Solbeso: A New Spirit from the Tropics
Introducing a new brand and new category of distilled spirit
Solbeso (derived from the Spanish for Sun and Kiss; “Kiss of the Sun”) is the first premium, distilled spirit made from cacao fruit. At 80 proof, this product has created a new category that is currently considered by the TTB as a Distilled Spirits Specialty. But it’s way more than that.
Imagine this: You’re in Peru visiting farms growing cacao on behalf of a chocolate venture. You discover that after the cacao pods are harvested, the beans are collected but the pulpy, tasty cacao fruit is thrown away. They tell you that the fruit oxidizes very quickly and soon starts to ferment so nothing is done with it. For most of us, that’s the end of the conversation.
Not for Thomas Higbee and Thomas Aabo, the founders of Solbeso. If Whiskey comes from grain, vodka from grain or potatoes, tequila from agave and cachaça from cane – why not create a new category from cacao fruit. Which is exactly what they did.
The aromatic fruit comes from family farms and co-ops throughout Latin America where cacao production has been going on for centuries. In fact, up until the arrival of Europeans, the people of Mesoamerica fermented the fruit into a low proof mead-like beverage. (In case you don’t know, tequila’s origin is pulque, which comes from an agave plant with a similar history among Mesoamericans.)
The Thomas’s decided to ferment and distill the “delicate, citrusy sweet pulp” into a spirit. By the way, the fruit bears no resemblance to the dark and bitter cacao bean, which is used to produce chocolate. Solbeso has no chocolate taste whatsoever.
So, what does it taste like?
I like it a lot. It’s a very unique taste that I enjoyed on the rocks with a lemon twist. To me, it has a slight citrus taste with an ever so slight aroma of chocolate. Definitely more complex, with a soft finish as compared to vodka consumed the same way. Unlike vodka, which is masked by the flavors you mix it with, Solbeso “plays well with others” and enhances the cocktail ingredients. You know it’s there but it doesn’t overpower the drink like tequila, cachaça or pisco .
Where does it come from?
Here’s the part I love. Similar to grapes, cacao fruit is influenced by terroir and as a result, it can come from a variety or areas in the tropics (between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn) but currently from farms in Peru and Ecuador. Like grapes, it can come from other areas that meet the terroir requirements. In addition, they use a specialized strain of yeast that ensures consistency from region to region.
What about cocktails?
Thomas Higbee talks about the versatility of the taste and I’ve mentioned its enhancement to cocktails. Believe it or not, it makes a great Manhattan – they call it El Conquistador – made with sweet vermouth and bitters. (A Manhattan from a white spirit? What is this world coming to?)
The most interesting drink is the Picante No. 2 made with muddled jalapeño and fresh lemon juice. (See Recipe)
Where to find it?
Solbeso sells for $40 for a 750ml bottle. It’s available at select retailers, restaurants and bars throughout NYC and Miami. You can find locations on their website. While distribution is limited, I think it will grow over time. The brand — as the saying goes — has legs (longevity).
What’s the outlook?
From what I can see, the Thomas’s have the knowledge, horsepower and entrepreneurial drive to make Solbeso a huge success. After all, those consumers who love to discover new products don’t often get to see a new category being created.
At the same time, their biggest challenge might be what category is it in – Distilled Spirits Specialty (TTB), New World Spirits (the name of their company) or something else — DrinkUpNY referred to it as Cacao Spirit.
I don’t think it matters. Consumers drink brands not categories.