As any bartender can tell you, pisco is one of the hottest spirits around these days. The grape brandy, once considered only good enough for the Peruvian peasants who invented it, has now sparked such international interest that Peru and Chile are in a bitter dispute about which nation can claim proprietorship.
Pisco is a potent brew! Containing about 45 percent alcohol, the drink still has a mild enough flavor that it can fool beginners. So proceed with caution but have fun experimenting, too!
Pisco History: Humble Beginnings
Pisco originally evolved in Peru during the 1500s as a way to use grapes considered unworthy for wine production. After the Spaniards conquered the area, they began planting grapes from the Canary Islands to produce wine.
Eventually, vintners settled on an improved version of the black grape called the Quebranta. Grapes deemed useless for winemaking were given to local farmers, who began distilling them into brandy.
One town known for making this brandy was Pisco, named after small birds inhabiting the region. Sailors, those among the first ardent admirers of the product, began calling the brandy pisco to honor the port town where they bought it. Soon, what the Spanish nobility had once dismissed as firewater became almost as popular an export as the countrys wine.
Since that time, pisco had brief surges of intense popularity. During the American Gold Rush period, Peruvian and Chilean miners popularized the drink on the West Coast, especially San Francisco. Still, until recently, pisco never really shook off its reputation for being not quite as refined as other spirits.
The drinks new popularity abroad only fans the flames of a longstanding feud between Chile and Peru over which country gets to be the authentic pisco exporter. While pisco unquestionably originated in Peru, in recent decades, Chilean farmers experienced better luck growing the grapes.
Furthermore, Chilean distributors are not hampered by the kind of exporting and marketing bureaucracy faced by Peruvian pisco makers. As a result, Chilean pisco gained early popularity in Europe and the United States. Yet, Peru still insists the only real pisco comes from Peru. In fact, Peru is fighting for the right to have its grape brandy be the sole holder of the name pisco.
Types of Pisco
Despite the authenticity of both countries products, mixologists tend to turn toward the Peruvian method of classifying pisco, which has four categories:
- Acholado varieties are derived from mixtures of a variety of grape musts, the term for the solids and liquids created just after grapes are pressed.
- Aromatic piscos come from aromatic grapes, usually Muscat.
- Green Must varieties are made by using the must of partially-fermented grapes.
- Pure pisco, like the Aromatic variety, comes from just one kind of grape, usually the black Quebranta grapes.
A National Obsession: The Pisco Sour
Unquestionably, the most famous cocktail featuring this brandy is the Pisco Sour. The famous cocktail combines pisco with egg whites, lime juice and sugar. So beloved is the drink in its own country of origin that Peru sets aside the first Saturday of February as National Pisco Sour Day. However, you dont have to wait until then to make this tasty concoction.
Pisco Sour Recipe
- 4 oz. pisco
- 2 oz. lime juice
- ? oz. simple syrup (see below)
- 1 egg white
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- Before mixing the drink, make a simple syrup by adding two parts sugar to one part boiling water. As with any food containing uncooked eggs, salmonella is a concern. One expert suggests blowing on the egg before separating the white from the yolk.
- Combine the first four ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker or jar. Shake the mix vigorously, then pour it into an ice-filled glass and add the bitters.
Peru Libre or Piscola Recipe
- cola, to taste
- pisco, to taste
Mix your favorite cola with pisco. The proportions depend on your own taste and tolerance. But remember, pisco is deceptively mild!
- 1 c. orange juice
- 1 c. pisco
- 1 tbsp. sugar
- ? c. ice.
Mix well in a jar or cocktail shaker, then place in the refrigerator until well chilled.
- 1 oz. pisco
- 2 oz. ruby port
- 2 dashes bitters, preferably orange
- 1 orange slice.
Add the first four ingredients to a cocktail shaker, shake vigorously, pour into a serving glass and add the orange twist.
- 8 seedless red grapes
- 1 ? oz. Quebranta pisco
- 2 oz. Riesling wine
- ? oz. simple syrup (see note below Pisco Sour recipe)
- oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
Gently smash up the grapes in a cocktail shaker and add the remaining ingredients. Pour into a glass and enjoy!