Around this time of year, I find myself gravitating toward a certain variety of spirits, mainly the clear ones. Gins, vodkas, and rums really call to me in this warm weather, begging me to mix up ice-cold pitchers of gin and tonics, Moscow mules, and daiquiris. Not surprisingly, those all look perfect perched on the armrest of my lawn chair. Another spirit that always makes its way into my warm-weather repertoire is pisco; a spirit that comes predominantly from Peru and Chile, made from the juice of fermented grapes. This South American brandy is the main ingredient in the incredibly delicious Pisco Sour, a cocktail that is delectable anytime of year, but is most enjoyable during the dog days of summer.
Like whiskies and Scotches, pisco acts a sort of umbrella term for a variety of different expressions. The first, Pisco Puro, is made from black, non-aromatic grapes. The second, Pisco Aromatico, is made from one of four fruitier and more aromatic varieties; muscatel, italia, albilla, and torontel. Pisco Acholado is made from non-aromatic grapes and one variety of aromatic. Finally, Pisco Mosto Verde, is made from partially fermented grapes. The first two, puro and aromatico, are the varieties most commonly used in the Pisco Sour.
Note: Peruvian and Chilean piscos, while similar in production, are not entirely interchangeable when it comes to cocktails. The Chilean variety is slightly sweeter and a lower proof, so if you decide to use one over the other, you may need to adjust the ingredient amounts accordingly.
Read on for some of our favorite pisco cocktail recipes, using a variety of piscos that make each drink truly delicious. Have any favorite pisco cocktails to share? Let us know about them in the comments section. Cheers!
Click here for pisco cocktail recipes.
— Sara Kay, The Spir.it
All About Pisco - Recipes
PiscoLogía is crafted at a distillery in Azpitia, located in the Mala River Valley, in the Denomination of Origin of Lima. Azpitia is a hidden gem, a lush valley among the sparse, arid hills near Lima. The Mala River provides our grapes fresh runoff from the Andes, whose foothills dramatically loom over and protect our vineyards.
Brimming with vines and small farms, this abundant microclimate affords our vineyards a unique terroir unseen in other pisco regions of Peru.
Our entire production takes place at our distiller’s estate, from cultivation and harvest of every grape to bottling for export. Nati is adamant during each step of production, and her techniques are strongly rooted in the pisco-making traditions of Peru.
Our harvest typically begins the first week in March. After collection, the grapes are crushed twice, first by foot and then mechanically, to ensure the release of all of the sugary juice from the skins. In a well below the press, ambient yeast mixes with the fresh grape juice. Once the natural fermentation has begun, the must is transferred to fermentation tanks, where the yeast works its magic.
After fermentation, the wine is transferred to our 300-liter copper still. We employ a calientavino (heating device), which is heated by the vapors from the still. At this point, the wine is boiled and the vapors containing alcohol are condensed by cold temperature and become liquid (pisco). By taste and with careful measurements, we dispose of the impurities, with the goal of keeping our overall measurements at or near 42%.
All About Peruvian Pisco (And a Recipe!)
We’re loving pisco lately here at the Tin Lizzie Lounge. If you haven’t heard of it, pisco is a grape brandy from Peru or Chile, developed by Spanish settlers in the 16 th century to provide an alternative to the Spanish-imported pomace brandy orujo. We have Peruvian pisco here at the Lounge for your enjoyment: Pisco Portón.
Distilled in the Andes mountains, Pisco Portón “personifies adventure in the form of the world’s ultra-premium white spirit.” Peruvian pisco is distilled in copper pot stills, much like single malt Scotch whiskies. In Peru, the first Saturday of February is “Pisco Sour Day” – coming up on February 1 st !
While we’re on the subject, the Pisco Sour is an authentic South American cocktail. It came from Lima, Peru and was actually invented by an American bartender named Victor Vaughen Morris, in the early 1920s. The Pisco Sour we drink today was adjusted from Morris’ original recipe by one of his bartenders at Morris’ Bar in Lima, Mario Bruiget, who added bitters and egg whites to the recipe.
The Pisco Sour is the national drink of both Chile and Peru, and the two countries have a standing debate about who was the originator of both the spirit and the classic Pisco Sour cocktail. Chileans claim that the drink was concocted by an English ship steward by the name of Elliot Stubb in 1872 (so, earlier than Mr. Morris in Lima) in Iquique – which was then a Peruvian port city, but is now part of Chile. The drink’s heritage is not the only thing at stake in this debate: it’s mostly the argument over whom has the exclusive right to produce and market Pisco.
And now… The true Pisco Sour recipe:
In a martini shaker, fill halfway with ice. Pour in 2 ounces of pisco, 1 oz. of lime juice, 1 oz. of simple syrup and 1 oz. of egg whites. Shake hard and strain into a glass. Garnish with just a touch of bitters.
You can enjoy the classic Pisco Sour here at the Lounge anytime, or make it yourself at home for a refreshing, delicious cocktail. And don’t miss out on some fun, Pisco themed happenings at our Uptown lounge! We recently had a Pisco night at the Tin Lizzie Lounge, and people seemed to really enjoy it, so it’ll probably be back again soon!
Add the pisco, simple syrup, lime juice, and egg white to a cocktail shaker.
Add ice to fill, and shake vigorously. Alternatively, you can use a blender if you don't have a shaker.
Strain into an old-fashioned glass and sprinkle the bitters on top of the foam. Serve immediately and enjoy.
Raw Egg Warning
Consuming raw and lightly cooked eggs poses a risk for foodborne illness.
