James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

A New Spirit Under the Sun in Chile

A New Spirit Under the Sun in Chile

Träkál in Valparaiso

Ever since I moved to Chile nearly three years ago, I’ve been captivated by Patagonia. A rugged wilderness at the end of the world, populated by mountains, glaciers, sheep, and not much else. It’s hard to live there, but people still go: wanderers, missionaries, writers, backpackers, and me.

By the time I returned home to the noisy port city of Valparaiso, a short flight and a world away, I was hooked. So when I heard that someone had created a drink that claimed to capture the spirit of Patagonia, of course I had to try it.

They called it Träkál, a word from the native Mapuche language meaning ‘the first warrior into battle’. It’s made under the shadow of volcanoes in the city of Osorno in northern Patagonia, thrice-distilled from Patagonian apples and pears, and infused with a secret blend of local herbs and berries.

The spirit is so novel that the Chile’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau didn’t know how to classify it. It was neither gin nor whisky, and it wasn’t pisco. You could drink it straight, but it was also an excellent mixer. It looked like gin, but its flavor profile was much broader. So Träkál got its own classification: “spirit distilled from apple and pear with natural flavors.” Bartenders all over Chile were going crazy for it. I had to see what all the fuss was about.

I contacted the master distiller, Sebastian Gomez Camorino, who told me that he had had the idea for Träkál after backpacking through Patagonia with some friends. As luck would have it, a few days later he was hosting a Träkál cocktail tasting at a nearby hotel in Valparaiso, so I agreed to go.

That evening, I climbed the stairs to the hotel’s rooftop bar overlooking the city and bay, shivering in the cold wind. I asked for Sebastian and was directed to a tall, rugged-looking man. I walked over and introduced myself.

“Here, try this.”

He spritzed the inside of my wrist with something from a tiny perfume bottle. I took a whiff. Underneath the sharp scent of alcohol, I detected something else, too—something that smelled like a forest after rain. It was a perfume of Träkál’s scent. “It’s easier to explain the concept when people can smell it,” said Camorino.

He steered me to the bar where I ordered a Patagonico—a Negroni with Träkál. I drank and instantly felt warm. Even through the bittersweet Campari and vermouth, I could taste the Träkál. It was different, but there was something familiar about it. I tried to detect all the flavors I’d picked up in the perfume, but they were elusive, constantly transforming.

Since that first taste, I keep going back. Sometimes by ordering a cocktail at a local bar that’s started stocking Träkál, or at home, where I take it neat. Right now, it’s still only available online and in select bars in Chile—and a handful of bars in Colorado. So if you’re lucky enough to live in Colorado, I highly recommend getting your hands on some.

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