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SB meets… Frank Grillo, Altamura Distilleries

We met the co‐founder of Italy’s Altamura Vodka just six months ago, but a lot has happened since then. With a gin and a whisky on the way too, we caught up with Frank Grillo again to discover the latest from the brand.

Altamura co-founder Frank Grillo
Frank Grillo, co-founder of Altamura Distilleries

How have things been going since we last spoke?

In a lot of ways, 2023 was our first real year. I mean, 2022 was a partial year, and we launched the brand then, but we didn’t really get going/start selling anything until that September/October. Last year went really well though, and we’ve focused on introducing our product to the best bars and mixologists in the world.

Our initial focus has been Italy, and we’ve collaborated with cool venues like the St Regis Hotel in Venice and the Four Seasons in Florence. We really began our expansion in the late second half of 2023 – we’ve launched in the UK, the US, and Spain, and we’re adding countries in Europe; France, Poland, Albania, and Austria.

We’ve also entered Australia. We’ve collaborated with the Maybe Sammy team in Sydney, and will use their Sammy Fest (a big event in April) to properly launch there. We’ve got Salvatore [Calabrese] and Federico [Pavan] from Donovan Bar in London coming over. Salvatore has become a little bit like our launch machine, in a way. He also helped us launch in India at Sidecar. We’re also doing an event in Mexico City, at Hanky Panky, in April. Then there are one or two countries in South America, there’s South Africa, we’ve got Asia with Japan. Global expansion, definitely, is key.

What challenges have you faced since the initial launch?

I always say the easiest thing we do is make vodka – putting it in boxes and shipping is a royal pain. Everyone’s got different rules on bottling, labelling, and customs. The customs process and all of that has been a whirlwind to learn as we’ve expanded.

How is the new gin coming along?

We haven’t started the gin yet, but it’s in the pipeline. The vodka has taken off so much, and that’s really been all‐consuming for us. We produced a neutral grain spirit from our wheat, intended to make it into a gin, but we had to divert it to vodka because suddenly we were producing more of that than we planned. But we want to produce the gin in smaller quantities. It’s very classic like a London Dry, but we thought that using the same mouthfeel that wheat gives the vodka would be very interesting. It’s smooth, with a bit of an umami finish. We will get to the gin before the end of the year. We’ve had to ramp up the vodka production, and it would have been a distraction to get the gin going.

When can we expect the whisky?

This one is a bit of a passion project. We’re going to follow the standard of a Bourbon. Obviously, we can’t call it a Bourbon because it’s not made in the US, but it will stylistically be a wheated Bourbon. So 51% corn, 49% Altamura wheat. We want to express the wheat in every way we can. Given how creamy and smooth the wheat is, when you use it in a Bourbon, it’s going to be very easy to drink.

Ideally, we get the first production of the whisky in this year. That way we can get it in a cask, and as the EU maturing time is a minimum of three years, it’s probably then four years before we release it. It can be a little younger, as a wheated Bourbon doesn’t need as much of the impact from the wood as something that’s got a lot of rye in it. There’s oak in the north of Italy, and I would love to rack those here in Altamura. We’ve identified a farmhouse we can lease and put the barrels there.

How are you positioning Altamura’s brand image in the vodka market?

We’re positioning the product against Grey Goose and Belvedere – that’s our competition, and where we want to be. They’re really great products, ultra‐clean and pure, but we just have a different take on vodka than they do. There’s room for both. We’re trying to represent the terroir of Altamura in the bottle.

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