To get the most authentic version of this classic Peruvian cocktail, be sure to heed the following tips:
- Since this is a Peruvian-style pisco sour, pisco from Peru is preferred. Pisco puro is the traditional choice (made using only the Quebranta grape), but pisco acholado (a mixture of different grape varieties) will also work nicely. Pisco can be found in liquor stores across the U.S. and ordered online.
- Very tart lime juice is essential. Many recipes call for lemon juice, possibly a translation error from the Spanish word limon. Limones are actually small South American limes, similar to key limes (also known as "Peruvian lemons").
- The skin of limes has a lot of essential oils that can be a tad too bitter and sour when squeezing the lime, be sure to keep the flesh side facing down so the juice doesn't run over the lime peel. Avoid dropping the lime in as garnish as it will also tamper with the taste.
- Keep the simple syrup really simple. You can use any recipe for simple syrup you want, but the easiest and yummiest option is to do a basic 1:1 ratio of white sugar to water.
- If possible, use a real egg white. You can always use pasteurized liquid egg whites from a container, but the texture is not quite the same and can affect the look and taste of an authentic pisco sour.
- Shake your cocktail well so that when you pour it into an old-fashioned glass, you get a nice 1/2-inch layer of foam on top.
- In Peru, Amargo Chuncho Bitters are preferred. Its international availability is increasing, though Angostura Aromatic Bitters has long been the recommended substitute.
Is the Pisco Sour Safe to Drink?
It is safe for most people to drink a pisco sour, though any drink that includes raw eggs poses the risk of salmonella. Always take steps to make egg cocktails safely: Only use fresh, refrigerated eggs and be careful that the egg white does not touch the outer shell. You can also wait a little longer to take that first sip: A Brazilian study that intentionally inoculated a pisco sour with the bacteria found it safe to drink nine minutes after making the drink.
Who Created the Pisco Sour?
The pisco sour's exact history is disputed both Chile and Peru lay claims to this famous cocktail's creation. However, the generally accepted story is that it was created sometime between 1915 and 1925. This account gives credit to bartender Victor Morris, an American bartender who was working in Lima, Peru at the time. It is a classically-styled sour drink, likely influenced by cocktails such as the whiskey sour.
As the pisco sour gained worldwide attention, bartenders developed variations and explored techniques for mixing up this cocktail:
- If you find that the shaken cocktail isn't producing the desired thickness of the foam, try the dry shake method: Shake the ingredients thoroughly without ice first, then fill the shaker with ice and shake very hard for at least 30 seconds before straining.
- Lemon juice often replaces the key lime juice. Some drinkers prefer the switch in citrus while others find it a better match for certain types of pisco.
- Don't stress if you don't have bitters on hand, you can do without. Instead, you can try a sprinkle of grated cinnamon or nutmeg on top of the foam.
- Tropical fruits make an excellent addition to the pisco sour. For instance, a mango pisco sour is a blended variation with frozen mango, and the maracuyá sour adds passion fruit juice.
How Strong Is a Pisco Sour?
Peruvian pisco can range from 38 to 48 percent ABV and is the only alcohol in a pisco sour. Thanks to the mixers and a generous shake with ice, the cocktail is relatively light. When made with a 40 percent ABV (or 80 proof) pisco is used, this recipe will yield a cocktail with about 11 percent ABV, similar to a glass of red wine.
Cocktail Science: All About Foams
The head on a pour of Guinness, the crema of a perfectly pulled espresso shot, the froth from a malted milkshake. Creamy, bubbly, and aromatic, each of these naturally-occurring foams adds an extra dimension of texture to drinks.
Today, we'll look at some traditional and not-so-traditional techniques for making and perfecting foams for cocktails.
What Is A Foam?
All foams are a subcategory of dispersions. In chemistry, a dispersion is the evenly-spread mix of one material into another. When a solid is dispersed into a liquid (like coffee grounds in hot water), it's called a suspension. When a liquid is dispersed into a liquid (like oil in a vinaigrette) it's called an emulsion. And when a gas is dispersed into a liquid, it's called a foam.
If you've ever made mayonnaise or vinaigrette, you may know that naturally-occurring emulsifiers in egg yolks and mustard help to hold the oil and water portions of these recipes together.
Today, we're looking specifically at foams. In foams, surfactants reduce the surface tension of a liquid, which in turn affects the amount of pressure that can build up in bubbles before they pop. And when bubbles don't pop, a foam forms.
Tweaking foam texture
A foam on top of cocktail is like any other garnish. Not all drinks need the same garnish, and some require none at all. Likewise, some drinks need a thick, heavy foam while others benefit most from no more than a slight froth.
All foams are composed of two distinct parts: a dispersed phase (the bubbles) and a continuous phase (the liquid.) Tweaking the characteristics of either of these two phases changes mouthfeel.
The mouthfeel of a foam is most directly affected by two variables: viscosity and creaminess.
- Creaminess is defined by the particle size of the dispersed phase of a foam. The human tongue can distinguish particles larger than about 30 microns in size.* That means that if all the bubbles in a foam are smaller than 30 microns, the tongue will perceive a perfectly creamy foam, while anything larger than 30 microns can be perceived as more grainy or bubbly.
- Viscosity is a property of liquids and is defined by the force it takes to move a solid through the liquid. Think of molasses or maple tree sap as examples of viscous liquids. The overall viscosity of a foam is affected both by particle size and the viscosity of the continuous phase (that is, the liquid). Thicker liquids make thicker foams.
Of course, real foams made by cooks and bartenders are rarely ideal. For example, fruit juices and purees are suspensions, and egg yolks are emulsions, which means that the texture of foams made with these ingredients will depend not only on bubble size and viscosity, but also on the particle size of suspended solids and the interactions between oil and water.
