Introducing Gra'it: the first Grappa Created with Cocktails in Mind
Moving the role of grappa from a digestif to a cocktail ingredient might seem strange; after all, grappa has a reputation for possessing a strong, acerbic taste - one that would immediately overpower any other spirits mixed with it. However, a new grappa brand is entering the scene, and it’s working hard to completely overhaul these outdated grappa stereotypes. Enter Gra’it, the brainchild of a partnership between Italian entrepreneur Luca Fabris and the Bonollo family, who have been distilling grappa for over a century. With a mission to preserve the Italian roots of grappa while simultaneously making it more palatable for consumers abroad, Gra’it aims to completely reinvent the conventional notion of what grappa should be, and blaze a new path for adventurous mixologists everywhere.
What sets Gra’it apart from other grappa brands? The answer lies primarily in its method of distillation. The harsh flavor many associate with grappa is a direct result of two factors: outdated distillation methods, and spoiled pomace. Either of these is bad enough on its own, but combine the two, and it’s little wonder the final product comes out tasting like pure ethanol. In contrast, Gra’it implements state of the art distillation practices, using a continuous still for the initial extraction of the pomace, then switching to a discontinuous column still to separate the “heart” (the good part) of the grappa. Of course, good distillation is nothing without good pomace, which is why Gra’it sources the seven best varieties of Italian wine-making grapes to use in their grappa: Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Moscato d’Asti, Corvina, Glera, Aglianico and Nero D’Avola. The pomace from these grapes is distilled into seven different grappe, then blended together and aged for twelve months inside of Slavonian Oak Casks, resulting in a smooth, nuanced, and ultimately flavorful spirit–qualities that make it the perfect grappa for mixing into cocktails.
Breaking free of grappa’s centuries-old association as an aperitif and redefining the spirit as a cocktail component isn’t an easy task, and Gra’it founder Luca Fabris needed to make sure that this new concept gained positive traction in the bartending community to ensure its success. His solution? Creating the Gra’it Challenge, the world’s first bartending challenge featuring grappa as its core component. Beginning with a five-day trek to some of America’s most cocktail-savvy cities (Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Austin, and Chicago), the Gra’it Challenge engaged over 300 bartenders, inviting them to mix cocktails that used Gra’it grappa as a prominent ingredient, eventually selecting 3 finalists from each region to compete in the challenge’s final round in Miami on June 21, 2017.
For the final, a panel consisting of some of the industry’s most well-respected professionals (Cesar Diaz, Julie Reiner, Fabio Raffaelli, Ben Potts and Camper English) evaluated the finalists’ cocktails based on taste, presentation, technique, alchemy, and the cocktail’s overall “wow” factor. Out of the 15 who entered the final round, 7 emerged as winners: Hector Acevedo (Cocktail Cartel, Miami), Meredith Barry (Vol. 39, Chicago), Will Benedetto (Blind Barber, Brooklyn), David Bonatesta (The NoMad Bar, New York), Giorgia Crea (Zucca, Coral Gables), Ms. Franky Marshall (Le Boudoir, New York), and Ryan Wainwright (The Ponte, Los Angeles). On September 27, the winning bartenders will set off on the Gra’it Tour (#graitour), an all-expenses paid 10 day trip around Italy as guests of the Distillerie Bonello Umberto. Starting in Milan, the tour will take the winners to Veneto, Venice, Padova, Tuscany, and Rome, revealing the secrets of Gra’it’s authentic Italian alchemy throughout the journey. To top it all off, the seven bartenders will have the opportunity to show off their skills in a series of guest bartender sessions hosted by some of the best cocktail bars in Italy.
Being the first grappa brand to host a grappa-themed cocktail competition is far from Gra’it grappa’s only accomplishment. Since the brand’s U.S launch in 2016, the spirit has won numerous awards that attest to the quality of its flavor and smoothness: The Double Gold Medal in 2016’s WSWA Blind Tasting, the People’s Choice Award at the WSWA 2016’s Call for Cocktails competition, and World’s Best Grappa Design at the World Drink Awards in 2017. What’s more, Gra’it is popping up on the cocktail menus of prominent cocktail establishments, including 2017 Spirited Award winners Sweet Liberty Drinks & Supply Company in Miami, and Employees Only in New York.
In recent years, bartenders have been continuously experimenting with multiple non-traditional ingredients, thoroughly challenging canonical notions of what belongs in a cocktail. We’ve seen the rise of esoteric liqueurs and savory ingredients, and now it’s time to explore what grappa can offer to the world of mixed drinks. After all, creating cocktails is about experimentation; about playing with flavors and adjusting them until the perfect balance is found. In creating a smoother, more palatable grappa, Gra’it offers bartenders another creative tool, and the opportunity to explore the previously untapped potential of a centuries-old Italian spirit.