*pisco* in context

PISCOIf you’re of legal drinking age and follow this blog, we’re guessing you’ve already sampled and enjoyed the world’s major spirits. Well, unless you’ve tried Pisco, the clear Peruvian spirit used to create the Pisco Sour cocktail, there’s a huge gap in your ethilic knowledge.

With hundreds of years of history, the word Pisco can be traced back to the the times of the Incan Empire. Pisco actually means “small bird” in Quechua, the language of the Incas. As a matter of fact, the largest civilization in Pre-Columbian America, extended way past current day political borders. It’s domain, the Tahuantinsuyu (four regions), included not only all of Peru, but also the south of Colombia, entire Ecuador, part of Bolivia and Argentina, and more than half of Chile as well.Tahuantinsuyo

In Peru, the political center of the Incan Empire (1200-1532), there is a valley, a river, a town, and a port, all bearing the name of Pisco. The spirit we now know by this Quechua word, was originally shipped from that port, so the name is like Champagne or Cognac, it denominates it’s origin.

In 1553, the marquis Francisco de Caravantes imported wine grapes from the Canary Islands to Peru, where a new wine-making industry thrived. Higher-quality grapes were used for wine, and lesser grapes were given to farmers, who produced a spirit for their own consumption. This local produce soon became very popular, thanks to sailors transporting it between colonies. To protect its wine industry, in 1641 Spain imposed heavy taxes on wines from Perú, but Pisco persevered.

The spirit has been made in Peru and it’s vicinity since the late 1500s. In Chile, the first phase in the production of local Pisco took place mainly in the northern half of the country. This territory was at that time under the administration of the Viceroyalty of Peru (1542-1824), to which Chile in those early colonial times also belonged to (until 1810). By the second half of the 19th century, Chile’s production methods had changed from what until then had been the “Spanish style of viniculture” which had been practiced by the entire colony, to the “French-style” that used different vine varieties suited for the production of a more aromatic spirit.

So what kind of alcohol is Pisco exactly ? it is certainly not a Brandy. The technical definition of a brandy implies aging in wood. You can tell because all brandies are caramel-colored. However, it is true that both Pisco and Brandy are made from grapes. In the case of Pisco, the essence of the grapes would be destroyed by aging in wood, because it would pick up it’s aroma, it’s color, it’s flavor. Age it in wood, and you no longer have Pisco. The norm for Pisco is that it must rest a minimum of three-months, and up to  a year.
As you probably have noticed,Pisco is a clear spirit that at first impression, looks exactly like Grappa. But it isn’t. Grappa is made from pomace, what’s leftover after wine is made: the stems, the skin, the seeds, etc. Most companies that produce wine will take the leftovers and they will re-hydrate, re-ferment, and distill them. That’s Grappa, as it’s known in Italy.

In Peru there are very strict rules about Pisco production. First, you may use only eight grape varieties that are determined by law. With these grapes, you must be confined to a predetermined geographical area, like with wine the terroir. The singularity of Pisco is that it’s one of the only spirits on the market today that is distilled to proof. Gin, rye, bourbon, whiskey, tequila, and rum, will be distilled to the maximum alcohol strength and then water will be used to proof the bottle. That’s against the law in Peru. With pisco, on the first distillation it must be distilled to the proof that will go in the bottle. What you have in a bottle of Pisco is pure grape, no water. Pisco can be upto 88 proof (44% alcohol). That means 17 pounds of grapes go into one bottle.

Quebranta-GrapeThis is what makes Pisco so different from other spirits. That it is made from fruit. Vodka, Gin, Rum, and Tequila are not.  What is Vodka? The definition is tasteless, odorless, colorless. It can be  made from grain, rye, or potatoes,  In other words; vegetables. Gin, the alcohol without the botanicals? Same. Rum is from cane, another vegetable. You have to cook it down, make a molasses, turn it into rum. Tequila is made from a cactus you have to cook to turn the starch into sugar. Pisco is made from fruit. The only one made from fruit.  It’s not a new product, it’s not as if someone just invented a new spirit. But the world has just recently began to take notice how special it really is.

The grapes give a cocktail made from Pisco multiple layers of aroma, with a perfect balance between fruit and alcohol.  The best example of this, as  most Pisco connoisseurs would agree, is the cocktail that made it famous, the by now a classic, Pisco Sour.

Pisco Sour Lover To make one at home you will need the following: 2½ parts Pisco / 1 part Lime juice / 1 tablespoon Simple syrup (sugar dissolved in water 1/1) / ½ egg white / ice / bitters

In cocktail shaker, shake vigorously with 3 ice cubes ice. Pour in chilled glass. Finish with a drop of bitters, to amuse the nose. Enjoy !! for more recipes, tips and photos of the Pisco Sour cocktail follow us through  Pisco Sour Lover.



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