Suffice it to say, there are a fair few ways to make foams. Here, I'll cover the easiest and most useful techniques I know of.
*1 micron = 1/1000th of a millimeter. The diameter of a human hair is between 17 and 180 microns.
Egg Foams: Simple, easy, and good for most situations.
For a simple cocktail that really benefits from the addition of an egg white, look no further than the classic Pisco Sour. Without the egg white, the Pisco Sour is exactly what it sounds like—a tart, lemony drink reminiscent of a daiquiri. With egg white, though, the drink transforms into a creamy decadence. Plus, the thick foam keeps the Angostura garnish from bittering the rest of the drink, and enhances the drink's aroma.
- To use egg whites in a pisco sour, first shake all ingredients without ice in a cocktail shaker. Shaking the egg white while warm helps build the foam. Then add ice and other ingredients and shake to chill the drink.
Many sours, particularly those based around lemon, benefit from some frothiness. In fact, many bottled sour mixes contain a small amount of dried egg white to lend drinks a slightly frothy texture.
- To make a slightly frothy sour, mix 1 egg white for every 16 ounces of lemon juice. Use the lemon juice as you would normally for the recipe. A dry shake (without ice) is not necessary.
Another classic egg white preparation can be found in the Ramos Gin Fizz. This cocktail calls for both egg whites and heavy cream. The drink is famous both for its luxurious texture and for the fact that it historically took over 12 minutes per drink to make.
The long preparation time probably has to do with the fact that while the fat in the heavy cream makes the foam more stable, it also makes it more difficult to form a foam.
- To make a big, poofy, fizz-style foam, dry-shake all ingredients for two to three minutes, then shake with ice, strain, and add soda water. For a few easier techniques, see below.
Dry Shaking Optional?
Dry shaking works because egg white foams form more easily when warm, but any technique for introducing air works. Here are some options:
- Pre-make the egg white foam by itself with an immersion blender, then add a few spoonfuls to each Pisco Sour order. For batches, a teaspoon of cream of tartar per 8 egg whites helps stabilize the foam.*
Add all the ingredients of a Ramos Gin Fizz into a blender and turn a 10-minute shake into a 1 minute blur
Use a whipping siphon with egg white alone or with your choice of flavorings to dispense foams a la minute.
A few factors to consider.
- The fresher the egg, the more stable the foam that forms. This has to do with the strength of the proteins in the albumin.
- Acid helps to stabilize an egg foam.* When dry shaking, shake the egg white with the other cocktails ingredients, as they will usually include an acid such as citrus juice.
- Due to the high pressures involved, a foam made with a whipping siphon will always be creamier than a foam made by dry-shaking or blending—this is not always desirable (see the light and frothy section, below).
*Cream of tartar, like lemon juice, is an acidifier. Acids help egg white foams form by interfering with sulfur bonds that would otherwise make the foam collapse.
Gomme syrup: The classic forgotten mouthfeel modifier
Page through any classic cocktail book and you're likely to find recipes calling for "gomme syrup," "gum syrup," or simply, "gomme."
In the past, gomme syrup was made by combining sugar, water, and gum arabic in a rough 1.5:1:1 ratio.
Gum Arabic is a hydrocolloid* made from the sap of the acacia tree. It's unique in that it acts as both an emulsifier and a thickener. Gomme syrup in place of simple syrup gives cocktails a slight rich, creamy mouthfeel and light froth.
Although gomme syrup remains commercially available today and can also be made at home, political instability in the regions of the world where gum arabic has traditionally been harvested have driven up prices for it.
Making Modern Gomme
I'll skip the research and science here, but my version of gomme syrup calls for much less gum arabic and substitutes in egg white powder for emulsifying power and xanthan gum for thickening.
A note on "scaling" In the recipe for gomme syrup and in a few instances below, I call for a "1% scaling" of this or a "0.5%" scaling of that. Here's what I'm talking about.
When working with powerful hydrocolloids, especially in small batches, a little goes a long way. A "1% scaling" means that a recipe calling for 100 grams of water (which, at sea level, is the same as 100 mL) would need 1% as much of the hydrocolloid, or 1 gram of powder for every 100 grams of water. A cup of water comes out to about 240 mL, so a 1% scaling would be 2.4 grams.
For these small measurements, I use a cheap jewelry scale and a paper muffin cup. If you don't want to go to this trouble, you can ballpark 1/8 teaspoons as 0.5 grams, try the recipe, and go up from there. Xanthan is the most powerful of the hydrocolloids—use less of it than you think you need and add a little bit at a time until you get the texture you want.
*Hydrocolloids describe any polymer that can be dispersed in water. Different types can thicken, emulsify, or form gels. They're not as scary as they sound: the "polymer" portion of hydrocolloids are no more than starch or proteins. Flour and gelatin, for example, are both hydrocolloids.
If you're a fan of Guinness stout or Boddington's pub ale, then you're familiar with the rich and creamy foam that perches on each. But what if I told you you could create that same rich foam with any beer?
The secret behind Guinness' signature head lies in the use of nitrogen gas in addition to carbon dioxide to create smaller bubbles. The science behind why this works is still the subject of some debate, but I know that nitrogen is important because, well, I tried it.
The above image is of me squirting a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon that had been charged with a CO2 canister and one or two N2O canisters in a whipping siphon. As you can see, the result is a rich, velvety foam reminiscent of Guinness, but tasting of light beer.
Almost all beers contain natural starches and proteins that act as foam stabilizers and emulsifiers. Many beer producers will also add foaming agents to their beer formulations to achieve the perfect amount of foam on top.
