Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Pisco: Cherub's Wings and Lost Masterpieces

Rudyard Kipling (colonialist and paternalist that he was) had some very powerful things to say about Pisco calling it, “the highest and noblest product of the age… I have a theory it is composed of cherub’s wings, the glory of tropical dawn, the red clouds of sunset, and fragments of lost masterpieces by dead poets.”

Pisco is the declared national spirit of both Peru and Chile. It's a brandy, but not what the average person thinks of when they hear the word, “brandy." For one, it's a clear spirit. Poured in a glass it looks more like vodka. However half a second with your nose above a glass of Pisco will immediately dispel any notion of similarity to vodka. It’s aromas could come from no other spirit from no other corner of the world.

Pisco Production Map (via Wikipedia)
Pisco has a long history riddled with conflict and identity crisis. Peru and Chile have had their conflicts and rivalries over the years, and libations fit right in with the pattern of these tiffs. Peru and Chile both produce spirits they call Pisco, but it is considered a crime in some circles to treat them as the same thing. Peru has a directly traceable history of Pisco production dating back to the 16th century. When wine grapes were first distilled into brandy in Peru, they were stored in clay jars called Piscos.

The production of Peruvian Pisco is by law required to be a much more delicate process. It takes a truly skilled distiller to produce a spirit under this set of conditions. There are skillfully produced Chilean Piscos as well, but the legal requirements are less limiting. The Chilean model leaves more room for mass production and lax quality control.

In the Memphis area the Piscos you typically find are Capel from Chile and Porton from Peru. However you can occasionally find Barsol's line of Pisco in a variety of styles.

So after all this talk about Pisco, you may be wondering, "what the hell can I do with Pisco?" 

Pisco Punch is the most famous Pisco cocktail. At the Bank Exchange Bar in San Francisco, Pisco Punch became one of the most sought after cocktails in America in the late 19th century. Bartender Duncan Nichols created this drink, and he took his secret with him to the grave, so another great cocktail, the Pisco Sour, is a more practical and accessible drink to make at home.


Pisco Sour

2oz Pisco
.5oz simple syrup
1oz fresh lime or key lime juice
1 egg white
a dash of Angostura Bitters

You simply put all the ingredients except the bitters into a shaker and shake vigorously. The drink pours with a nice thick layer of foam on top from the egg white. This is where the bitters come in. A dash of bitters in the foam makes a colorful and aromatic garnish!

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