Mutiny Island Vodka has the Taste of the Tropics
Todd Manley had been thinking about creating a liquor with the taste of the islands, a vodka that would pay tribute to his island home. A decade after the idea came to him, he launched Mutiny Island Vodka, made with local breadfruit instead of the traditional potatoes or grain.
“A lot of folks think the goal was to set out to make vodka and sell liquor – kind of,” said Manley, an award-winning chef and owner of 40 Strand Eatery. “There’s more to it than that. This is an opportunity for me to give back to my adopted island home of St. Croix.”
Manley premiered his “best batch” of Mutiny Island Vodka in 2017 and four restaurants in downtown Christiansted are serving up cocktails made with the concoction.
Manley, who came to the islands in 2010 from Richmond, Virginia, said he got the idea 11 years ago, when he explored the idea of distilling vodka using guinea grass he saw growing along Northside Road. The abundance of the grass made it seem like a great idea for making vodka, he said, but it didn’t pan out. The grass idea went by the wayside, while the idea for distilling vodka remained. Instead, he turned to a another crop that grows in the tropics all around the world.
“I love breadfruit and the many ways it can be cooked,” said Manley. He learned the Tahitian name for breadfruit – Ulu – means potato. Armed with the knowledge that vodka is derived from potato, Manley began his quest to utilize the “island potato” as the main ingredient in his island vodka.
Through trial and error, Manley developed his “best batch” of island vodka in 2017.
“The process of converting starches into sugars is the same in the potato as it is in the breadfruit,” Manley said. However, the breadfruit contains about 70 percent more starch than potatoes, so there is a higher yield of sugars to ferment with the breadfruit, he said.
“Island vodka and vodka are different. Not that one is better than the other. With island vodka, you can taste citrus and green banana as you experience its silky smoothness. You don’t get that with other vodkas,” Manley said.
Shortly after he perfected his island vodka, Manley was working at a charity event with his friend, chef Sam Choy, and the two sat down for Choy’s first taste. Choy was so impressed, he counseled Manley to keep it a secret while they did more work. The two began to research everything they could get their hands on about breadfruit at the University of Hawaii.
“Breadfruit does so many things in agriculture,” Manley said. “It produces more food per acre than any other agricultural product. Flour can be made from breadfruit, which is nutritious and gluten-free. Anything made with regular flour – like pasta – can be made with breadfruit flour.”
Another property of the plant is that it’s a natural insect repellent. Tomatoes, zucchini and other crops can be planted between breadfruit trees and the crops will be protected. The male flower of the breadfruit is 100 times more powerful than Deet in repelling the mosquito, Manley said.
Manley and Choy are looking to further develop the crop in the territory.
“We are actively seeking grants from USDA, but have not completed all of the processes. We would like to expand the use of breadfruit beyond island vodka,” he said. “There is so much more about breadfruit that excites me besides Mutiny Island Vodka.”
Manley said Hawaii will host a breadfruit seminar in October and Virgin Islands Commissioner of Agriculture Carlos Robles plans to attend.
Choy hopes that St. Croix and American Samoa can become the American suppliers of breadfruit flour.
“Our product would employ many workers and bring attention to our island, thus boosting our economy,” Manley said.
Manley partnered with double gold medal winning distiller Chris Richeson, owner of Chesapeake Bay Distillery LLC in Norfolk, Virginia, to perfect ad produce Mutiny Island Vodka. While the vodka is a tribute to the islands, it is currently being distilled in in Virginia and shipped to St. Croix because they don’t have the distilling infrastructure to keep up with the demand, he said. But that may soon change.
“We are pushing to have a new distillery on St. Croix by October of this year.”
Meanwhile, local restaurants and taverns are catching on.
Europeans first discovered breadfruit growing in the South Pacific in the 18th century. The English saw it as a potential staple food crop for their colonies in the Caribbean. Captain William Bligh was on a mission to bring home breadfruit trees. That voyage, aboard HMS Bounty, was interrupted by the famous mutiny, which became immportalized in the book and movie versions of “Mutiny on the Bounty.” Bligh’s collected trees were thrown overboard by the mutineers.
“This explains my use of the word Mutiny,” Manley said.
The Four Spirits of St.Croix
The original spirit of St. Croix! The Cruzan Rum distillery was founded here on St. Croix in 1760 and is still located on the grounds of the historic sugar plantation Estate Diamond. Talk about history, the Cruzan Rum distillery has been run by the Nelthropp family through eight generations – since the early 1800s. Stop by Cruzan Rum to take a guided tour of the distillery, stroll the historical grounds, stop at the Visitors’ Pavilion to sample the rums, and peruse the gift shop. Or, try a Cruzan Rum cocktail (like the Cruzan Confusion) at any of our local bars and restaurants.