When I experimented, a straight PBR foam lasted for about 3 minutes before the tiny bubbles formed larger ones and the foam started to melt away. I found that dissolving a pinch (scant 1/8 tsp) of xanthan gum per 12 oounces of beer helps stabilize the foam. Just keep in mind that if you decarbonate the beer to dissolve the xanthan, you'll want to charge the whipping siphon with a charger of CO2 in addition to the N2O canisters.
Light and Airy Foams and "Bubbles"
You've probably heard the term "air" used to describe particularly light foams, often used in modernist cuisine. Depending on what ingredients you use, these foams can range from big bubbles stacked on top of a drink to a substantial yet effervescent froth reminiscent of Champagne.
Gelatin Simple store-bought powdered gelatin produces foams that are just slightly lighter than egg white foams. Use a scaling of 1%. The foam will become more dense and stable the closer it gets to refrigerator temperature (about 34°F). Gelatin foams can be dispensed with a whipping siphon or blended with an immersion blender.
Xanthan Remember above how my recipe for modern gomme syrup calls for xanthan gum as a thickener? I like to use xanthan in everything from smoothies to stews because it dissolves without lumps in any temperature and a tiny amount can thicken a lot of liquid.
To create frothy xanthan-only foam, try 0.5% to 0.8% scaling with a strongly-flavored fruit juice, like pineapple or watermelon. After combining the xanthan with the juice, allow to rest for 5 minutes (the mixture will thicken slightly with time) then dispense with a whipping siphon.
To make big, pretty cocktails bubbles, you'll need both xanthan gum and egg whites as well as a cheap fish tank bubbler. Luckily, the doodad can be multipurposed: I use mine to circulate my DIY immersion circulator when it's not being used for bubbles :-).
Lecithin Lecithin is an emulsifier found in egg yolks and can be used to make delicate, bubbly foams. Use powdered soy lecithin, not the liquid type that's intended for oil-based applications. The technique is pretty simple: use an immersion blender to froth up your liquid with 0.5% scaling lecithin and scoop the foam off the top.
The biggest pain about using lecithin is that the stuff I've bought bunches up hard like brown sugar over time and can be a pain to use. It's also not as widely available as xanthan or gelatin. More info on lecithin here.
Unique applications, batching, and dietary restrictions
The techniques for making cocktail foam we've covered thus far should let you create any texture you want without much fuss. But, there are a few other ingredients you can try for special applications.
If you are part of an at-risk population and need to avoid the consumption of raw eggs, feel free to use pasteurized or powdered egg white instead of raw. I prefer using powdered because you can add more powder to bulk up your foam without diluting the drink.
The standard is 2 teaspoons of powder and 2 tablespoons water per egg white. Combine the powder and water in warm (not hot) water. A fork or immersion blender helps. Egg white powder is also sold as albumin powder.
If you're allergic to eggs, you can use egg-free hydrocolloids designed specifically to mimic the texture of an egg foam. These hydrocolloids can be useful in situations when you need large batches of foam: they stay stable for hours at room temperature, there's less risk of microbial growth than with egg whites, and it's a lot easier to scoop a few spoonfuls of powder than it is to crack and separate dozens of eggs.
The image at the beginning of this section is of a foam made with Methycellulose and xanthan gum, and you can get the recipe here.
- Versawhip is made from soy protein and can be used to create both hot and cold foams. It's easy to use: use a scaling of 1% and beat with a blender until a foam forms. Add xanthan gum (0.5% scaling) to create a thicker foam. Unfortunately, the problem with Versawhip is that it tastes bitter and metallic, so the foam has to be sweetened to mask those flavors. For that reason, I rarely use the stuff.
- Methylcellulose describes a wide variety of hydrocolloids that do different things. I use MethylCel F50, a formulation best known for its ability to form gels at high temperatures. It works just as easily as Versawhip, but it has less of an undesirable aftertaste. Once again, a 1% scaling with 0.5% xanthan works well for a thick cocktail foam.
For vegans, both Versawhip and methycellulose contain no animal products. Another option is agar (or agar agar), a seaweed-based replacement for gelatin. Use agar as you would gelatin, but keep in mind that agar will gel at a higher temperature, so you may need to use less to achieve the same texture as an equivalent gelatin foam. Agar is available online and at many Asian groceries.
What have you tried?
In this article, I've tried to cover the techniques and tricks most useful and easy to implement at home. I'm sure there are other methods out there—what bubbly ideas do you have?
Share All sharing options for: Pisco: A Complete Guide to the Brandy From South America
Peruse the cocktail list at your favorite watering hole and past the classics some may stumble across a Pisco Sour, or perhaps an entirely different drink made with Peru's spirit of choice, pisco.
The U.S. is the 2nd largest importer of pisco globally behind Chile, and while it's still a tiny category here compared to other spirits, it's a sector that's rapidly growing. Pisco Portón, the largest pisco brand in the U.S., reports 59 percent growth between 2012 and 2014, while another top brand, Macchu Pisco, reports 30 percent year on year growth for the past five years running. All told, imports have doubled from 2010 to 2014 , with other notable brands including Pisco Tabernero and BarSol.
But wait. What exactly is pisco, anyway?
Pisco is a type of brandy , which is to say that it's a spirit distilled from wine or fermented fruit juice. Beyond that, it's far removed from, and in some ways even diametrically opposed to, the type of brandy that most people conjure up in their heads, namely, well-aged Cognac.
