SB meets… Enrique Mesa León, The Inca Distillery

19th October, 2017 by Michael J Ritchie

SB talks to Enrique Mesa León, commercial manager of The Inca Distillery in Peru, about his company’s Amazonian gin, and commitment to using local ingredients.

Enrique Mesa León (left) pictured with Eric Röthig, founder and general manager of the distillery

Tell me about the history of your distillery.

Towards the end of 2012, Eric Röthig, our founder and GM, moved from Spain to Peru. He was immediately mesmerised by our vast and rich vegetal biodiversity and thought about the possibility of distilling a spirit with unique aromas, flavours and botanicals never before used to produce a gin.

After several months of developing the product, The Inca Distillery started production in 2014, and in 2016 we exported for the first time to Europe, being already present in more than 14 countries.

We use a German custom-made, steam heated, cooper column still (CARL) that we named “Cooper”, which took more than six months to be manufactured, delivered and finally assembled in Lima. This is actually the most advanced piece of distilling machinery in Peru [and] allows us to produce within the highest quality and purity standards. Our actual production capacity on normal conditions is around 120,000 bottles per year which can go up to 150,000.

What inspired you to launch The Inca Distillery?

There were two main factors that led the launching of TID: opportunity and differentiation.

The local spirits market was (and still is) very young and underdeveloped, with basically no quality Peruvian top-shelf spirits produced, no small-batch urban distilleries of any kind, and no premium gin distilled within Latin America at that point. The opportunity was there and we had to go for it.

Producing a gin with character and personality, distilled with unique, exotic and mostly unknown botanicals that had never before been used for that purpose was also tempting, and for sure is what finally gave our products a truly unique value proposition within the global spirits market.

What challenges did you face in opening?

Launching the business was a difficult and expensive process. For a start, all the distilling equipment for implementing a top-notch distillery had to be imported. This, added to the huge local logistic costs, taxes and duties, put us at a huge disadvantage cost-wise compared to other regions.

Another big challenge we had to overcome was that juniper imports to Peru were literally non-existent, so there was a long and complicated process to achieve the creation of a tariff heading for it to be legally allowed to be imported into Peru, making us the first local juniper importers.

Finally, local permits, sanitary, tributary and legal requirements are unbelievably complicated and we still struggle with them on a daily basis.

What products do you offer?

We have two main products classified as ‘new western distilled gins’. The first is Gin’ca, a fresh and citric gin with a touch of herbal perfume and slightly spicy notes, distilled with 10 Andean botanicals. The second is Amazonian Gin Company, a dry, citric and fruity gin distilled with eight exotic Amazonian botanicals. There´s a third product in our portfolio, which is only produced upon request: Gin’ca Berries Edition, which is distilled with raspberries, blackberries and blueberries.

We also produce our own brand of tonic water, La Condesa de Chinchon, in line with our philosophy, as quinine is originally from the Peruvian-Andean region.

Special requests have been accepted a few times as well. Recently, Hilton Hotels ordered a special batch for its VIP customers and two local bars asked us for a bespoke production which we discussed, worked on and distilled together.

You use a huge number of botanicals in your spirits, including rosemary, black pepper, juniper berries, Amazonian cinnamon, verbena, sweet lemon, Amazonian nut, cape gooseberry and tangelo. How important is the use of local ingredients to your spirits?

It is paramount! Our mission is to produce top-notch quality products with a unique value proposition that differentiate us from the other hundreds of types of gins that are out there. We want to reflect Peru’s heritage in our products, and that’s why, besides looking for the best quality in ingredients, these must be 100% local. The exception is juniper, which comes mainly from the northern hemisphere. This is also the reason why we were the first ones worldwide to use extra neutral sugar cane alcohol for distilling, given that sugar cane is commonly found throughout Peru.

Besides being local, our ingredients are 100% natural and manually processed. We only use fresh fruits and botanicals with no artificial flavouring or sweeteners added, bought from small-batch producers, who deliver them straight from their orchards to our distillery. We are very strict with the quality of our supplies and getting the right suppliers is not an easy task. We have had to “educate” most of them in order to have them fulfill our requests in matters of quality and timing. All these producers from the Andes and the Amazon provide us with unique products that are the “soul” of our gins.

Are you working on any new innovations at the moment?

We actually are. By constantly experimenting, we sometimes get terrible results, but other times, we come up with excellent products, such as the Gin´ca Berries Edition. We don’t accept the status quo so we are always looking one step ahead and trying to innovate, not only with new products but in terms of making ourselves better all the time to fulfil our current and potential customer’s demands.

Do you plan to offer other spirits as well as gin?

Right now we are distilling 100% pure fruit alcohol, made out of local exotic fruits like Amazonian oranges, Peruvian apples, custard apple (a kind of soursop), and camu camu, among others with really excellent results. They might become a very exclusive new product line in our portfolio. Always maintaining, of course, our core values of superior quality and locally inspired.

Are there any particular markets you are looking to move into?

We are aiming for the big markets where a super-premium gin has possibilities of finding a space. We are now in 14 countries and plan to develop as much as we can in those. We have an important presence in Spain, Germany, France, Switzerland and Austria, among others, and we are about to enter Scandinavia, the United States, Mexico, Singapore, the Middle East, and the UK.

What is the next step for The Inca Distillery? What are your plans for the future?

We have very aggressive milestones for next year. We plan to double production capacity to up to 250,000 bottles by closing deals on new markets and boosting sales within existing ones, as well as giving “Cooper” a twin brother.

New product launches are also in the pipeline – we want to expand our portfolio without losing focus on quality.

Locally, we have done excellently, but still have work to do to increase demand and brand awareness. Last year, Gin´ca was named Best Peruvian Spirit among 33 other brands and is the 5th most consumed gin locally, but we are confident there´s still a lot of room for improvement.

Finally, we now consider that it is a proper time to present our gins to international contests and plan to “decorate” our bottles with some awards by 2018!

What’s your top tip for serving your gins?

Both Gin’ca and AGC are at their best in a classic G&T, recommended to be served in a 1:4 proportion of gin and tonic water, garnished with any lime or sweet lime peel. Both gins are very versatile and work just fine in any classic cocktail.

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