Originally distilled on Jamaica, then moved to Puerto Rico in the 1950s, Captain Morgan was acquired by Diageo in 2001 and a new state-of-the-art distillery was built and operating on St. Croix by 2012. The Captain Morgan Visitor Center now offers a one hour multi-sensory tour of ‘the Captain Morgan experience’, finishing up in the Tasting Tavern where you can try the rums and shop in their retail store. You can also find Captain Morgan served at most bars and restaurants across the island, so feel free to order that Captain and Coke.
Leatherback Brewing Company
Newly established in 2017, Leatherback Brewing Company brews several styles of beer, some featuring local and seasonal ingredients. Their beer is canned and kegged on site, and visitors can tour the facility and learn about the brewing process. Then, of course, there’s the tasting room – featuring an indoor and outdoor bar with a family friendly atmosphere. You can also find Leatherback beer on tap at dozens of restaurants and bars across St. Croix, or pick up a six pack at one of the local stores.
Mutiny Island Vodka
The newest spirit conceived on St. Croix, Mutiny Island Vodka, is the world’s first breadfruit based vodka. Award-winning chef Todd Manley found breadfruit to be a true representation of his adopted home of St. Croix. Versatile and rich in history, breadfruit’s legacy began in Tahiti, then had a role in the most famous Mutiny in history, and ultimately fed the populations of the Caribbean. Todd is currently working with Double Gold Medal-winning distiller Chris Richeson to distill the precious breadfruit and water ingredients into this luxurious island vodka. Try it today at 40 Strand Eatery, Club Comanche RAW, Toast Diner and The Mill Boardwalk Bar and Brick Oven Pizza. Or, buy a bottle exclusively at Tropical Bracelet Factory.
Mutiny Island Vodka – World First And St. Croix Native
- Staying Afloat
Walking around downtown Christiansted is a visually intriguing experience. The abandoned buildings seem to alternate with the renovated ones giving it a very eclectic vibe. There’s overgrown rubble, like something out of an apocalyptic movie on one corner, opposite a freshly painted, modernized spa or eatery. This trend continues through the streets as your feet transition from old, dilapidated sidewalk to Mediterranean inspired tiles. As we make our way down Strand Street, which could classify as an alley, there are more overgrown structures lining the road leading up to the address we are seeking. 40 Strand Street. Our motivation? Mutiny Island Vodka! The world’s first, breadfruit derived spirit.
40 Strand Street, Christiansted is home to 40 Strand Eatery, a small restaurant with only a handful of tables and a few seats at the bar. As we enter the weathered brick building through heavy wood doors, the wait staff is preparing the restaurant for dinner. The building is said to have been the old island ice house, built by the Danes in the 19th century and used to store ice that was delivered to the island. To the far left, a suspended brown paper roll serves as the nightly specials board, where one of the staff is writing down tonight’s offerings. To the right, another weathered brick wall displays a framed, aged menu from a restaurant that was located on this site decades ago. It’s a very intimate space, perfect for a quiet lunch or dinner. They are also rumoured to have one of the best brunches around.
We were slated to meet with Todd Manley (chef, restaurateur, “2015 St. Croix Business Man of the Year” and Mutiny Island Vodka co-founder) but he was held up by a 40,000lbs breadfruit delivery that had arrived, at Mutiny’s soon to be island distillery, earlier in the day. Formerly from Virginia, Todd moved to St.Croix and has become one of the popular faces of the food and beverage industry on the island. Instead, but not regrettably, we are introduced to Brant Pell (culinary expert, restaurateur, “2015 St. Croix Business Man of the Year” and Mutiny Island Vodka share holder) and a bottle of Mutiny Island Vodka. Brant greets us warmly and offers us a seat at the bar where Carson Delledonne, 40 Strand’s own craft cocktail wizard is already mixing us a Mutiny concoction. The clear spirit is distilled from breadfruit using the vodka distillation process. However, because it is not derived from grains or potatoes, Mutiny is branded as ‘Island Vodka’. We start off by sampling the Island Vodka straight. The clear, breadfruit spirit has a very characteristic aroma and presents unique tropical notes on the palate. It is slightly sweet upfront with a clean finish, and quite enjoyable on its own. Stop!!…
What is breadfruit?
OK. Let’s take a step back here. What is breadfruit? Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) is a small melon-sized, gluten free, staple starch in the Caribbean and has been for hundreds of years. Originally from the South Pacific, this relative to the mulberry and jackfruit was introduced to the Caribbean by European settlers back in the 18th century. The tree was an instant hit for its productivity, developing over 200 fruit in a season! The trees can grow up to about 26 meters (85 feet), are extremely low maintenance, and can be easily propagated via root cuttings. They say the sound it makes when it falls off the tree tells you how ripe it is, which will dictate the preparation process. At one stage in its ripeness, it produces a ‘fresh bread’ like flavour, hence its name. It can be cooked in its main form or ground down to produce flour.
