How Pisco Went From Obscure South American Drink to American Sensation
The first Saturday in February is World Pisco Sour Day.
The cocktail is made from Pisco, a non-aged brandy, and while you may not have a bottle in your home bar just yet, it's high time you get one.
Pisco is smooth and slightly fruity spirit and many Piscos have no added sugar or additives, unlike some other spirits and wines. In addition they are gluten-free and low in calories.
And since we are on the cusp of a cocktail resurgence, be the innovator that you are and start to use this spirit the next time you have clients over.
Pisco is made from a grape, which is grown on the Pacific coast of South America, solely in Peru and Chile.
The grapes are first made into wine, then the wine goes through a distillation process, just like other spirits.
Pisco wine is distilled in copper pots -- never -- so that no flavor is infused. The grape skins and stems are removed (unlike Grappa were all that stuff is left in because nothing goes to waste in Italy), so the remaining liquid has clarity and purity.
Pisco does have natural flavor, though. There are eight different kinds of Pisco grapes and they each have different taste profiles, so depending on how they are blended, you can find many different flavors of Pisco.
The Pisco grape dates back to the 1500’s when the Spanish conquistadores brought the vines to South America to make wine. They got industrious and decided to distill the leftover grapes that they couldn’t use to make wine. And Pisco was born.
It is named after the city of Pisco in the Ica-Valley where the grapes were first grown, and no other country in the world can produce a brandy called Pisco.
Peru In a Glass
Peru's production of Pisco remains more artisanal since they don’t alter the chemical or organic properties before bottling. And the Peruvians have been slightly more active about selling their heritage, tradition, and quality to the world.
That may be why Peru currently exports around 151,000 cases of Pisco, which is three times more than Chile. About 47,000 of those Peruvian cases come to the U.S., via several producers.
Diego Loret De Mola is one of them. He grew up in Peru but went to college in the States. He became a minerals and metals trader and ended up traveling back and forth to his homeland.
In 2000, he was ready for a career change and on his farewell trip to see his clients, he tasted artisanal Pisco made by a local family and was blown away.
“We had a ton of Pisco growing up, but it wasn’t great,” says Loret De Mola. (I get that. As a Sicilian, we only drank my grandfather’s homemade wine, which tasted like gasoline.)
In addition, the country was finally beginning to see steps of an agricultural renaissance after being suppressed for so many years, thanks to a military coup that occurred from 1968 through 1980, says Loret De Mola.
So he decided to take a shot. He made his first Pisco in 2001 at friend’s distillery and by 2002, he launched his company Barsol.
He became a member of United States Bartenders Guild and began flying around the world trying to sell his product, because, to him, it was about educating bartenders.
Today he ships about 15,000 to 17,000 cases to the U.S., making him the second-largest exporter of the Peruvian Pisco
Loret De Mola changed the Pisco game, says Jamie Johel, the bar manager at The National, in Greenwich, Conn., and a Peru native. “He would say, ‘I'm not giving you Pisco! I'm giving you Peru in a glass!’” Johel says.
Loret De Mola is one of Pisco’s biggest cheerleaders. He is a firm believer in selling an experience. “When you have a margarita you think of Mexico, drink a Chianti and you are back in Tuscany," he says.
He, and Johel, want people to be transported back to the homeland they’re so proud of when they drink their spirit.
And their homeland is benefitting. “We are still working with the same 15 families we started out with and we have watched them now be able to afford to send their kids,” says Loret De Mola.
So Start Using Pisco
“We are in the midst of a cocktail resurgence,” says Oliver Kroll, managing partner at the Gerber Group, which runs famous bars like Whiskey Blue and the W Lounge, and has three locations in Santiago, Chile.
And with that, the Pisco Sour is reappearing on bar menus everywhere.
Victor Morris, a bar owner in Lima, Peru, during the 1920’s is credited with creating the drink. Recovered documents, like printed advertisements or his bar’s register, show that Pisco Sours were being served at the Morris Bar before anywhere else. So we’ll tip our hat to him.
And then it became the signature cocktail of Peru.
Here at home, the demand is growing and good bartenders know how to make it properly and are suggesting it to their customers.
Loret De Mola says, “Remember 311 -- 3 parts Pisco, 1 part fresh squeezed lime juice, 1 part simple syrup.”
The best part is the half-ounce of whipped egg whites and the dash of bitters on top.
“Egg white? Citrus? #proteininaglass,” says Johel.
I had the pleasure of tasting one of Joehl’s Pisco Sours with Loret De Mola recently and the texture from the egg whites was amazing.
But Pisco is being used in many different cocktails. Gerber Bars offers a Pisco Green, made with Chilean Pisco, basil and cucumber, says Kroll, who is a fan of Pisco Control C. For other Pisco recipes check here.
Loret De Mola says, “It makes me sad that many people will go through life and die and never taste this beautiful spirit.”
So try a good Pisco Sour this Saturday. It just might become your new favorite drink.
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