South America’s Potent White Spirit
As with many spirits, Pisco’s origins date back to European colonization of the new world. In the 1500s, Spaniards brought grapes to South America. Both Peru and Chile started tending vineyards. Today, both Peru and Chile claim to have invented Pisco, which is essentially a clear, un-aged grape “brandy” (true brandy must be aged in wood). Pisco distillers and lovers argue that the spirit is its own distinct category.
Rather than starting a turf war, let’s quickly look at the differences between Peruvian and Chilean Pisco. In Peru, one can distill Pisco from one or a blend of eight specific grapes in stainless steel and glass with no wood aging. Chilean Pisco can choose multiple distillations (Peru only allows one), focusing primarily on the Moscatel grape. Each grape varietal imparts a distinct flavor, thus giving each Pisco its own style and flavor profile. Single grape Pisco is known as Puro Pisco. Acholado uses two or more grapes with the Quebranta grape generally taking the lead.
A brand of Pisco we recommend is Pisco 100. It is made from the must of Quebranta, Torontel, and Italia grapes, of which, eighteen pounds go into every liter. The grapes are crushed not by machine but the old-fashioned way – trod upon. This step keeps bitter tannins from entering the juice, and earns Pisco 100 the seal of Hecho a Mano (Made by Hand). Pisco 100’s distiller and owner, Guillermo Ferreyros, is involved in every step of production.
“I visit the vineyards, know the farmers, and choose the grapes,” he says. “We don’t cut corners. My grapes are processed as soon as they get to the distillery, even if it’s three in the morning.”
Pisco 100 was the first pisco to be bottled in vintages. Its non-vintage pisco has been in the U.S. since 2008.
The most famous Pisco cocktail is a Pisco Sour, which demonstrates its versatility and its ability to stand in for other spirits. Give it a try for National Pisco Day (February 7) or any day you want a taste beyond the ordinary tipple.
PISCO 100 Pisco Sour
- 2 oz. PISCO 100 Perfectly Peruvian
- 1 oz. Fresh Lime Juice*
- 1 oz. Simple Syrup*
- 1/2 to 1 oz. Egg Whites (Pasteurized egg whites are available in most supermarkets in Pint or quart sizes
- 1 Drop of Angostura Bitters
Preparation: In shaker with 5 large ice cubes (not crushed ice), combine liquids adding egg white last. Do not add the bitters to the mix. Shake vigorously for 10 – 20 seconds and immediately Strain into 6 oz rocks’ glass (be careful not to allow any ice to pour into the cocktail). Too much Ice is the enemy of a great Pisco 100 Sour … it will melt and dilute the cocktail. Garnish with a single bullet of Angostura Bitters in the middle (the one drop of bitters is for garnish only, do not stir into the Pisco Sour or you will affect the taste).
*To best match the taste of Peruvian limes (which are not available today in the U.S.) use limes from Mexico or Florida key limes when possible. Or you can use ½ lemon juice, and ½ Persian lime juice to replicate the taste of Peruvian lime juice.
PISCO 100 Piscojito (Mojito)
The Mojito perfecto, a refreshing twist
- 2 oz. PISCO 100 Perfectly Peruvian
- 1 oz. Simple Syrup
- 1 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
- 6 to 8 Fresh Mint Leaves
- 3 oz. Club Soda
Preparation: In a shaker, muddle Mint Leaves with Simple Syrup, Lime Juice and PISCO 100. Dispense into a tall Collins glass with ice cubes and top with Club Soda. Combine mixture by lightly stirring or pouring contents back and forth into a shaker or other container (Don’t shake it or it will explode!). Garnish with mint leaf or lime wedge and serve.
- 2 oz. PISCO 100
- 1 oz. Grand Marnier
- 1/2 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
- 1/2 oz. Cranberry Juice
Preparation: In Shaker with ice cubes add all ingredients. Shake and Strain into martini glass. Garnish with Lemon peel.
Courtesy of Evan Zimmerman, Magnolia House, Pasadena, CA
- 1 1/2 oz Macchu Pisco
- 3/4 oz. Giffard Pamplemousse
- 3/4 oz. Lemon Juice
- 1/2 oz. Cinnamon Syrup
Preparation: Shaken and served up and chilled.
Courtesy of Alex Straus, Bon Vivants Sergeant at Arms, Bartender/Grandpa Johnson’s, Los Angeles
- 2 oz. Campo de Encanto ‘Grand and Noble’ Pisco
- 1 oz.Llillet Blanc
- 2 dashes Miracle Mile Orange Bitters
- Lemon Peel, for Garnish
Preparation: Stir in a mixing glass filled with ice until well chilled. Strain into a Nick and Nora glass.
Serve it neat!
Premium piscos like PISCO 100 are made for sipping at room temperature in a whiskey glass or brandy snifter.
Take your time. “First, inhale the fruit,” says Pisco 100’s Mr. Ferreyros. “Your first sip will warm you like cognac. Then you taste the pisco like wine, sensing the grape.” This Peruvian sophisticate goes on, “It’s delicious, but subtle, without the overwhelming taste of tequila. You can even drink it with your dinner, like wine.”