So as a spirit, what exactly does breadfruit pair with? “It goes well with anything that grows next to it!” says Brant. “Mangoes, pineapples, papaya, guava,” he continued. It’s evident in talking to Brant that he is very passionate about Mutiny. He explained that the Mutiny team has been traveling the world over the last year, introducing people around the globe to this unique new spirit. They recently returned from a trip to Hawaii and the Global Breadfruit Summit where it won the award for innovation. Just prior to that they were in Europe for Bar Convent Berlin. By the sounds of it, this 80 proof spirit is quickly becoming a new favourite on an international scale!
We start to discuss the versatility of Mutiny and its “swiss army knife” character as a spirit, easily supplemented for vodka, rum, tequila and even gin, in various cocktail recipes. Carson prepares us a couple cocktail including the Blood Moon and an Island Mule, but our favourite was definitely the My Old Thai [see Drinks].
As a bartender in his late 20s, Carson prefers a more traditional style of cocktail crafting. You don’t need to watch Carson for long to see he’s spent time learning from some of the best bartenders in the industry. It’s obvious in the confidence he exudes behind the bar. We sat there watching him prepare various other beverages for patrons. Of course, he works with more than just Mutiny, though he swears it’s his favourite spirit to work with.
Mutiny is currently being distilled at a facility in Virginia Beach (post coming soon!) until they get everything in order to move the distillery to its true home on St. Croix. The distillery is being built on an old dairy farm and is scheduled to open in 2019. Until then, you can sample Mutiny at one of several locations (40 Strand, The Mill, and RAW) where one of the bartenders is sure to wow you with a Mutiny-based cocktail. They also regularly host tastings at random locations on island, be it the Plaza Extra West or a local culinary event. You can even pick up a bottle at Plaza Extra West on island; a 750 mL bottle of Mutiny Island Vodka retails at $25 USD. The excellent news is that it should be available to the rest of us mainlanders in ABC stores across Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina in the coming months. So if you’re interested, be sure to follow us on Instagram (and Mutiny vodka of course) to stay up to date on when it will be available in the mid-Atlantic. We can’t WAIT for it to be available locally as it will be one of our private bar staples and go to host gift for any get togethers.
Demand for new breadfruit vodka bodes well for UH’s Pacific Regional Breadfruit Initiative
A priority of the University of Hawai'i’s Pacific Business Center Program (PCBP) is expanding awareness of the economic and health benefits of breadfruit. The center’s Pacific Regional Breadfruit Initiative, to advance the processing, refinement and export of ?ulu (breadfruit), won a top award from the University Economic Development Association in 2014.
PCBP Director Failautusi Avegalio says he was thrilled when a chef from the Virgin Islands recently presented him with a new breadfruit product, a vodka named Mutiny. According to Avegalio, demand for the nascent liquor along the U.S. eastern seaboard is up to 70,000 bottles. He says new dehydration technology in American Samoa is also consistently producing quality breadfruit flour, which is gluten-free and has a low glycemic index.
“Commercialization of ulu on an industrial scale for export has not occurred anywhere in the world yet,” said Avegalio. “With collaborative opportunities to build upon between the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa, which will expand to the greater Caribbean and Pacific, regional to global industries are only a matter of time and investment.”
Breadfruit fuels econ development
Chef Todd Manley, a former Virginia chef and now restaurateur in St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands, recently visited Hawaii and was hosted by the Pacific Business Center Program (PBCP) on his way to and from American Samoa. Chef Manley, who imports breadfruit flour from various international locations, has declared ulu flour produced by Rep. Su’a Alex Jennings of Swains Island the best he has ever worked with and wants more. A whole lot more; 250,000 lbs. by the end of the year.
Carlos Robles, Commissioner of Agriculture for the US Virgin Islands, initiated the contact with the PBCP Breadfruit Initiative team through the US Department of Interior, Office of Insular Affairs in 2015. The team visited and conducted workshops in the Virgin Islands that summer creating the bridge between the Caribbean and Pacific utilized by Chef Todd. Rep. Jennings’ dehydrator was a key component of the PBCP research and development funded by the US Department of the Interior, Office of Insular Affairs.
Breadfruit Products & US Market Access
Chef Manley gifted the PBCP’s Director, Papalii Dr. Tusi, a breadfruit product (a vodka named Mutiny), which was distilled in Virginia Beach by Chesapeake Bay Distillery. According to the owner of the distillery, Chris Richeson, the vodka received rave reviews during sample testing. Both understood the potential of the high quality and exotic appeal of the spirit to penetrate the US market, which knows little or nothing about breadfruit. A priority of PBCP is expanding the awareness of breadfruit not only as being gluten-free, but also having a low glycemic index. This makes it a compelling natural food solution to fight diabetes and obesity, the number one cause of death in the Pacific and regions of the world dependent on imported processed foods. Slowing down and stopping childhood diabetes is a passion of Papalii Dr. Tusi.
