Wherever there’s a happening drink scene, be it a new city bar or a hard-to-find distillery in a far flung country, Lanee has a knack for finding them.
Solbeso, which means “sun-kissed” in Spanish, is an exciting new venture in the drink world: it’s the first spirit made from the white, pulpy fruit inside a cacao pod and the first new spirit category (like vodka or rum) to be introduced in more than 200 years! Currently, it’s being produced in Peru and Ecuador.
Since we were in Ecuador about to embark on a cruise with Ecoventura in the Galapagos Islands, we had to check it out while there (okay, Lanee had to and I came along to support my friend’s wanderlush aspirations).
I never know what to expect in these booze outings, other that the fact that I will learn something new and probably taste and smell something that makes me cringe and shutter (I don’t usually drink liquor straight up). On this particular occasion, there was no such cringing, but let’s be honest — distilleries anywhere in the world emit some rather interesting aromas…
During our visit, I learned that heads and tails are not just sides of a coin to flip, and hearts are not just vital organs or part of an artichoke. I wish I could explain this further, but I only got that far because when it comes to adult beverages, all that really matters to me is whether I like the taste.
Turns out I like the smell of the finished product too! I got a good whiff of it all week, in fact, because the booze Lanee brought with her to share with our fellow passengers broke in her luggage (Lanee: bubble wrap and duct tape next time!), drenching her clothes and suitcase, so she smelled like a walking Solbeso scratch and sniff sticker everywhere we went.
But back to the distillery visit. For Lanee, visiting the Solbeso distillery—which turned out to be a palapa-style, homegrown operation in the middle of a cacao farm—was paramount to her tippling-themed travels.
She had already met with Solbeso’s co-founder Tom Higbee in L.A. and written a few stories about Solbeso’s cool environmentally savvy angle. Before Solbeso, the fruit inside the cacao pod was considered a waste product in harvesting the coveted cacao bean for chocolate-making.
Because of the highly acidic content of the fruit—which is mostly disposed into nearby rivers—was actually polluting the water and damaging the environment. Now, they are converting said “trash” into a delicious adult beverage with similar health benefits as chocolate, such as theobromine (the happy-making amino acid) and antioxidants. Now THIS was cool. A spirit that apparently doesn’t give hangovers and delivers a dose of good health AND is basically solving an environmental problem? PERFECT.
Surprisingly, it tasted nothing like chocolate, but rather a mix of citrus, guava, and honeysuckle flavors.
We contacted Fernando Crespo, distiller and owner of El Colibri cacao farm, for a tour. Roughly an hour and a half south from the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador, here are the highlights from the visit with Crespo at the Solbeso distillery:
El Saman Cafe
If you happen to visit the distillery, which is by appointment only, make sure to stop by Crespo’s nearby cafe, El Saman, for one of the best empanadas you’ll ever taste.
At El Saman, Crespo—who we affectionately call “The Cacao King”— sells a variety of his cacao products, like a cacao fruit smoothie and freshly baked yucca rolls slathered in cacao fruit jam. This midday snack will set you back a whopping $1.80.
More about Solbeso
Chocolate’s Boozy Cousin from South America, via SeriousEats.com
Solbeso Smash Cocktail Recipe, via StupidDope.com
Pomegranate Solbeso Martini Recipe, via 3softhemonth.com