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Why this Italian vodka is on its way to India

Puglia-based vodka brand Altamura Distilleries has set its sights on the Indian market, with managing director Frank Grillo seeing an opportunity for the Italian spirit in India’s “emerging” cocktail culture.

“India represents a dynamic and fast growing market for us. The growing appreciation for mixology, premium cocktails, and Italian products make it ideal for our vodka,” Grillo shared with the drinks business.

Altamura Vodka, which takes its name from the Altamura wheat it is made from, will be distributed in India by Amistad Spirits Pvt Ltd. Grillo revealed that he chose to work with the company due to its “focus on premium spirits and the burgeoning world of mixology in India”, and also due to a “shared vision for the growth potential of the Indian market for fine spirits”. The spirit is already available in the US, UK, Italy, Albania, Austria, Spain, Poland (where it is contract distilled at present) and South Africa.

Amistad Spirits’ operations regarding Altamura will be mainly focused in Northern Indian, initially in Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, distribution will be expanded to cover Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa, Punjab, Chandigarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Jammu & Kashmir by the end of the first fiscal quarter of 2024.

According to a report from 30BestBarsIndia in collaboration with Bangalore-based PR firm The Outlier, the top vodka brand in the country last year was Grey Goose. Given that both Grey Goose and Altamura are higher end, European vodkas made from wheat, it seems logical that there could be an opportunity for the latter given the success of the former.

A further incentive to bring the vodka to India has come in the form of its growing mixology scene, according to Grillo: “A cocktail culture has been emerging in India for some time and mixology is rising to meet the demand. The appreciation for premium spirits, innovative cocktails, and the overall experience of evening out enjoying creative and engaging experiences is driving the mixology craft in India to higher levels every day.”

The launch event for Altamura in India was held at Sidecar in New Delhi, with The Donovan Bar’s Salvatore Calabrese jetting in from London to create cocktails for the occasion.

“Our vodka is ideal for the growing group of consumers who are enjoying the creative flavour profiles of cocktails created by Indian mixologists,” Grillo added. “Just like the most talented chefs have been doing for years, talented mixologists across India are crafted cocktails with balances of flavours across salty, sweet, citrus, and, spicy; served in cocktail glasses designed to enhance the visual appeal of the drink even before you taste it. Our vodka was conceived with this in mind and we are delighted to have it included as a key ingredient in some of the best cocktails being served today.”

Grillo (right) brings a bit of Italy to India.

One selling point of Altamura Vodka has been that, given it is made from the same wheat used to make Pane di Altamura, the only PDO-certified bread in the world, it is a good pairing match with a number of Italian dishes, as well as more classic vodka cocktail pairings like a Martini with oysters.

Asked about pairing the vodka with Indian cuisine, Grillo said that, like Italy, India is a country with food at the heart of its culture: “We think our vodka with its smoothness and unique umami profile can be paired ideally with all foods. It lends itself to the creation of both savoury and sweet cocktail profiles that can be well paired with dishes. The creamy texture of the vodka is also ideal to help cool your palate after a bite of spicier foods.”

Grillo often uses the Italian term ‘morbida’ to describe the spirit’s almost dairy-like smoothness.

Vodka isn’t the necessarily first spirit one thinks of when thinking of the Indian market – whisk(e)y has long been the nation’s preferred tipple, with French drinks giant Pernod Ricard seeking to further capitalise on this by pushing premium single malt Scotch.

When the drinks business met Grillo in Puglia last summer, he revealed the distillery’s plans to launch a wheated ‘Bourbon’ and a wheated rye whiskey. It would certainly seem to be a timely move to branch out into whiskies while making headway in the Indian market, but though Grillo shared that there are “definite plans” to expand the Altamura brand to whiskey and even gin, these won’t be arriving in bars in India or Italy anytime soon: “We are seeing rapid expansion of demand for our vodka at present, so we will likely delay the introduction of additional spirits for 12-24 months.”

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