FLORIDA KEYS FRUIT BECOMES A PREMIUM VODKA

Patrick Garvey of Grimal Grove Reserve partners with Mutiny Island Vodka to distill locally grown breadfruit into vodka.

What do you get from a breadfruit once it’s been peeled, sliced, chopped and frozen?

Just ask Patrick Garvey, the head of Grimal Grove Reserve in Big Pine Key. He’ll probably  answer with “Why not vodka?” The eco-agriculturist has spent years trying to put together a way to turn his plentiful breadfruit groves into a product that can be consumed and win greater recognition among the public about the sustainability and viability of the local crop.

Garvey and his team have succeeded in their efforts so far: the Mutiny Island Reserve Vodka brand, currently produced at Chesapeake Bay Distillery in Virginia, is the only spirit made solely from Florida Keys agriculture in partnership with the St. Croix-based liquor company.

“I had been attempting to make a connection with the owner of Mutiny for a while and then, during a trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands several years ago, we struck a deal,” Garvey said. 

So, what exactly is a breadfruit? It’s the edible product encased by a curious-looking dimpled green shell that rises from a cousin of the mulberry tree. Breadfruit also contains a considerable amount of starch. Garvey likened the fruit’s composition to that of a potato — where the perfect backbone of the specialty vodka begins. 

“It spoils quickly and rots so you have to use it after it ripens or it’s done.” The tree, he added, produces 1,000 pounds of breadfruit a year, making it a sustainable and renewable food source. Grimal Grove’s mission began in 2011, when Garvey acquired the land parcel while promoting micro-agriculture in the Keys. “We’re always looking for ways to shore up food security here for  local families and find ways to reduce our delicate ecosystem’s carbon footprint,” he noted last week. 

After Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 decimated much of the trees on the Big Pine Key property and some in the Virgin Islands, wiping them clean of viable crops, the idea of planting breadfruit trees began to germinate.

“We discovered that the breadfruit tree is one of the most resilient trees that can consistently withstand hurricane forces,” Garvey said. 

Even better, the fruit is reportedly a superfood. It can be made into gluten-free flour, chips and pretty much anything. 

So, enter super-premium vodka. The cocktail is super-smooth with 100% neutral spirits. “And it meets our goal of sustainability and the reduction of food waste.” 

After all, Garvey joked, “Vodka doesn’t spoil.”

While producing the alcohol product from the Grimal Grove breadfruit crop has proven successful so far, Garvey’s main focus is to increase America’s awareness of this humble fruit. 

“One breadfruit tree can feed a family of four for a lifetime.”

 The grove’s goal is to completely transition the distillery operations to the Keys by 2024.

Mutiny Bay Vodka is available in select bars, restaurants and liquor stores around Key West.

Amy Patton is a recently transplanted writer from Southampton, New York, where she served for two decades as the culture editor for The Independent weekly in addition to her work as a correspondent for NY Newsday and the Sag Harbor Express. In short, she swapped her snow shovel for a beach chair in Key West.