5 Piscos To Try Now
Sip this contentious South American spirit now
Creative Way No. 453 To Find a Bar Fight:
Walk into a bar in Peru and find the drunkest, largest Peruvian man in the house. Saunter up to him and offer to buy him a glass of Pisco. Then, as he takes his first sip, tell him that Pisco hails from Chile.
Pisco is a spirit on the rise in the bar world lately, finding particular traction with mixologists and bartenders on the West Coast in a host of cocktails and neat pours. However, Pisco’s been a source of pride, classic cocktails, and a serious point of contention in South America for generations. Both Chile and Peru claim it as their national spirit, with both countries serving up their own honor-frothed version of the classic cocktail, the Pisco Sour. I’m not Peruvian, nor am I being paid by the Peruvian government to say this, but it’s a well-documented fact that Peru owns the history to pisco’s first productions as well as the origins of the Pisco Sour. But documentation wins very few bar fights.
Pisco is an intense grape brandy, and depending on the label you select, the nuances may range from dried currant and banana to white pepper and honey. It was developed first by the Spanish as they settled the region in Peru now called — you guessed it — Pisco.
If it’s your first time exploring this South American spirit, then I suggest finding a worthy cocktail joint and requesting a Pisco Sour. It’s a light, refreshing, frothy starting point. For further learning and edification, sip straight.
Five Piscos that Kick Ass on a Date OR in a Bar Fight:
Campo de Encanto Pisco:
This newcomer took home the “Gran Medalla de Oro” or Best in Show at the Grand Championships held annually in Lima, Peru. The cuvee of small-batch varietals of Quebranta, Torontel, Moscatel and Italia grapes is handcrafted in the Ica Valley. Campo de Encanto was founded by a wholly unique San Francisco-based partnership of Master Mixologist Duggan McDonnell, Sommelier Walter Moore, and a Peruvian Master Distiller Carlos Romero. Together they have produced a clean, white spirit, distilled only once with no added sugar, no preservatives or water. The taste is an outstanding, complex profile of chocolate mint, jasmine, peach and white pepper.
Also fairly new to the market, this pisco is currently available in Washington and California. It’s is a blend of Quebranta, Torontel and Italia grapes. The nose offers up a bit of honey and pecan, a whiff of orange blossom before the taste continues with savory flavors like dried currant and banana. Peruvians give it high ranks: Piscologia was the 2010 Gold Medal Winner of the 8th Annual Cona-Pisco National Pisco Competition.
When they say “all-natural,” they mean it. This product has no added sugar, enzymes, yeast or water. Ten pounds of Quebranta grapes go into each bottle of this single-grape varietal. Macchu Pisco won a 94-point award at last year's Ultimate Spirits Challenge, a blind-tasting competition organized by spirits guru, Paul Pacult. It rests for nine months, imparting an earthy tone with lime and herbal notes.
This one is a little tougher to come by — they only make 1,000 cases a year. If you can lay your hands on some, do. This puppy is made from a blend of Quebranta, Moscatel Italia and Torontel grapes, and it won the Beverage Testing Institute’s Gold Medal in December of 2010. La Diablada rests for nearly two years after a discontinuous copper pot still distillation, and is the only pisco in the market that is made by de-pipping, de-stemming and only using the first press of the grape. The flavor is a floral forward mix of jasmine and orange blossom that works fantastically in Vesper cocktails. With such limited availability, however, I suggest just experiencing it neat at room temperature and getting your Peruvian dance skills on.
ORO Pisco produces multiple award-winning piscos and currently offers the largest selection available in the US, including the nearly impossible to find pisco Italia — the crucial ingredient to San Francisco’s legendary Pisco Punch. ORO crafts six different pisco puros made from single grape varietals that showcase each grape’s unique aromas and flavors. This collection ranges from the subtle notes of nuts and dark fruits found in the non-aromatic varietals like Quebranta and Negra Criolla, to the bolder and more fragrant floral characteristics of Italia and Torontel. ORO also produces an acholado blend of puros, along with a line of reserve mosto verdes that are distilled before fermentation completes.
Got a favorite Pisco? Or great place to get Pisco sours? Let us know in the comments.