"Don't be mad," jokes Johnny Schuler, master distiller of Pisco Portón, "your Cognac is made by oak, my pisco is made by god!" Before he became Pisco Portón's master distiller in 2009, via a "Texas handshake deal" and an offer he couldn't refuse from founder Bill Kallop, Schuler was an all-around advocate and promoter of the spirit, even being hands-on in creating its enhanced legal regulations and standards.
Schuler was awarded a Peruvian Congressional Medal of Honor in 2007 for his work popularizing Peruvian pisco and helping to recognize its cultural heritage, has written several books on the spirit, hosts a weekly television show, "Por Las Rutas del Pisco," and has the largest collection of pisco in the world, estimated at more than 3,000 bottles.
Decades ago though, he actually hated pisco, and in his own restaurants — he currently owns two in Lima, and his father is credited with inventing the rotating spitfire system for Peruvian rotisserie chicken — he would simply use the cheapest he could find. "I used to take a shot of pisco and ask how in the world do people even drink this stuff," he says. Then, he finally got his hands on some well-made pisco at a tasting event and learned to appreciate it. "I don't know if I fell in love with pisco or pisco fell in love with me, but the love affair has lasted ever since."
The front of one of four 3,500L copper pot stills at Pisco Portón. Photo by Jake Emen.
Oak barrels figure prominently, and some would say dominantly, in developing the flavor profiles of aged whiskeys, brandies and rums. However, one of the key regulations of pisco is that it cannot be aged in wood at all.
"We really believe in the pristine quality of the spirit, and the grapiness that comes through," says Melanie Asher, founder and distiller of Macchu Pisco. "If you've ever tasted Cognac off the still it's not drinkable because those grapes are very acidic and the wood works to mellow it out."
. one of the key regulations of pisco is that it cannot be aged in wood at all.
The unique grapes used in pisco offer a far different result. More specifically, pisco can be made from eight varietals, including the non-aromatic grapes which the Spanish originally brought over with them for wine production — Quebranta, Negra Criolla, Uvina and Mollar, and the aromatic grapes — Moscatel, Torontel, Italia and Albilla. As much as 80 percent of all pisco on the market though is made solely with or includes Quebranta. Yet, each grape offers highly distinctive characteristics.
Pisco must be made in one of five coastal valley regions of Peru, including Ica, Lima, Arequipa, Moquegua and Tacna. "We have that miracle in this climate, a natural greenhouse effect," says Schuler, explaining that with cold coastal waters coming up from Antarctica, and the Andes mountains to the east, the region in between is largely devoid of clouds and rain.
"It's perfect for developing an extremely sweet grape," he says, going on to explain that pisco grapes, with sugar content measured at 24.5 Brix when ripe, are generally so sweet you wouldn't want to eat more than a few at a time.
That inherent sweetness is essential because pisco, by law, can only be distilled once, in a copper pot still. It's all made possible with the unique Peruvian climate. "This desert is so hot and dry," states Schuler, "that it concentrates so much sugar that we have enough for our first distillation."
Pisco must not only be single distilled, it must also be distilled to proof, at between 38 to 48 percent ABV. That means producers can't add water after distillation, which is standard for other spirits, from whiskey to rum, vodka to gin.
Further, pisco must be distilled from wine, as opposed to the pomace leftover from wine production. "Only four [brandies] are made from wine — Cognac, Armagnac, Brandy de Jerez and Pisco," says Schuler. "It's a different category."
Traditional botijas, or simply "piscos," used to store pisco at the Lovera Distillery in Ica, Peru. Photo by Jake Emen.
While pisco cannot be aged in wood, it must rest for a minimum of three months in a nonreactive container, such as stainless steel or glass, or traditionally, elongated clay pitchers known as botijas, or informally, as piscos. Per law, pisco bottles cannot be labeled with an age stamp (months or years), or carry a certain vintage, but as with wine, different harvests can produce different results, and Schuler does believe that a lengthier resting produces a better spirit, so he rests his pisco for a minimum of one year. This takes its character "from a prickly pear to a silky peach," he says.
"All of those are the elements that actually make pisco completely singular in the world of spirits," boasts the never bashful Schuler. "That's what drives me to say that pisco is the best spirit distilled in the world today. It has no coloring agents, it has no wood, it has no caramel, it has no preservatives, it has no additives, it's only distilled once to proof and it has no water or sugar."
Somehow, there's still more that goes into defining pisco. "This is where everything goes berserk," says Schuler, acknowledging the complex hierarchies and regulations involved. Pisco can fall into one of three main classifications: Puro, Acholado and Mosto Verde .
The Stills & Distilleries of Peru
According to Schuler, there are approximately 650 pisco distilleries in Peru, 480 of which are legally registered, and another 150 plus that operate illicitly. Less than 10 of those distilleries are at a premium and large scale level, with about a dozen or two intermediate operations, and then a massive collection of tiny distilleries, mostly individual farmers producing pisco on their land.
At Pisco Portón, Schuler has four sparkling 3,500L CARL copper pot stills, which offer him a massive 2.5 million LPA max annual production. They're up to about 700,000 LPA annually now, with 20 percent growth from the year prior. Yet Schuler often prefers to use his traditional falcas—copper stills housed in concrete and brick at ground level, leading below ground to the body of the stills and the heat source.
As opposed to traditional pot stills, falcas do not have a "swan's neck," but rather a near horizontal "canon" which captures the distillate en route to the condenser. He says the falcas provide more mouth feel and character.
The entire process is also set to operate via gravity. The press used to extract the grape juice is at the highest level of the facility, with channels leading to the maceration and fermentation tanks, and from there, more channels leading directly to the stills which, as mentioned, are at ground level and below.
