Cultures central to the deserts of Mexico and the United States’ Southwest have eaten the young, tender paddles of the prickly pear cactus for thousands of years. Grocers sell the flora under the names tuna and nopales. In present-day San Antonio, Texas, two master distillers reap a different benefit from the same cactus. They produce a unique vodka using a prickly pear base. It’s appropriately named Spike.
If you’re wondering how a spirit made from Texan cactus can be called vodka, it’s because the definition of vodka is pretty broad. Any neutral spirit (between 40 and 95 percent alcohol by volume) that lacks “distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color” can be called vodka. In fact, most vodka isn’t made from potato, as one might believe. And though Spike touts itself as a neutral spirit, tasters say the finished product is smooth and sweet, with notes of pepper, vanilla, almond, and a spicy kick that emanates a cactus aroma.
The two-person team behind Spike handles each bottle from start to finish, including harvesting and packaging. After using machetes to cut cactus paddles from ranches around San Antonio, they ferment the thorny chunks of flesh in drums for about six weeks. When the liquid contains about 14 percent alcohol, they drain and distill it. After a single run through the still, the liquid contains about 90 percent alcohol, which is then diluted to 40 percent and filtered before bottling. Because of the operation’s scale, Spike is produced in small batches and currently only sold in Texas.
Where to Try It
Artisan on Alamo Distillery Website315 8th St, San Antonio, Texas, 78215, United States
The home of Spike, this distillery's tasting room offers a variety of cocktails made with the prickly pear vodka.