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From Bread To Spirit

How Puglia’s 2000 year-old Wheat Became Vodka


By LF ITALY

June, 2024



A bottle of Vodka on the table

" We were the first ones to ask why no one had distilled from Altamura wheat before, and we became the pioneers in turning this ancient wheat into a modern-day spirit."


— Frank GrilloManaging Director at Altamura Distilleries



ALTAMURA: The name synonymous with Puglia, bread and wheat, now also resonates with Vodka, thanks to the visionary minds of two Americans who saw beyond bread. In a captivating narrative that combines Old World charm with New World ingenuity, the pioneer story of Altamura Distilleries founders Frank Grillo and Steve Acuna emerges as a boldness to pair curiosity and passion to create a liquid bread. The revelation that two Americans were at the helm of this Italian-inspired venture sent ripples through the spirits industry.


Frank Grillo, a marketing executive originally from  New York, and his friend and business partner Steve Acuna have breathed new life into the time-honored craft of distillation. Against the backdrop of the pandemic, what began as a bold relocation from Atlanta Georgia to Ostuni, Puglia soon evolved into the artful distillation of vodka from Altamura’s revered wheat. “Altamura bread, with its Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status and a history dating back over 2000 years to the time of Horace in 37 BC  means its protected just like champagne is. Its rich heritage and unique flavor profile captivated me,”  said Grillo. “It was during this time that it suddenly occurred to me—why not distill something from this ancient wheat variety to tell the story of Altamura in liquid form?”  And it worked! Altamura wheat possesses qualities that render it especially well-suited for distillation due to its hard semolina composition. The production area’s unique hilly terroir and climatic conditions add a particular aromatic profile to the wheat that is captured in the vodka.


Opting for a distinctive flavor, the vodka is  distilled three times to preserve the wheat’s organoleptic traits, resulting in a 43% ABV vodka rich in bread-like aromas, with umami-like flair. Enhancing the alcohol content from 40% for more pronounced character, the family-sourced 2000-year-old wheat ensures consistency, catering primarily to the discerning bar industry with a team dedicated to exceeding demands.


From the ingredients to the packaging, each element offers a window into Altamura’s storied past. The lion featured on the label serves as Altamura’s emblem, a tribute to King Frederick II who dubbed the city “Lion” for its adept defense against the Bourbons. Today, this iconic feline graces the cellar’s of  the world’s finest cocktail bars all because of the desire to craft vodka from wheat.

Today, Altamura Distilleries is celebrated in Italy and internationally as a fusion of tradition and innovation encapsulated in each meticulously distilled bottle.


Owner Vodka Altamura with Maestro Salvatore  Calabrese
Frank Grillo’s (left) Altamura vodka has resonated with connoisseurs, critics, and the world’s best mixologists, including The Cocktail Maestro, Salvatore Calabrese (right) | Photography by Lateef Okunnu

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