Similarly to a common practice in whiskey, Pisco Portón sells about 15 percent of its production to other brands. Not similarly, however, is that those other brands are required by law to label their product as being distilled at Hacienda La Caravedo.
As a comparison, Piscos Tres Generaciones, also in Ica, is among the upper tier of pisco producers but is a brand without much of a stateside presence. Distiller Juanita Gonzalez, known affectionately as the godmother of pisco, has been distilling for over 60 years, and her brand has a max production capacity of 110,000 LPA, currently running at about 80,000 LPA. They utilize one traditional copper-bottomed falca still, as well as one copper pot still, used for their Mosto Verde, and the aromatic grapes
Puros are the most popular in Peru, and are made entirely from a single grape varietal. "Most importantly, they are distilled when the wine is dry and the yeast has consumed all the sugar," says Schuler. Technically, a Puro only refers to the non-aromatic grapes, while Aromaticas refers to single varietal pisco made from the aromatic grapes. To simplify though, any single varietal made from fully fermented wine may be known as a Puro, and the grape utilized will reveal itself whether or not it is aromatic.
Mosto Verdes, in contrast, are distilled when the wine is still sweet, as fermentation has not finished. This takes more grapes per liter, more work, and more time. "For me, these are the top of the line," says Schuler. This classification has risen in popularity as of late, from a small handful of producers to several dozen, according to Schuler.
Acholados are blends of any two or more different varietals. An Acholado may be made from two or more Puros, or two or more Mosto Verdes. Each brand may produce at most two Acholados, one made from Puros and one from Mosto Verdes.
Walk through the distillery at Hacienda La Caravedo in Ica, Peru, the home of Pisco Portón but also the oldest working distillery in the Americas, dating back to 1684, and sample straight from the towering stainless steel resting tanks to find a staggering range of flavors. A Quebranta Puro starts sweet and grapy, then gets spicier, peppery and earthy. A Mosto Verde, also of Quebranta, offers a smoother, rounder flavor, with more body and less spice. Sample a Torontel Puro and find lemon zest, floral notes, rose petals and tropical fruits, and then try the earthier, richer Torontel Mosto Verde, or the Italia Mosto Verde, offering a spectacularly smooth, easy sipping profile. "People kill for it," says Schuler.
Eight grapes, all of which can be either a Puro or Mosto Verde, and that's before you even get into the unending range of blends. The scope of flavor profiles and characteristics produced is enormous.
"Each grape has its own basket of personality," says Schuler. "I don't have one favorite, I have three or four. Each has a different palate, makes for a different cocktail."
Peruvian Pisco vs. Chilean Pisco
Chile and Peru both make what they call pisco. Is it the same, is it different? For one thing, as an American consumer, Peruvian pisco is currently more available than its Chilean counterpart. "There are a lot of reasons why it's taken us so long to come back, but we're coming back, and now we're galloping. Fifteen years ago, Chile exported 20 times more than Peru," says Schuler. "Today, Peru exports two to three times as much as Chile. Why? Because of tradition, because of a lot of work, because of passion."
Of course, someone such as Schuler or Asher is naturally bound to be biased in favor of Peru. "The government is very protective of our appellation of origin, as the French are with Champagne for instance," explains Asher. "And we have very strict laws. It's very much a terroir spirit."
Elsewhere, others are more keen to focus on the differences between the two. "It's a really touchy subject," says Jasmine Chae, beverage director of chef José Andrés' ThinkFoodGroup . Chae oversees the pisco program at Washington, D.C.'s China Chilcano, which offers perhaps the country's largest pisco collection, with more than 30 on its menu. "To me, they're completely different," she says, refusing, with a chuckle, to take sides as the restaurant serves both Peruvian and Chilean piscos. "It's really hard to say that one has ownership rather than the other."
Pisco Portón's Johnny Schuler leads a tasting at his distillery. Photo by Jake Emen.
. pisco can be made from eight different grape varietals.
Meanwhile, Schuler doesn't believe that true pisco can be produced in Chile. "My arguments are based on historians, map makers, cartographers, written testimonies and I am not inventing," says the loquacious Schuler. "I am a very pragmatic person."
He goes on to make his case for pisco being strictly of Peruvian heritage by tying it to the Quechua language of the Inca, in which "pisco" means small bird by looking to historical maps, "I don't buy a map that doesn't have Pisco on it," he says — in which the oldest reference he's found to Pisco, Peru is from the 1570s. Whereas Pisco, Chile was so named in 1937 at the behest of its president, in Schuler's words, for the "economic interests of Chile" by examining cultural shifts which emerged in the wake of the War of the Pacific between Chile, Bolivia and Peru in the late 19th century and perhaps most importantly, at the end of the day, by explaining the different standards of Peruvian and Chilean pisco production.
Both countries produce what they call "pisco," and they're both distilling a spirit from grapes. However, they diverge on the specifics of production and various standards, yielding two distinctly different products. Call them what you will, but note the differences.
Chiefly, Chilean pisco does not need to be distilled to proof, and can also be distilled multiple times. As mentioned, Peruvian pisco is single distilled, and is distilled to proof. Chilean pisco can be aged in wood, Peruvian pisco cannot be, and Chilean pisco can be made with a range of 14 different grapes, as opposed to the eight of Peru. Finally, Chile grades its pisco by its proof. "Their regulation of Pisco is based on its alcoholic content," explains Schuler. "They have 30 degrees [percent], 35, 40 and 43, and their norm regulates the quality of pisco based on the amount of alcohol it has."
Legally, the U.S. TTB currently recognizes pisco as hailing from both Peru and Chile. So does the European Union, but while they accept pisco from Chile, they have also accepted Pisco, Peru as a unique geographical indicator that can be marketed as the origin of the spirit. Chile can sell spirit called pisco, but can't make that same geographical connection.
