I have recently returned from a trip to Bonaire, a small island which is part of the Netherlands Antilles. There are, sadly, no craft brewers on Bonaire but we did manage to visit the one and only craft distillery, Cadushy. Named after the kadushi cactus, the Cadushy Distillery actually uses cactus in several of its products. It also managed to do a thriving business with the sale of close to 10,000 bottles last year.
Basically – in a nutshell – they chop down the branches of a mature cactus, leaving some on the ground in order to inspire regrowth. The spines are carefully removed (for obvious reasons) and the branches are peeled. The inside of the peel is what is used to create alcohol – the fleshy part of the cactus is fed to the goats and donkeys which are a constant presence in Bonaire – the outside of the peel is discarded.
Apparently, and I am a bit skeptical, they place the inside peel on roasting pans and leave it on the dashboard of a car for two days in order to dehydrate the peel. From there, the dried cactus is added to an alcohol that is created from a local form of sorghum. The recipe for the Cadushy of Bonaire liqueur, in the green bottle below, calls for the dried cactus to soak in the alcohol for 6 months. Lime peel, which helps to create the distinctive colour and taste, are added for a period of 1 month.
A liqueur has been created for each island that makes up the Netherland Antilles. There is Cadushy of Bonaire, the Spices of Saba, the Gold of Statia… each contains elements that are supposedly native or typical to the islands. Seeing as how Bonaire is the only island I’ve visited, it’s hard to determine if the liqueur matches each one or not.
There are also the Spirits of Bonaire – Rum Rincon, named after the original capital of Bonaire; Cadushy Vodka which is “the only vodka in the world made from cactus”; and Captain Don’s Whiskey, a spiced whiskey named after the man who started the development of the Bonaire dive industry in the 1960’s.
After the brief description of the distillation process, we had a chance to taste our way (for free) through the entire product line. I love not being charged a tasting fee, but at the same time I feel pressured to buy in order to make up for it. To describe these products is a challenge – many of the liqueurs were infused with traditional spices, some of which I was completely unfamiliar with. I’ve never heard of something called soursop, I’m not familiar with the traditional taste of yerba mate and I don’t think I’ve ever experienced the taste of calbas. The colours of the liquers, as shown above, were all bright, candied and completely natural. No artificial dyes were added and the colours apparently originate from the extraction of whatever fruits, spices or random items are added to the liqueur (seriously, what’s a calbas?)!
The spirits were more traditional, which was a huge benefit as my tasting notes for the liqueurs included such gems as “orange popsicle” and “completely indescribable in traditional tasting language” and “red freezie”. The Rum Rincon is a spiced rum that was mildly sweet, with a twist – wild basil was added to the spices. The Captain Don Whiskey was a light gold colour with smoky notes, a smooth taste and a great mouthfeel. The Cadushy Vodka was mild, smooth and easy drinking. I actually really liked this vodka and considered buying a bottle, but I didn’t want to pull the trigger. I also had trouble understanding the creation process – was it made entirely from cactus? It was described as the world’s only vodka made from cactus, but I didn’t get a straight answer on whether they had managed to extract enough sugar using the entire cactus to distill it or whether there was also the presence of sorghum.
Also, not to be difficult, but there is a distillery in Texas that makes vodka from prickly pear cacti.
The bottles of liqueur each sold for USD 25 while the spirits sold for USD 35. Eric, the owner, mentioned that an importing agent in Toronto had contacted him regarding the Cadushy Vodka but that the retail price on shelves would have to be over $100 so that he could make an acceptable profit after the expenses and the Ontario government’s share.
The Cadushy Distillery was a worthwhile way to spend an afternoon on land but I would have appreciated a bit more information regarding the distillation process. There was ample seating, tons of places to relax in the shade or the sun, but I was craving more details. The bartenders told us that they do a thriving business on days when the cruise ships are in town and I suspect that the presentation is well rehearsed and quick in order to get the visitors sampling and buying. Rum balls, ice cream and cocktails were all on offer for those who wanted a bit more than the small samples offered by the distillery. Not a drinker? There was Cadushy Tea, made from powdered and dried cactus, and Cadushy Soup mix.
I didn’t feel the need to sip on a cocktail, but I did buy a bottle of the Cadushy of Bonaire liqueur… mostly to offer to people to see if they want to a try some liquid cactus!