The Breadfruit Vodka test rave has already generated an astonishing demand for 70,000 bottles and only awaits approval for labeling before being bottled and sold. The spiraling interest in breadfruit vodka will enable other breadfruit products to gain market access to the US consumer through the restaurant network Chef Todd is actively engaged with along the eastern seaboard and U.S. Gulf States. Breadfruit products affect health, diet, sustainability, food security, disaster preparedness and its by products include an organic pesticide more potent then Deet, latex products and termite resistant wood, among others.
Discussions with national food distributors and logistics companies have already been initiated with interested supporters over the years that included officials from CH Robinson and C & E, Farms Inc., both multi-national food distribution and logistics companies located in California.
Breadfruit Industry Technologies
Commercialization of ulu on an industrial scale for export has not occurred anywhere in the world, yet. With collaborative opportunities to build upon between the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa, which can expand to the greater Caribbean and Pacific, regional to global industries could be only a matter of time and investment.
Essential to any industry development and commercialization process in the islands is a holistic waste management system. A system that can be retrofitted into a freight container for deployment by sea, land and air to remote islands, isolated coastal communities and rural areas. Such a system is especially effective for disaster recovery situations where centralized systems have been destroyed. Towards that end, PBCP is also promoting the use of an award-winning system of waste management invented by UH graduate Michael Lurvey, as part of an integrated system with Rep. Jennings breadfruit dehydrator (also in a retrofitted freight container).
Rep. Jennings took up the challenge of producing marketable, quality breadfruit flour in 2015. Bank of Hawaii recognized the potential of his work and initiated support with its local community development program that supplemented his personal efforts in his progress towards the drying challenge and solution. The UH Breadfruit Initiative engaged both the food engineering and the milling and flour making expertise of Kansas State University (KSU) with product development from both KSU and the UH College of Tropical Agriculture & Human Resources. Such institutional based research and development expertise provided technical assistance and support for Jennings, whose creative genius and persistence has successfully produced a dehydration technology that consistently produces quality breadfruit flour.
“What Representative Jennings has done is demonstrate how investing in local capacity has enabled a US Territory to utilize a local agricultural resource, weave local traditional wisdom, knowledge and expertise with modern science and technology, and produce products through processes from ground to table that create local employment opportunities for a sustainable community-based economy where everyone benefits,” commented Dr. Tusi Avegalio. “Even more compelling is engaging in collaborative efforts with Chef Todd in the Caribbean who, likewise, is of the same mind set. It’s those types of synergies and boldness to move forward in spite of naysayers, that change the world.”
Key Technical Members of the Breadfruit Initiative
Dr. Diane Ragone—Distinguished Professor and Titular Head of the Pacific Regional Breadfruit Initiative and the Director of the Breadfruit Institute (BI) of the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Kauai. Her vision to promote and share the gifts of the breadfruit to feed the hungry and raise the common good for humanity is the driving force behind global initiatives that are inspired by that purpose.
Dr. Fadi Aramouni—Professor of Food Science, Animal Science and Industry, Kansas State University. He specializes in Food science, technology engineering and product development. His expertise is R&D of food products, food processing, principles of and advance application of HACCP.
Craig Elevitch—Agroforestry scientist and Director, Permanent Agriculture Resources and Agroforestry Net, Inc., Hawai’i. Agroforestry, project planning and implementation. Global expert highly published and international authority on Pacific Island agroforestry, particularly systems including the breadfruit tree. Director Elevitch and Kalani Souza are the breadfruit agroforestry and training experts for the Pacific Regional Breadfruit Initiative.
Dr. Sela Panapasa—Research Scientist at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. Her work includes research on family support and intergenerational exchanges, population dynamics, racial/ethnic disparities and population-based survey research on Pacific Peoples and Health. Dr. Panapasa is from the island of Rotuma, Fiji,
Dr. Susan Murch—Professor of Chemistry and Earth & Environmental Sciences at the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences, University of British Columbia Okanagan, Canada. Dr. Susan Murch at the University of British Columbia Okanagan has developed a novel, commercially viable method of mass propagation for breadfruit.
Dr. Jeff Gwirtz—International milling and flour expert and consultant for cost effective milling and grain processing with extensive knowledge of the industry and technical aspects of flour making. His company, JAG Services, Inc., currently has developed breadfruit milling and flour-making expertise with breadfruit from active fieldwork in Hawaii and the Samoa’s. Dr. Gwirtz is also an adjunct professor for Kansas State University Department of Grain Science and Industry.