Meanwhile, in Chile, Peruvian piscos can't be labeled pisco , and the opposite holds true in Peru, where Chilean piscos can't be labeled pisco. Yet, the largest importer of Peruvian pisco, above the United States, is Chile.
Pisco Portón's Andy Valderrama mixes decidedly nontraditional pisco cocktails at Latin American food festival Mistura 2015 in Lima, Peru. Photo by Jake Emen.
Problems for Pisco?
The largest issue for pisco today is not education or expansion, but rather, keeping poor grade pisco made at lesser producers from being exported. "By exporting bad quality pisco we are committing harakiri," says Schuler, scaring away consumers from the whole category after one bad experience. "It's the biggest problem we have," and one reason why he educates not only on his brand, Pisco Portón, but also on pisco as a whole.
The next big problem looming for pisco though is not about quality, but rather, the simple ability to continue operating vineyards. In Ica, home to Pisco Portón and other notable pisco distilleries, the underground aquifer is being rapidly depleted.
This coastal region is one of the most arid deserts on the planet, and no firm plan is in place to obtain sufficient water supply, although pipelines from the Andes to the east provide perhaps the most logical solution.
How to Drink Pisco
Pisco can be consumed in basically any form or fashion. It can be sipped neat, as either an aperitif or digestif, used in a myriad of cocktails, or in the form of a macerado — pisco infused with fruits and herbs. In Peru, house-made macerados can be found at nearly any restaurant and bar, and many homes.
For instance, at the Qespi Bar in the JW Marriott El Convento in Cusco, Peru, a popular stopping point en route to Machu Picchu, there are at least 20 house macerados available at any time. Sweeter offerings include strawberry, coconut, or passion fruit, while on the savory side, choices include coca leaves, ginger or chili peppers.
They use their macerados primarily for cocktails, as they're often too intensely flavored to be enjoyed neat. "They are flavored for cocktails," explains Qespi Bar bartender Alvaro Escobar. "They would be too heavy on their own." Closer to home, China Chilcano offers a dozen of their own macerados, focusing on seasonally available ingredients.
While the Pisco Sour — made with pisco, lime juice, simple syrup, egg white and bitters — is the most well-known pisco cocktail, it's far from the only option. With its near infinite range of styles, pisco can be used in tandem with just about any ingredient, and as a sub for nearly any spirit. The El Capitan is essentially a Manhattan with pisco in place of whiskey. Two other classics include the Chilcano, pisco with ginger ale and lime juice, and the pisco punch, with pineapple and lime juice.
There's no need to be strict with any particular ingredients though. "You can only work with what you have in the bar," reminds Escobar. "So we will mix and match with what we have on the menu," he adds, noting that he often builds drinks based on what a customer wants, and the particular macerados and piscos they have on hand.
At an event earlier this summer in Manhattan, a handful of New York bartenders got together to show off the diversity of pisco in cocktails beyond the mainstays mentioned above. The unique collection included: Pisces Rising by Ivy Mix (Leyenda), with La Diablada from Macchu Pisco, Manzanilla sherry, peach liqueur, lemon, grapefruit, celery bitters and seltzer the Santa Rosa from Meaghan Dorman (Dear Irving), with BarSol Italia pisco, Sorel, Cocci Rosa, lime juice and cherries the Spruce Bringsteen by Darryl Chan (Cafe Boulud), with BarSol, yellow chartreuse, lemon juice, and spring spruce tips the Miraflores by Nico de Soto (Mace), with Macchu Pisco, pandan-infused Pedro Ximenez sherry, Manzanilla sherry, coconut syrup and Amargo Chuncho bitters and the Cuarto Vides by John McCarthy, with Pisco Portón, Cappelletti, Carpano Bianco, Verjus and seltzer.
Point being, just as with the flavors of pisco itself, the range of cocktails is endless. Perhaps most importantly of all, expect to enjoy yourself. "Every alcohol has its own buzz," says Asher. "There's something about pisco and pisco sours that gives you a nice chirpy, happy buzz." Escobar agrees, saying that a round or two of Pisco Sours before a night on the town will get the entire group ready to party.
Of course, the ever-enthusiastic Schuler can talk himself into a frenzy on the subject. "Pisco is for happiness, pisco is for joy, pisco is to enjoy life," he says. "There is passion, and there is love. Pisco is in our heart, I don't think any country has so much passion for a drink as our own. For good times and bad times, it's part of our lives, we couldn't live without it, honestly." Who isn't in the mood to enjoy some pisco right now after hearing that?
Amanda is a spirits, food and travel journalist who's called Brooklyn home for a decade. Besides Alcohol Professor, her work has appeared in the publications Thrillist, Chilled Magazine, Travel + Leisure and The Manual. When she's not hunting for vintage glassware, you can find her mixing Daiquiris at home or scouring New York City for the best Martinis. Follow: Website | Instagram
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amanda Montell is an NYU student, freelance writer, blogger, musical hobbyist and Brooklynite. In December 2013, she will acquire a degree in Linguistics and Creative Writing, and we'll see what happens from there. Check out her words at http://amandamontell.wordpress.com and her images at http://instagram.com/elysianplain.
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Amanda Schuster and Andrew McFetridge
Amanda Schuster is a freelance writer, and author of New York Cocktails from Cider Mill Press. Please follow her @winenshine.
