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This Master Distiller Invented an Entirely New Type of Liquor

A former banker started from scratch to create what might be Patagonia's first distilled spirit

A former banker started from scratch to create what might be Patagonia's first distilled spirit

In this new weekly series, we take a look at the fascinating lives of people who work in the outdoor world.

What’s the spirit of Patagonia? Most people would answer “adventure.” Sebastian Gomez Camorino hopes that in a few years, people will say “Träkál.” Scotland has whiskey. Mexico has mezcal. Träkál is an entirely new category of spirit that reflects the terroir of Patagonia. The 42-year-old Argentinean spent the past three years perfecting the recipe for what he believes is Patagonia’s first distilled spirit. It will hit Chilean and U.S. markets early this year.

Age: 42
Born In: Santa Fe Province, Argentina
Day Job: Master distiller
Office: Träkál Distillery, Osorno, Chile, where Camorino crafts an 84-proof clear spirit from berries, fruits, and herbs native to Patagonia.
Driver’s Licenses: Argentina, Chile, United States, UK (the last one needs renewing).
Countries Visited: 60-plus, including every country in Central America and the Caribbean, except Cuba.
Distillery Size: 4,000 square meters
Distillery Capacity: 4,200 bottles of booze per week
Träkál Translates To: First warrior into battle.
Träkál in a Nutshell: Sips like a whiskey, mixes like a gin.
Drink of Choice: “Whiskey is the most noble, complex, and amazing thing that has ever been created.”
You’ll Never See Him: Photograph his food.
Bucket List Adventure: Driving the Carretera Austral, Chile’s southern highway.

Finding Your Path: “I was lucky that my parents never told me what to do. They gave me the freedom to fuck up or to succeed. I was always really competitive—captain of the rugby and golf teams, the best academically—so I did what I thought I was supposed to do and went into banking, like my father. I wore a gray pinstripe suit, commuted by black cab, and logged tons of hours in an office. It took me a while to figure out for myself what I really wanted to do. On my 37th birthday, my father asked me what I planned to do with my life, and the answer just came to me. Over the years I’d fallen in love with alcohol and making stuff. I knew I wanted to build a distillery and make booze.” On January 1, 2013, Camorino quit his job to pursue his dream of crafting a spirit that evoked the essence of a place he’d always felt drawn to: Patagonia.

Starting from Scratch: Once he decided on Osorno, Chile, near Patagonia, Camorino says his next decision was to “shut up and learn.” He loved the history of booze, he loved drinking booze, but he had no clue how to make it, especially a brand-new spirit. “Whiskey, gin, and vodka were each invented in a particular space in time,” Camorino says. “The creators weren’t trying to make a new spirit. They were just trying to make the best hooch they could with what was available. That was my only goal: to see what you could make at the end of the earth.” To understand Patagonia’s local ingredients, Camorino spent one year traveling with indigenous Mapuche communities to learn how they used native plants.

Mixology 101: “Creating a new spirit is like a chemistry project. I tested recipes and learned a lot from the local Mapuche people, like what they use for medicine, calories, or preserving foods and flavors. Chile’s harsh climate means that ingredients are highly seasonal, and I needed a year-round supply. Freezing herbs and berries didn’t work. I toyed with vapor infusions, but they didn’t taste right. Native people distilled the herbs and berries to make essential oils. I’d never heard of a spirit made with essential oils, but the flavors stayed true and the oils had a long shelf life.” Camorino eventually nailed down a winning formula for a fruit-and-berry-based clear liquor.

Trakal
(Courtesy of Träkál)

Bingo: Camorino says he knew he had the recipe for Träkál figured out when locals could taste it and recognize the ingredients and when nonnatives simply liked it and couldn’t place the flavors.

The Lure of Patagonia: Camorino jokes that he was conceived on his parents’ honeymoon in Patagonia. “It was always there in my mind,” he says. “Patagonia attracts cool people. This part of the world is still pretty remote and prone to natural disasters. Living here teaches you to be malleable. Disaster strikes and, in this culture, you just get on with it. Unlike my experiences living in cities, I find people are more in tune with nature and each other in places like Patagonia.”

Biggest Misconception: “People think I’m drunk all day long. Yes, I taste, but my concern is quality control."

Expert Opinion: “This summer, my partners and I went on a listening tour across the U.S. seeking feedback from bartenders. I always saw Träkál as a sipping spirit, but the bartenders we met really loved mixing it in cocktails.”

How to Drink Träkál: “I don’t think you should ever tell someone there is a right or wrong way to drink a spirit. There shouldn’t be pressure involved. In the Caribbean, people drink Scotch with coconut water. The Scots would turn over in their grave, but, hey, when you’re sitting under a palm tree, who gives a damn? That said, Träkál does go really well with ginger ale and a slice of orange. But drink it as you please.”

U.S. Debut: “I see Colorado as the kindred sister state to Patagonia. It makes sense to launch there. We’ll be in bars in Denver, but also in all of Colorado’s mountain towns.”

What’s Next: “I want to be the first fully vertically integrated, sustainable distillery in South America. The vision is to own apple and pear orchards and to give the locals we source from a share of the business.”

Filed To: Culture / Best Jobs / Food and Drink / Wine, Beer, and Spirits
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