As with the distinct culture of its people, each country has its own “spirit”: If Scotland has Whiskey, Peru Pisco and France Cognac, nothing better tells the story of the Italian distillation of Grappa.
This distillate, obtained from the pomace, that is the grapes emptied after pressing to make wine, was born from a very interesting story, and is heading towards a surprising future thanks to innovation in recent years.
But how did this product, defined by the New York Times as “little more than a pocket form of heating for the farmers of Northern Italy,” become the protagonist of some of the most important cocktail bars in our country and around the world? Let’s rewind and try to reconstruct its history to see its future:
The Birth of Grappa
A legend attributes its birth to a Roman legionary of the 1st century BC, who, returning from Egypt, brought a distillation plant and began the production of a distillate from the pomace of a vineyard he was assigned to in Friuli using the techniques he learned. We do not know if this story is true or not, but it is certain that the tradition of grappa distillation involves all of Northern Italy, with a particular preference for the Triveneto area (Veneto, Trentino and Friuli).
This distillate can be defined as a recycling project and “zero waste” ahead of its time. In fact, every farmer, after having harvested and pressed the grapes to make wine, found himself having to use those berries rich in sugar and flavor, but now empty of their essence.
The first large distillery of which there is a trace is Nardini (still active), in Bassano del Grappa, whose birth in 1779 determined a real revolution and marked the beginning of modern distillation in Italy through the introduction of “steam” distillation method.
Today, however, the world of grappa is looking more and more to the world of Mixology, thanks to a generation of young entrepreneurs and bartenders with an international attitude who are not afraid to overturn tradition. Here are two stories that tell how the past and the future can coexist:
Mauro Uva, The Master of Grappa-Based Cocktails
Born and raised in the Triveneto area, the Gorizia bartender Mauro Uva knew how to absorb the mountains, waters, scents and above all the flavors of these lands in the depths of his soul. In fact, the ingredients that Mauro uses to prepare cocktails are based on real research. Naturalistic, of course, but above all historical.
His project “Graspology, a path of rediscovery of local flavors in the world of bartending” stems from the desire to put the Italian distillate par excellence, namely Grappa, at the center of the glass, given that the grapes of origin of the pomace and the different aging processes change their role and the possible combinations in the glass. But not only that, one of Mauro’s goals is also to rediscover poor ingredients and ancient recipes, leading them to be an active part in extraordinary cocktails.
Before him many have ventured, and many have failed. “Grappa in blending did not work in the past” explains Mauro ”because we tried to cover it, but this is not its soul! I like to say that she is a lady who must be accompanied, not contradicted “
Precisely in order not to betray himself and his territory, Mauro uses homemade preparations for many of his drinks, for whose creation he is inspired by ancient traditional formulas, home remedies and medicinal products used for centuries to cure the most varied ailments in Northern Italy. A demanding job, which requires him to spend the days off the bar in search of raw material in the mountains, a favorite area for finding ingredients that are as available as they are ignored, such as lichens, plants with extraordinary nutritional properties, and antibiotics and antiseptics, widely studied and used in medicine.
But perhaps the greatest gesture of respect for Mrs. Grappa by Uva can be identified in the perfect combination that he created in his Mountain Fashioned, our local version of the Old Fashioned: no sugar like in the classic version, but honey, which maintains all the properties thanks to an ancient medical recipe from the Dolomites which explains how to flavor honey to make it a remedy for flu, cold in order not to affect its natural healing properties.
The Castagner Distillery is located in Visnà di Vazzola, in the province of Treviso, Veneto. Here, in the homeland of Prosecco Roberto Castagner, he started his distillery in 1996, and in a few years it established itself on the market until it reached a turnover of 14 million euros with 35 employees and becoming one of the largest producers with a 12 percent share of all Grappa produced in Italy. The young daughter, Giulia, born in 1985, after graduating in marketing at the Bocconi University in Milan found herself equally passionate about the world of distillation, but with her joining the company she wanted to create something new, unique: Casta, a grappa created especially for mixing. Obtained from pomace of glera (or prosecco) grapes deprived of pips and pedicel, then distilled with a continuous column method.
For its conception Giulia brought together 12 of the best Italian bartenders in a project called “Italian Laboratory”, which thoroughly studied the formula. The result is unique, a versatile and clean product, very pleasant and with an international spirit. Much attention has also been paid to the bottle, which recalls the world of perfumery, while the name is (besides an abbreviation of the family surname) a tribute to the “Casta Diva”, the famous aria from Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma, immortalized in the interpretation by Maria Callas.