Andrew McFetridge is a New York City-based writer and sommelier. Follow him on Instagram @andrewmcf
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amanda Schuster is a freelance writer, and author of New York Cocktails from Cider Mill Press. Please follow her @winenshine.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amy Miller is a freelance wine, food and travel writer based in New York City. She recently attained the WSET Diploma and writes about dessert and fortified wines on her blog ladolcevino.com. Follow her on twitter @la_dolce_vino.
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The Origin of the Pisco Sour
Until a few days ago, if you had asked me about the history of the Pisco Sour, I would have told you that the Pisco Sour was invented by Victor Morris at his bar in Lima during the 1920’s. And though Chile also claims to have invented the Pisco Sour, documents such as printed advertisements or his bar’s register show that Pisco Sours were being served at the Morris Bar before anywhere else. But a recent discovery of a Peruvian cookbook from 1903 made me question everything I thought I knew about the origin of the Pisco Sour. This cookbook, Nuevo Manual de Cocina a la Criolla (Lima 1903), suggests that the origin of the Pisco Sour may be a traditional creole cocktail made in Lima over 100 years ago.
It all started with a tweet by Franco Cabachi from Pitahaya Bar in Lima, in which he posted a picture of a Peruvian cookbook from 1903 which had recipes for two of the cocktails in the book. The one that caught my eye was simply titled “Cocktail” — this is the approximate translation:
An egg white, a glass of Pisco, a teaspoon of fine sugar, and a few drops of lime as desired, this will open your appetite.
Up to three glasses can be made with one egg white and a heaping teaspoon of fine sugar, adding the rest of the ingredients as needed for each glass. All this is beaten in a cocktail shaker until you’ve made a small punch.
Doesn’t that sound like the Pisco Sour? Absolutely. It has all the ingredients with the exception of the Angostura bitters and perhaps ice. Also, it uses fine sugar instead of simple syrup. And, in the style of the book, it has no specific measurements, rather it’s made to-taste. Despite the obvious similarities it’s interesting that this cocktail is not yet called the Pisco Sour.
But what makes this cocktail recipe really significant, is that it was published in 1903 — at least some 17 years before Victor Morris started making the famous drink at his bar in Lima. So if this recipe was published in 1903, isn’t it likely that the cocktail was being made in Lima even earlier? So what then is the origin of the Pisco Sour? Is Victor Morris still the inventor?
Without any more documents, it’s very difficult to answer those questions, but all we can say with certainty is that this Peruvian cookbook shows that a version of the Pisco Sour has been enjoyed in Lima for over 100 years. But to understand the origins of the Pisco Sour, we need to look at the history of more cocktails, such as the Whiskey Sour and Silver Sour.
As Pisco historians have noted, it’s possible that the Pisco Sour was inspired by earlier cocktails such as the Whiskey Sour or the Silver Sour. For example, the first printed recipe for a Whiskey Sour appeared by 1887 in Jerry Thomas’ “A Bartenders Guide,” making it likely that Victor Morris was familiar with these cocktails from the Sour family.
Perhaps Victor Morris also came across an early recipe for the Pisco Sour such as the one that appeared in the 1903 Peruvian cookbook, and using his knowledge of other Sour cocktails, experimented with measures until he came up with a version close to the one we make today. All that remained was adding bitters, ice, and a name to tie it to the Sour family.
So now, if you ask me about the history of the Pisco Sour, I’ll have to mention this Peruvian cookbook from 1903 in addition to the mixology work done by Victor Morris, and the bartenders at the Maury Hotel and the Bar Ingles. Will we ever know where the first recipe for the Pisco Sour came from? Maybe not. But for now, we know it’s birthplace is still Peru.
Pineapple Pisco Cocktail
- 2 oz Pisco
- 1/2 c chopped fresh pineapple, plus slice for garnish (alternately 1 oz pineapple juice)
- 1 lime
- 1/2 oz St. Germain elderflower liquor
1. Pour pisco over ice.
2. In a separate glass, muddle the pineapple to get the juice. Filter the juice through a strainer and use the back of a large spoon to push an excess juice out of the fruit. Pour the pineapple juice over the pisco.
As with most things in the kitchen, fresh is best, but if you must cut to the chase you can substitute pineapple juice. Keep in mind that your drink will likely turn out sweeter with a processed pineapple juice so you may need to add extra lime for balance. Filtering out the muddled pineapple pieces keeps the drinking experience crisp and clean, but there’s no harm in leaving them in there if you prefer.
3. Juice the lime and add to the pisco and pineapple juice.
4. Add the St. Germain and stir to mix thoroughly.
5. Garnish with fresh pineapple slices.
Enjoy the flavor of summer!
How about you, what flavors do you lean toward for cocktail recipes?
4- Chicha de Jora – Fermented Corn Beer
Chicha de jora is a traditional and famous drink from the Andes. It was consumed during the Inca Empire times especially at religious or ritualistic festivals.
This Peruvian drink is a type of beer made from Jora corn, a type of yellow corn from the Andes. The process to make Chicha de Jora is similar to the production of regular beer.
We discovered this fermented corn beer while visiting Chinchero market, a small Andean village in the Sacred Valley. While having lunch, we were invited to have a Chicha de Jora to accompany our meal.
It was served a large glass that we could barely hold with one hand. On the top was a thick layer of foam, like beer foam.
Traditionally, the first portion of the drink is spilled on the ground as an offering to Earth Mother.
Earth Mother is known as Pachamama in the Quechua language and the saying is “Pachamama, santa tierra.”
This chicha de jora corn beer is quite an interesting experience. The taste starts out slightly sweet and finishes with a strong sour taste similar to a bitter apple cider.
We could barely finish drinking it. While not our favorite drink in Peru, it is a traditional speciality you should not miss on your Peruvian travels.