Makabuka: First Puerto Rican Vodka

Melissa Cruz Ríos (El Vocero) reports on Makabuka, the first Puerto Rican grain vodka. Makabuka is a Taíno word for insouciance or the state of being carefree. The vodka is the brain child of Coamo, Puerto Rico brothers Edgardo and Héctor Vitali.

Makabuka is the first grain vodka of Puerto Rican origin. It is an artisan product devised by Coamo brothers Edgardo and Héctor Vitali, whose formula was created by microbiologist Fernando Álvarez, also a resident of the Villa de San Blas de Illescas.

The name Makabuka is a Taíno word whose meaning translates to unconcern [insouciance or the state of being carefree] which represents, for the entrepreneurs, an invitation to enjoy the drink without inhibitions. Likewise, the brand is identified with a Taíno coquí and other elements that evoke indigenous roots to give a sense of belonging in the market.

Edgardo explained that due to a delay caused by the covid-19 pandemic, they had to resort to distilling the product in the United States, while the permitting process on the island is completed and the still is transported, which will allow them to produce the vodka completely in Puerto Rico. “It is currently being distilled in the state of Indiana. We estimate that in one year we will be able to do it completely here [on the island]. For now, the product reaches Puerto Rico at 192 proof degrees and here we lower it to 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof proof), which is what a vodka requires,” said the businessman, who has just started in the industry of spirits. Meanwhile, the packaging and labeling process is carried out manually at their facilities in Coamo.

Edgardo said that the idea to begin producing this liquor arose after the passage of Hurricane María in 2017, due to the lack of water. “My brother—who has experience in production and with die-making—and I decided to buy a filling machine to bottle water. When we evaluated the costs and competition at the local level, we gave up. Later, I asked a friend with experience in making alcoholic beverages for guidance on how to make rum. He told me that it was easier to make vodka, and from then on we started to work on the permits to start the project,” he said.

Then, after several years of research and efforts, last October, the Vitali brothers launched the product that today produces about 2,200 bottles per month, and is available in supermarkets in Coamo and Aibonito, as well as in food and drink establishments in the center and south of the Island.

Edgardo indicated that his vodka is “very smooth on the palate and versatile,” so it blends perfectly in traditional cocktails. He recommends taking it with tropical and natural juices such as orange, pink grapefruit, soursop, and acerola, although he stressed that passionfruit is still the quintessential accompaniment for many people.

Translated by Ivette Romero. For original article (in Spanish), see https://www.elvocero.com/actualidad/de-coamo-el-primer-vodka-boricua/article_db68ffea-7e92-11eb-97ac-7f33b127c067.html

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