One of the South American spirits that's currently being 'discovered' in the UK, Pisco is a wonderful thing. Here's our lowdown on exactly what it is, so you know what you're ordering in cocktail bars and ever-trendy Peruvian restaurants...
Pisco is a clear distilled grape spirit - essentially distilled wine. Cognac and other brandies are also distilled wine, but they change colour due to ageing in oak barrels, and they're made with bland grapes, so that a lot of the flavour also comes from the ageing. Pisco on the other hand is made with aromatic grape varieties, like Muscat, which makes the finished drink beautifully fragrant. Italian Grappa is similar.
Both Peru and Chile claim to be the original land of Pisco, but they probably both were, before their borders were even invented. Pisco used to be exported through the Peruvian port of Pisco - hence the name - so Peru does have a slight historical edge on the argument. Just saying. Also the earliest record of Pisco production is in the Viceroyalty of Peru, dating back to the 1600s.
Pisco vineyards in Peru
The rules of Pisco production vary between the two countries, and of course both claim their point of differences make for a superior product. For instance, Peruvian Pisco has to be bottled at distillation strength, whereas Chille can adjust dilution. Chile would say that Peruvian Pisco is therefore more rustic and less refined, but Peru would claim to have a purer product. As usual with these types of discussion, both are right/wrong. Peruvian and Chilean Pisco are both fantastic in their own right and its great that differences in the law make for a more interesting variety of Piscos.
IT'S THE LAW
Up to 8 types of grape can be used, including Quebranta and Muscat, but usually only one variety in a particular Pisco.
Distilled in pot stills
Bottled at distillation strength
Rested for three months in neutral container (e.g. glass or stainless steel)
No additives allowed
Types: Puro - certain grape varieties used, Aromáticas - aromatic grape varieties used, Mosto Verde - fermentation not completed (more flavour), Acholado - blend of grape varieties.
Up to 11 grape varieties can be used, but mainly Muscat, Torontel, Pedro Ximinez.
Distilled in pot stills
Distilled up to 73% ABV, diluted before bottling
Minimum aging in local wood for 60 days (So Chilean Pisco is often yellowish in colour and can be cloudy, but those we stock are aged in neutral wood barrels so are still clear)
Types: Traditional - 30%-35% ABV, Especial - 35%-40% Reservado - 40% ABV, Gran Pisco - 43% ABV or more.
Pisco Sours are the nectar of angels. These pretty, delicate, creamy, frothy, aromatic and highly addictive cocktails are said by Peru to have been invented by American bartender Victor Vaughen Morris at his bar in Lima in the early 1920's. Chile claims it was invented earlier, in 1872, by Elliot Stubb, an English steward of a ship named Sunshine, who allegedly mixed lime juice, syrup, and ice cubes to create the cocktail in the port city of Iquique -which is Peruvian at the time but is now in Chile. Either way, they're super easy to make...
Shake 60ml Pisco, 30ml freshly squeezed lime juice, 15ml simple syrup and 1 egg white together vigorously. Shake first without ice, to ensure the egg white has properly emulsified, then with ice. Strain into a glass, add a few spots of Angostura Bitters and serve. Alternatively, you could whizz everything up together (including ice cubes) in a blender and pour straight into the glass before adding the bitters. This makes a frothier drink slightly faster and it's easier to scale up the recipe to lots of glasses, but shaking is the only way to get the ideal velvety texture.
The Chilean version is without the Bitters and sometimes without the egg. Sorry but it has to be Peruvian all the way for us!
Other Pisco cocktails incude Pisco Punch (the oldest Pisco cocktail, from the 1800s), Pisco Flip (egg yolks instead of whites), Cupid's Cup, Serena Libre. The Piscola - Pisco and cola - is drunk by all the young people in Peru. The possibilities for experimenting with Pisco drinks are endless, though, so be creative! Use it in place of rum, mixed with fruit juice, with floral flavours, in frozen drinks and so on. Salud!
P.S. Dates for your diary; Pisco Sour Day - 1st Saturday in Feb. London Pisco Sour Week - 1st week in Feb.