Pisco & Grappa
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Pisco & Grappa
An alternative to brandy, pisco and grappa are the resulting spirits made from distilling grapes.
For pisco, in the wine-making regions of Chile and Peru; for Grappa in Italy.
Pisco is a brandy-like grape spirit that is produced in the wine-making regions of Chile and Peru. It is made by distilling grape wine further to create a higher proof spirit, and was first produced by the Spanish settlers of the 16th century as an alternative to the other brandies around at the time. Its popularity came as an upshot of how easy it was to produce, as the grapes grew and still grow so abundantly in these parts of South America. Peru has always been a strong producer and exporter of wine, even dating back to the mid 1500s, with the Spanish Crown banning the development of new vineyards in South America in 1595 to protect their own wine-making industry. Peruvians sought an alternative alcoholic beverage to call their own and so pisco was born in the early 17th century. By 1764, pisco has ousted wine as the most produced drink in the country.
Chile introduced their own pisco range to the world in 1889, and their government sought to obtain a denomination of origin and exclusivity of the spirit in 1931. They even renamed a key town, La Union, to Pisco Elqui to help create a spiritual home for the delicious drop. Pisco became a popular drink in parts of the US, including San Francisco and California, during the Gold Rush years of the late 1800s, and from there its popularity spread worldwide.
To this day, Peru still celebrates "Pisco Sour Day", which takes place on the first Saturday of February. The theme is red and white – the Peruvian colours – and all Pisco Sours must be drank as the national anthem is played.
To this day Peru exports almost three times more pisco than Chile, and unlike its Chilean counterpart Peruvian pisco is never diluted after it is distilled, ensuring a stronger, more organic taste.
There are four distinct types of Peruvian pisco:
Puro - which literally translates as pure, is made entirely from a single variety of grape – usually the Quebranta, and so no blending of grapes is required.
Aromaticas pisco - (which you have probably guessed translates as aromatic) typically made from Muscat grapes, and whilst the liquor should contain only one variety of grape the Muscats are sometimes replaced by Albilla or Torontel grapes.
Mosto Verde - distilled from partially fermented grapes which have to be distilled before the fermentation process kicks off on order for all of the sugars to be transformed into alcohol.
And finally there's Acholado pisco - blended from several varieties of grape.
Pisco is aged in a container for a minimum of three months, and this must not alter its physical, chemical or organic properties. No additives can be added to alter its taste, smell or appearance either – even ice is frowned upon in traditional circles.
The rules of pisco production in Chile are slightly different, with the spirit only produced in two origin regions: Atacama and Coquimbo. These are typically singule distilled or double distilled and aged in copper barrels. Most Chilean piscos are produced from the Muscat grape, although Torontel and Pedro Jimenez have gained in popularity in recent decades. Each pisco must be manufactured to specific requirements:
Pisco Corriente o Tradicional - 30% to 35% (60 to 70 proof).
Pisco Especial - 35% to 40% (70 to 80 proof).
Pisco Reservado - 40% (80 proof).
Gran Pisco - 43% plus (86 or higher proof).
If you purchase a bottle of Chilean pisco made from Muscat grapes, you should notice a more fragrant, fruity taste, while the Pedro Jimenez and Torontel grapes produce a subtler finish.
Ways to Enjoy Pisco
Traditionally pisco is drank neat, often even without ice – which is said to subtly flavour the spirit (forbidden in traditional Chilean and Peruvian customs). In the Western world, it is the common base of a number of South American influenced cocktails and mixers. The Pisco Punch, for example, was invented in California, and contains pineapple and syrup as its main constituent parts. The increased demand for sour drinks saw the Pisco Sour developed; made from egg white, lime juice and sugar syrup. And why not try the Piscola, which is a national cocktail in both Chile and Peru, combining pisco with Coca-Cola.
Similarly to pisco, grappa is a fragrant spirit that is made from grapes. Italian by origin, your typical bottle of grappa weighs in at around 35-60% abv. Each bottle of grappa can be subtly different depending on the type of grapes used, and this can be altered further by the differing distillation processes. Grappa producers take the pomace (the skins, pulps, seeds etc) of the grapes left over from wine-making, and distil this to create the smooth, clear spirit. Grappa has been produced for centuries, but it only as recently as the 1970s in Italy where the process has been refined further. Now, crafters use either a 'bain marie' or steam to create a smoother end product than that created by a naked flame. Oak is now the most commonly-used storage method too, which can alter the taste and complexity of the spirit, with the Marzadro Distillery using a combination of oak, ash and cherrywood in their casking process. While there aren't distinct types of grappa, tasters have defined four broad categories:
Young, Cask Conditioned, Aromatic and Aromatized.