Their distillery overlooks the Blue Mountains and now a major award win has cemented its place on the world stage.
Karu Distillery in Grose Vale claimed one of the top prizes at the 2023 World Vodka Awards this March when its Morita Chipotle Vodka was named the world's best infused/botanical vodka.
Co-owner Ally Ayres described the win as an "amazing accomplishment" for the team at Karu.
"This award has been on our bucket list of things that we probably thought was unattainable but we still really wanted to win," she said.
In awarding the prize, the international judges described Morita Chipotle Vodka as: "An immediately savoury and distinctive nose - meat sauce, peppers, saline and lemon. An inviting palate of smoky, meaty, vegetal notes and peppery warmth, like drinking an exotic BBQ, where the heat of the spirit works beautifully with the flavour."
The vodka is made from a mix of Meco and Morita chillies, using the same vapour-infused technique Karu has perfected with its popular range of gins. Balancing these chilli notes are coriander seeds, lime zest, agave syrup and crispy green capsicum.
Mrs Ayres said the idea was to "create something modeled after food, in a beverage".
Karu's focus on quality has also been key to Morita's success, with Mrs Ayres spending hours de-seeding chillies by hand so the flavour of the spirit doesn't overwhelm the spice elements.
"It's heat with a purpose, rather than just burning your palette," she said. "We didn't want a gimmicky product and winning this award has proven that."
Not that handling chillies for hours at a time isn't without its challenges.
"Eventually your hands go numb and you can't feel it anymore," said Mrs Ayres.
Along with her husband Nick, the couple started developing Morita at the same time as their now-established Affinity Gin. When the gin's success took off, they put the vodka project on the backburner until they noticed a surprising trend showing up in online hospitality and bar forums: Customers were asking for margaritas made with vodka instead of tequila.
"It was like 'Bingo, we have a gap in the market here'," said Mrs Ayres. "We could have the best middleground where we create something that vodka drinkers feel comfortable with but it's also something tequila drinkers will dabble in and see if they like it or not."
She said the Morita Chipotle Vodka is "insanely versatile", suiting everything from Bloody Marys ("You can amp up the spice content with chipotle tabascos or your choice of hot sauces") to sweeter Margaritas. It also "goes really well" in cocktails like The El Camino and Paloma.
The World Vodka Awards win is the latest in a string of successes for the Hawkesbury distillery - which backs onto The Devils Wilderness in the Blue Mountains National Park - since opening in 2017.
In 2021 they won the coveted accolade of world's best contemporary gin at the International Wines & Spirits Awards for their Lightning Gin and have taken out various other awards.
Karu Distillery is a regular stallholder at Blue Mountains markets including the Blackheath and Springwood Growers Markets and Rotary Glenbrook Markets as well as bottle shops including Leura Cellars. For online sales visit: karudistillery.com.au.
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