There isn’t a lot of ways to re-invent the wheel these days. So when Evan and I heard of a distiller nearby who was using a completely different sort of medium than we had ever heard of, we wanted to know more. So a couple weeks ago Evan and I hopped in the car with our neighbors, and headed north. Our neighbors and new friends, Mark and Kaity, know the distiller, Scott, as a long-time friend and Mark’s university pal. Off we went to Birdview Distillery .
We came for the Cactus Brandy. And we were not disappointed. The flavor is unique. Clean. Refreshing. Honestly, unlike any other spirit I’ve tasted. And there’s a rumor that the fruit he uses has health properties, like reducing hangovers (I’m not kidding! The Mayo Clinic usually knows what they are talking about).
The interesting thing about Scott’s distilling is that he uses Prickly Pear for his mash. To break that down for all of us who are not experts in the distilling world, Vodka is made (usually) from a carbohydrate like grain or a potato. Rum is from sugar cane or molasses and Tequila is made from blue agave. Technically alcohol can be made from anything with some sugar content. Just as long as there is enough sugar in the fruit/grain/legume for the bacteria to consume and produce ethanol which is fermented and then becomes alcohol. Berries and apples, grapes, etc can be used to make something called an eau de vie, or water of life, a French term for a clear, colorless fruit brandy (also made by distilling, but called a brandy due to the fermented fruit, confusing, I know).
Scott believes he is the only one in the world who is making and producing such a product and after a precursory search of the internet, it looks as though he may be right. There are some distillers in Texas and Arizona advertising for Prickly Pear Vodka, but on closer inspection, they are using the cacti paddles rather than the fruit itself.
Scott, who has another full-time job other than that of head distiller, has built his own customized equipment for most of the tasks of prepping the prickly pear for the distilling. After a tour of his facility and equiptment, I believe he may have missed one of his true callings as an engineer. He imagined, created and built a conveyer that roasts the hard skins of the pears.