Distiller Deven Wek’s butterfly pea flower vodka transforms from moody indigo to violet when he adds citrus; he’s hoping to open the distillery for tasting by this summer.
If you hear glasses clinking inside Luna Sea Vodka’s Westside distillery, it’s because the four-year-old spirits company has a lot to celebrate.
Earlier this month, Luna Sea Vodka’s classic vodka received a rare platinum medal at the World Spirits Competition in San Francisco, one of the most influential spirits competitions in the world, after winning double gold three consecutive years in 2020, 2021 and 2022.
While celebrating that accolade, distiller Deven Wek released a new color-changing vodka made with butterfly pea flower that turns from moody indigo to violet when citrus is added. The release took four years to process through the Food and Drug Administration and is the first and only naturally color-changing vodka certified by the FDA on the market in the U.S, Wek says.
The effect is striking. In his distillery in a warehouse off Ingalls Street, I took a seat at the speakeasy-style bar. Under an enormous rendering of his oceanic label, which features a tattooed orca and a pirate ship at sea, Wek muddled several cocktails to showcase the psychedelic transformation. Butterfly pea flower is a natural pH indicator, he explained as he poured the cerulean liquid over ice, and the vodka is dyed with its natural deep blue color. With just a squeeze of lemon and a gentle swirl of the glass, the drink turned lilac. It’s a delightful trick, and one that bartenders will surely want to add to their arsenal. He slid the now-purple drink over the homemade wooden bar for me to taste.
It’s difficult to describe the taste of good vodka, because a great vodka should have no taste at all. Both of Luna Sea’s vodkas are so smooth, there’s no burn at all; it’s almost as if the spirit evaporates on your tongue, leaving behind nothing but freshness. I can sometimes be a wimp when it comes to liquor, and often find a straight glass of vodka too aggressive. With this one, I was totally at ease — and became more relaxed by the minute — while sipping Wek’s vodka over ice with just a hint of lemon.
How does Wek achieve the effect?
He distills his spirit 10 times via gravity through activated carbon, a system he designed and built himself. The process removes any trace of impurities that would add undesirable smells or tastes, he says. The slow process takes a week to filter 100 cases, but Wek believes it’s worth it. Most vodkas, he explains, are never filtered at all.
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These impurities are also the culprit for most hangovers, and Wek boasts that anyone can drink his vodka without regretting it in the morning. He adds that butterfly pea flowers are high in antioxidants and the nutrients are preserved in the ethanol. “So really, this vodka is good for you,” he claims. The cocktail is certainly refreshing, with touches of fresh basil, Japanese cucumber and serrano chili.
Wek self-distributes his vodka; cutting out that middle man has allowed him to keep his prices low. Luna Sea’s clear vodka retails for $10.99 per liter; the new butterfly pea flower vodka is $33 per liter. Keeping his award-winning vodka accessible is important to Wek: “I want people to enjoy it and drink it.”
Wek’s Ukrainian father instilled an appreciation and love of vodka in him from a young age. Ukraine is known as the wheat basket of Europe, and drinking wheat-based vodka is ingrained in the culture. Wek’s father taught him how to properly taste the spirit and how “pure” vodka is made. While vodka is Wek’s first passion, his first foray into spirit making was an eight-year stint in Guatemala and Mexico, where he ran a nightclub and produced an agave spirit. After that experience ended, he decided to finally pursue making vodka, and moved to Santa Cruz four years ago to pursue his dream.
By this summer, Wek hopes to open his Westside distillery for tasting. In the next few weeks, he will add a bathroom compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act and kitchen facilities, where he plans to serve a seafood-focused menu of poke, ceviche and fresh oysters. Not only does freshly caught fish pair well with vodka and match Luna Sea’s oceanic theme, it will give him an opportunity to work with friend and local fisherman Hans Haveman of H&H Fresh Fish.
With all these new changes for Luna Sea, crafting excellent vodka will continue to be the focus. “I don’t have any plans to make any other spirits,” Wek says. “I just want to be the vodka guy.”
Find Luna Sea Vodka at U-Save Liquors, Mission Liquors and Point Market in Santa Cruz and Grady’s Market and Verutti Liquors in Capitola. More information at lunasea.vodka.