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The Second Coming of Pisco

August 1, 2011 By: Robert Plotkin


The ongoing cocktail renaissance has propelled pisco into the limelight and onto American backbars. Bartenders on both coasts have come to appreciate its unrivaled mixability and universally appealing character. All of our futures should be so bright.Orange Pisco Sour

Interestingly enough, this is not the first time that pisco has made it big in the United States. During the California Gold Rush, miners from South America streamed into San Francisco, bringing ample stock of Peru’s native spirit. Its popularity with the locals gave rise to such classics as the Pisco Sour and Pisco Punch. The brandy’s run came to an end with the onset of Prohibition when it all but disappeared in the United States.

Celebrated mixologist Jeffrey Morgenthaler, bar manager of Clyde Common in Portland, Ore., believes pisco stands a great chance of cracking into the U.S. market. “I’ve been working with pisco for several years now, and the thing I really enjoy most about using pisco in cocktails is the beautiful floral bouquet of the muscat grape. I often use pisco in variations of the traditional sour formula, but it also works beautifully in spirit-driven cocktails.”

Pisco is the oldest spirit made in the Americas. Spanish Conquistadors brought the first wine-producing grapes to Peru 500 years ago. While pisco can be distilled from one or a blend of eight varietals, the prevalent grape is white Muscat, a hardy, golden-yellow variety with succulent aromatics and a gentle flavor. The Ica valley on the southern coast is Peru’s preeminent wine-growing region. Stringent production regulations by the Peruvian government do not allow anything else be added to pisco, not even water.

Pisco is also produced in the high altitudes of the Andes of northern Chile. The strikingly beautiful Elqui Valley wine-growing region is located just outside of Vicuña and renown for its varieties of Muscat, Pedro-Jimenez and Torontel grapes.

An Application Spirit

“To me, pisco better captures the essence of the grape than any other brandy, be it eau de vie, grappa, or even cognac,” contends Ciaran Wiese, resident mixologist at 47 Scott in Tucson, Ariz. “When pisco hits my lips, I immediately think of the color of grapes on the vine. Its flavor is so robust and yet tart and dry at the same time. The first time I tried a Pisco Sour, or the fabled Pisco Punch, I realized such flavor couldn’t be produced using any other spirit.”

At Nacional 27 in Chicago, sommelier and drink guru Adam Seger tempts guests with a flight of three BarSol Pisco Sours. “Pisco is particularly gratifying to work with. Unlike other clear spirits, the natural acidity of the brandy adds balance and complexity to a cocktail.”

At The Bedford, a neighborhood bar and restaurant down the road in Wicker Park, General Manager and Beverage Director Pete Gugni created The Bedford Bramble, a cocktail showcasing the talents of recently introduced Campo de Encanto Pisco. “I chose to put the cocktail on the menu because summer is approaching, and I think Latin American spirits scream fun in the sun. Pisco is a little piece of South America, and I think when you drink it all your senses kick in.”

In the journey of discovery, pisco brandy is an essential port of call.

Pisco’s Big Four

According to Morgenthaler, we’re entering the golden age of pisco. “When I started working with cocktails, there were only one or two industrial brands of pisco to choose from. Its growing popularity has prompted the release of some beautiful artisan piscos. These are glorious days indeed.”
In the journey of discovery, pisco brandy is an essential port of call. That said, following is a brief look at four leading brands on the market:

• BarSol Peruvian Quebranta Pisco — Peru’s leading export brand, BarSol Quebranta is made at Bodega San Isidro in the heart of the Ica wine-growing region. The brandy is produced exclusively from the dark-purple Quebranta grape. The fermented juice and pulp is single-distilled in copper alembic stills to best preserve the distinctive character of the grape (80 proof).
• Campo de Encanto Acholado Pisco — This classy recent arrival hails from the town of Pisco in Peru’s Ica Valley. Campo de Encanto is a handcrafted acholado pisco alembic distilled from varying vintages of Quebranta (74%), Italia (16%), Torontel (6%) and Moscatel (4%) grapes. Mixologist extraordinaire Duggan McDonnell was instrumental in devising the blend (85 proof).
• Capel Premium Pisco — Produced just outside of Vicuña in the Elqui Valley, 100% natural Pisco Capel is distilled in small batches from Muscat, Pedro-Jimenez and Torontel grapes and pristine glacier spring water drawn from the nearby mountains. The satiny smooth brandy is double-distilled and triple-filtered (80 proof).
• Pisco Portón — Produced at the oldest distillery in the Americas—Hacienda la Caravedo—Portón is a brilliant example of a mosto verde pisco. It is a blend of Quebranta, Torontel and Albilla grape varietals. After pressing, the grapes are distilled prior to being fully fermented, which preserves more of their natural sugars. The brandy is alembic distilled to 43% alcohol by volume before being aged for five to eight months.


 

Pisco Cocktail Recipes
 

The Bedford Bramble
Specialty of Pete Gugni at The Bedford, Wicker Park, Chicago.
1.5 ounces Campo de Encanto Peruvian Pisco
0.75 ounce lemon juice
0.5 ounce Five Spice Simple Syrup
3 blackberries
2 ounces ginger beer
Lemon wheel and blackberry, for garnish
Build first four ingredients in a tall glass. Muddle and add ice. Top off with ginger beer.
Garnish with a lemon wheel and blackberry.

Same But Different
Specialty of Justin Noel of Contemporary Cocktails, New York.
2 ounces Barsol Quebranta Peruvian Pisco
0.75 ounce lemon juice
0.75 ounce lemongrass simple syrup
1 egg white (pasteurized)
1 bar spoon of ginger juice
3 to 4 dashes Angostura Bitters
Dry chai green tea
Shake first five ingredients vigorously with ice and strain into a chilled footed sour glass. Add the bitters. Dust with dry chai green tea.

Sideways Pisco Sour
Specialty of Diego Loret de Mola of BarSol Peruvian Pisco.
2 ounces Barsol Quebranta Peruvian Pisco
1 ounce fresh lemon juice (strained)
1 ounce simple syrup
1-2 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 egg white (pasteurized)
1 ounce Pinot Noir
Lemon wheel, for garnish
Shake the first five ingredients vigorously with ice and strain into a chilled footed sour glass. Float the Pinot Noir. Garnish with a lemon wheel.

Grillo Cancion
Specialty of Ciaran Wiese of 47 Scott, Tucson, Ariz.
2 ounces Pisco
1 ounce cumin syrup
0.5 ounce fresh lime juice
0.25 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 to 2 dashes Bitter Truth Celery Bitters
Club soda
Grapefruit twist, for garnish
Shake first five ingredients vigorously with ice and strain into a tall glass with ice. Top with club soda. Garnish with grapefruit twist.

Presidio Punch
Specialty of H. Joseph Ehrmann of Elixir, San Francisco.
2 ounces Campo de Encanto Pisco
1.5 ounces POM Mango
1 ounce Mighty Tea Leaf Chamomile Tea Syrup
0.5 ounce fresh lemon juice
Lemon twist, for garnish
Shake vigorously with ice and strain. Garnish with a wide lemon twist.

Balencia
Specialty of Tobin Ellis of BarMagic, Las Vegas.
Cocktail glass, chilled
2 ounce La Diablada Pisco
1 ounce cucumber water
0.5 ounce simple syrup
0.75 ounce fresh lime juice
0.75 ounce egg whites
3 fresh blackberries
1 slice fresh jalapeño
Mandolined slice of cucumber, for garnish
Muddle first seven ingredients into a chilled cocktail glass. Shake vigorously with ice and strain. Garnish with cucumber slice.


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