The island of Gran Canaria manufactures a vodka that could give a Russian a national identity crisis. Imagine if it turned out that the world’s best serrano ham was produced in Alaska: there would be quite a few patriotic heart attacks all over Spain. Yet something similar has happened with the vodka produced by the Banús brothers in the Gran Canaria town of Ingenio: a drink more commonly associated with the country of the Volga and the Urals is made with the greatest purity on a subtropical archipelago off the coast of Africa.
The vodka is called Blat and is famous for what it does not have: “0.0 % impurities”. It is unique in the world and perhaps for this reason has its place on the back bars of Manhattan and, so it is said, in the drinks cabinets of stars such as Demi Moore and Russell Crowe. Unfortunately we cannot reveal the secrets of its preparation since they are, well, secret. The men behind the drink, the brothers Esteban and Fernando Banús, took almost a decade to create it, and the company protocols guaranteeing confidentiality are more reminiscent of those of the KGB than of a distillery.
“It is not just a marketing story, they really do keep the formula under lock and key. The idea is that it will be passed from generation to generation,” explains Kilian Betancor, Blat’s communications manager. The crucial part of the process is carried out only by the two brothers: “They do it in person and on their own, in the evening or at night when the factory is closed and nobody else is around. That is how it is done, and I suppose it will always be like that,” says Betancor.
Their magic recipe is the fulfilment of a dream, a dream that every drinker ever to have suffered a sore head has had once in a while: “If you go out and have this vodka without mixing it with other drinks, we guarantee you won’t get a handover,” says Betancor confidently. So, what about that purity? “When a vodka is distilled, you get good alcohols, which are apt for human consumption, and bad ones. All drinks have impurities; you won’t find an alcoholic drink, apart from ours, that has all of them removed.” Yet the Banús brothers have managed it. This has made Blat the perfect tipple for cocktails. According to Betancor, it does not overpower the fruit flavours of mixers but rather accentuates them.
This crystal-clear vodka has been invented by a family that practically has alcohol in its veins: it been distilling for three generations. Firstly, they made alcohol for perfumes; then, later on, for popular liqueurs; and finally for their own drink brands.
The vodka’s main market is the United States. Russia was considered to be a difficult market to crack, partly because many families there make their own using home-grown vegetables. So the Banús’s designated target was North America. Before this, they wanted to create a bottle worthy of such a special drink. “The design process took years. In the end it was created by designers from the Hugo Boss brand. The idea with the bottle, which won an international prize, was that it reflect the drink’s purity and be related to vodka’s origins. The bottom part is similar to the classic tumbler used in Poland and Russia to drink vodka, and the glass is unbreakable.”
The bottle has been one reason for its success. Certainly its expansion on the New York scene, as Betancor reports, has had nothing to do with marketing actions, and no campaign was necessary to introduce the Canarian vodka into the drinking habits of many, and the home bars of the rich and famous. “Actually we didn’t do anything. It has all happened by word of mouth.”
Poland is in competition with Russia for the claim to be the country where vodka (a word which, in Polish, means “little water”) was born, yet they have swallowed their national pride and have begun buying Blat. Little by little, the Canarian heat is making its way to Siberia.