This has been a week of firsts for Pisco; and for Dale DeGroff and Tony Abou-Ganim. For the first time ever Tony and Dale collaborated and created a drink.
It is called Alliance, featuring an acholado (blend) of Pisco, Perfect Purée Strawberry Puree, Perfect Purée Lychee Puree, and Champagne Camile Savès champagne. Spritzer-like, in the spirit of Peru’s classic cocktail The Chilcano, it’s the perfect drink for summer or year-round refreshing.
Speaking of year-round … at WWPD? (What Would Pisco Do?) – the Tales of the Cocktail Pisco tasting room imagines how Pisco would sit in your cocktail glass all year long, was hosted by the Trade Commission of Peru in Miami. Tony and Dale hopped behind the bar together, each with their own cocktails. Tony’s is a new creation. Dale’s is the Coctel Algeria; a modern day interpretation of the Coctel Alegria, which was featured prominently on the 1960 cocktail menu at New York’s La Fonda del Sol, which was owned by the famed restaurateur Joe Baum.
Other delicious libations presented included: Jackson Cannon of Boston’s Hawthorne, Eastern Standard and more (representing Pisco Porton), Nathan Dalton of New Orleans (representing BarSol), Megan Deschaine of The MacIntosh in Charleston (representing Cuatro G’s), Lynnette Marrero of Llama Inn in New York and Speed Rack (representing Macchu Pisco), and Aaron Polsky of Los Angeles’s Harvard & Stone (representing Pisco 100).
Check out what legendary bartenders Tony and Dale told Chilled about mixing with Pisco.
Talk to us about your history with mixing with Peruvian Pisco.
When I first started mixing with pisco it was a challenge. I first met Pisco when I was working in the Rainbow Room. Some young pisco women whose fathers were in the business would bring bottles with them and asked me to make them Pisco Sours. There was one Pisco available in this country. In was in the shape of an Incan totem. I was the only one in NYC making Pisco Sours at the time. I know they were big in San Francisco because they always were. It was a novelty. I took advantage of this and sold it to a lot of people. It became very popular in the Rainbow Room. It’s part of the reason I got that award.
Pisco sours caught on with the Associated Press. It wasn’t until I met Diego Loret de Mola, the owner of BarSol Pisco, that he challenged me in Vegas, when we were at the first exhibit of The Museum of the American Cocktail. ‘You’ve only been making Pisco Sours? You should fool around with it.’ Diego said. I came up with some mango-based drinks. Started thinking tropical and came up with Cats Eye (Pisco, orange, mango, and lime juices).
I think the pinnacle was mixing in Lima at Malabar doing a drink for each course. I did Diablo plus kirschwasser. I went to the fruit and vegetable market with the chef from Malabar. We went at 5 AM. It seemed like miles, it was multi -city blocks. We went from one building to another. The vegetable market in Lima – their vegetable garden is the Amazon. So it’s immensely diverse. I ended up changing my menus. I saw things I had no idea existed. It expanded my horizons tremendously.
Even before I got to Lima though, I was looking at what people had done with Pisco. There wasn’t much happening here, but I Googled it internationally. It’s a white spirit, it’s a fruit spirit, and that’s where I wanted to go. It’s from a tropical belt and it made absolute sense to go in that direction.
What should bartenders know about mixing with Peruvian Pisco?
White spirits tend to be easier to mix with than dark spirits. Dark spirits are so idiosyncratic – they have a mind of their own. Pisco is unique because of the yeast and grapes being used. There’s really nothing in the world like it. They don’t have any rainfall and so the yeast grows on the skins and never gets washed off. They have unique yeast cultures on the skin of the grapes that create unique great flavors. I remember asking the chemist – ‘It seems odd to me the most famous and desired pisco is one where you cut short fermentation. How could it could be if you’re not allowing fermentation when their yeasts are formed?’
Are there go-to ingredients that you stick with when mixing with Pisco?
Oh yeah. Citrus is one of the main ones. It loves citrus – lemon orange and lime. They don’t have the same sort of lemons we have here. I found myself mixing with honey and tea and mint, the tropical flavors. Also orange and cinnamon ingredients. Tree fruits are also happy with Pisco. It’s pretty versatile. There’s a lot going on there. Pisco likes melon because it’s so floral.
What’s your favorite Pisco drink and why?
The Chilcano. That was a drink that eluded me until my trip to Peru. It’s hot. And this thing is just delicious. It’s like a Moscow Mule but with so much more complexity. It’s a beautiful way to show off the floral qualities of the Pisco. It’s a simple drink, it uses ingredients that every bar has – choice of ginger ale or ginger beer – and it works with virtually any style. Maybe with a mosto verde I’d use a ginger beer to dry the sweetness. It has a template that can lend itself to some variations – pump up the ginger a bit, or use ginger tea syrup, with the addition of different bitters. For me it’s more of a warm weather drink – fortunately I live in Las Vegas. It’s refreshing and it really does showcase the pisco beautifully. The Moscow Mule is on fire lately. Often you lose the presence of the vodka. You know there’s alcohol there but sometimes it’s really hard to taste it. With the Chilcano it’s a beautiful celebration of the Pisco. My wheelhouse. Keep it simple stupid – try stylistically different ginger beers, Pisco – no shortage of bitters on anyone’s bars these days.
What makes Pisco so perfectly versatile?
It’s a spirit that celebrates the terroir. It’s all grapes and how the master distiller handles them and puts it in the bottles. It really is a gift from God. It hasn’t been manipulated with any additives – not even water, no wood aging. Just a celebration of the grapes grown in the Ica valley and the people who live there. It’s a celebration of the Peruvian culture. That works been done for you, just don’t mess it up.
Bartenders love telling stories to guests, what stories are there to tell about Pisco?
Pisco was a category that really eluded me for the first part of my career. Spending all those years in San Francisco and all the history it has in that city, but it was really never celebrated in the 80s. I really discovered it through Diego right when we opened Bellagio. He sponsored one of our first luncheons. In Las Vegas I put together a Latin Libations menu, it was probably my initiation into Pisco. Even then it wasn’t easy to get information about pisco. If Google was available then, it was in its infancy.
Once introduced to me I fell in love with it. I started to play with it. One thing I loved that Diego said – ‘we can’t build Pisco as one brand we have to build it as a category.’ The passion, love respect and camaraderie of the Pisco producers. It’s all been about culture and community and Peru and celebrating that national spirit. Start with the story of what is Pisco and why is it so special. Not just brands in the drink or on our bar. At times, I will make someone a Pisco Sour with a money back guarantee. Taste goes a long way with the sip of a cocktail.
By Tony Abou-Ganim and Dale DeGroff. Created specially for the Trade Commission of Peru in Miami, July 2017.
- 2 oz. Pisco (Use a Mosto Verde or an Acholado)
- 1/2 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
- 1/2 oz. Ginger Syrup
- 1 oz. Strawberry-Lychee Puree
- 2-3 oz. Brut Champagne
Preparation: In a mixing glass add Pisco, fresh lime juice, ginger syrup and strawberry-lychee puree; shake with ice until well blended. Strain into an ice filled Collins glass and spritz with chilled champagne. Garnish with sliced strawberries and lime slices.