Kástra Elión vodka is distilled with an attention to quality, Greek culture, and, notably, Nafpaktos olives. Premium grains and hand-picked olives combine in copper stills, where they’re distilled, before the final spirit is proofed down using mineral-rich spring water.
Born in Greece and holding a background in beverage development, Frank Mihalopoulos is the founder of the brand, which claims to be “original premium sipping vodka distilled from Greek olives.” Mihalopoulos also holds an educational background in chemistry from Northern Illinois University and previously worked in product development at Baskin Robbins. In 1993, he received the Product of the Year Award from the ice cream chain for his creation of the Cappuccino Blast.
The proposal for Kástra Elión, however, was influenced by Mihalopoulos’s son-in-law, Mike Camello. Alongside childhood friend Brandon Cohen, Camello first approached Mihalopoulos with the idea for an innovative vodka brand. Mihalopoulos considers it a family affair, as his son George also assists in cultivating the brand.
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In the same way that Kástra Elión aims to deliver a unique sipping experience, Mihalopoulos’s perspectives on distilling are equally distinctive. He shared his approach to uncommon vodka, as well as the personal significance of olives and the Nafpaktos region, in a recent interview with VinePair.
1. What’s the most important element of Kástra Elión?
Our olives are the most important element of Kástra Elión. Our liquid has a unique mouthfeel, smoothness, and overall complexity, making it enjoyable on the rocks and it can be considered a sipping vodka. In the category, there are very few, if any vodkas, that can deliver this.
2. Do you feel that working with family has brought you closer?
This is definitely true with Mike [Camello]. I’ve gotten to know and appreciate his creative spirit and leadership qualities. I also consider Brandon [Cohen] to be a part of my family. So, when you say family and Kástra Elión, Brandon is right there. As for my son George, I have always been close with him. I am elated that I have the opportunity to pass on the knowledge I have gained over the years. That is one of the most rewarding parts of this Kástra Elión journey.
3. What’s the significance of olives from the Nafpaktos region?
All the olives we source are from the Nafpaktos region, which is where I was born and grew up in the early part of my life. My father helped build the round iron boat anchor rings at the Nafpaktos port and he introduced me to the very olives we use today for Kástra Elión. I grew up eating these olives, and I’m an expert in their use. I’ve also done extensive work on olives and I’m an olive oil producer as well. Given that it is an important part of Greece’s culture and its traditions, and I have such a personal connection to this region and its olives, that’s how the idea was born.
4. When selecting premium grains for each batch, what types of aromas and taste do you value?
To make a premium vodka you would need a premium mash. In our case, we use premium grains. What I look for is a sweet alcohol smell. As for taste, it is basically neutral. The key here is no undesirable notes — especially on the aftertaste. I basically look for a clean ethanol taste. In our case, the inclusion of the proprietary olive blend has this unique synergistic effect, which enhances the mouthfeel and texture, while mitigating the grain-ethanol burn, resulting in a smooth aftertaste.
5. Which part of Kástra Elión fills you with the most pride? What do you see as the future of the brand?
The fact that we have been able to create a product that captures the essence of Greece, both its natural beauty and cultural heritage, fills me with a great deal of pride. This, from the get go, has been a team effort. As a scientist, I also find it rewarding that my original hypothesis and subsequent experimentation with the use of the particular olives paid off. This is evident and obviously satisfying when I do tastings with consumers. We are currently in the bench development phase with a number of derivative products. So as to future products… just stay tuned!