grains by an American’ read the subject line of an email all about the new Altamura Distilleries. It was already fascinating reading! Frank Grillo is an American businessman of Italian heritage, with a real passion for food and drink. Long story short, he moved to Italy to start a distillery that uses an ancient and famous wheat to create unique spirits.
Altamura Bread has been produced for centuries in Altamura in Puglia and is the only bread to receive a PDO status meaning it has a protected designation of origin. The bread must be made with high durum wheat from Altamura and a few surrounding communities. Frank wondered how the Altamura wheat would fare in producing spirits to supply the growing demand for high-quality vodka, gin, and whiskey. The answer is, yes it would be very well suited, thus Altamura Distilleries was born.
We catch up with Frank and Steve to talk about the brand new premium vodka and future exciting Altamura Distilleries creations.
How did it all start?
Once we’d decided to move to Puglia in a Covid-lockdown infused moment of “why not”, I started learning about the foods of Puglia because I love to cook. I discovered Pane di Altamura and it’s amazing story and taught myself how to bake it. One day it occurred to me that a loaf of bread is nothing more than a bottle of vodka, gin, or whiskey just waiting to happen and the idea for Altamura Distilleries was born.
For the new premium Altamura vodka, tell us what makes this really special?
It’s all about the wheat. We both believe the unique provenance of the wheats grown in and around Altamura and the terroir they represent bring a truly unique flavour profile to our vodka.
The wheat you are using is so unique. Tell us all about it and how it impacts the taste and smoothness of your vodka?
The types of durum wheat we use in the vodka are those included specifically in the PDO designation for Pane di Altamura, and has been grown in and around Altamura for over 2000 years. These grains bring a very specific sweet earthiness to the vodka that we were careful to not completely remove during the distilling process.
We at Luxuriate Life Magazine are really into our Martinis and Negronis. What are your favourite cocktails and why?
Frank: It’s definitely the Negroni and all of its variations, I love the flavour dance among the gin, Campari, and vermouth and then the Sazerac, which is all things New Orleans in a glass!
Steve: It’s interesting but my favourite also has a strong New Orleans connection. I don’t have it very often, but I’m all in on the Ramos Gin Fizz. The first time I tried one was in New Orleans in the middle of July, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
What do you miss about the USA?
Frank – Really good Mexican Food.
Steve – Buffalo Chicken Wings!
Puglians are very proud of the region and old world wine making. What impact do you want Altamura to have on the region?
We both love Puglia. The people, the food, the weather, the beaches and the tradition. We hope the distillery can both represent the deep tradition and pride of the region while also expressing the exciting innovations that are taking place here.
We think that your vodka will make the ultimate martini. What top tips can you give to home bartenders when preparing vodka martinis?
We agree that vodka is ideal for martinis. I have a personal bias against the modern “show the glass the vermouth and serve it” dry martini. The classic martini with either vodka or gin was all about the taste interplay between the main spirit and the vermouth. I highly encourage home bartenders to experiment with bringing the vermouth back, I think they would find it enhances the drinking pleasure of the vodka.
Who are your inspirations?
Frank: I have two muses, Julia Childs for food, and Henry Craddock for cocktails. They both enjoyed their crafts, and enjoyed their creations!
Steve: For me, the inspiration is more of a ‘what’ and not a ‘who. The importance of food and drink in culture has always fascinated me. Family and friends have always bonded over food and drink, and I love exploring it all.
What food pairings will work best with your new premium vodka?
A slightly warmed oyster, topped with a savoury zabaglione and a spoon full of Italian caviar. Sublime!
When can we buy your vodka in the UK and the USA?
We plan on having both our Vodka and Gin available in the UK by the second half of 2022, and in the US in 2023. Until then we hope everyone who visits Italy on vacation will take a bottle or two back home with them.
What is next for Altamura Distilleries?
We’re excited to finish the construction of our distillery site in Ostuni and begin producing our gins and our wheated American-style whiskeys.
To discover more, visit: altamuradistilleries.com
All imagery courtesy of Altamura Distilleries.