Pisco is a Peruvian spirit. Chileans say it’s Chilean (as they do with many other Peruvian/Bolivian things) and they certainly produce and export more pisco than Peru (they have the financial means to do so) but the truth is that it was born in my country. Makes sense when you find out that the word itself comes from the Quechua (one of our native languages) word that means “little bird” and that the spirit was first produced in the 16th century in the town called Pisco, when the Spanish invaders brought the distillation process with them.
Peruvian wines are awful. Really. Simply put, the terroir (soil, climate, etc.) is not good for growing wine grapes. But it turns out that the must (the grape juice that gets fermented) suffers a wonderful transformation during distillation. Think of a nasty caterpillar turning into a beautiful butterfly.
Pisco is high in alcohol, around 40%. It comes in three categories: puro (“pure” or non-aromatic), aromatic and acholado (combination between aromatic and non-aromatic grapes). There’s a fourth category: mosto verde (“green must”) that comes from partially fermented must, but because it’s aromatic as well, I chuck it with the rest of the great-smelling varieties.
Pisco can be drank on its own (Riedel produces special glasses that enhance the qualities of the drink), or in cocktails. The rule of thumb is to drink aromatic pisco on its own and non-aromatic in cocktails. Pisco acholado can be used for both purposes. Pisco can be used for cooking, too: as part of sauces, for flambeed dishes, and in desserts.
The best known pisco cocktail is pisco sour, which features lime juice, egg whites, syrup and bitters. The second best know is algarrobina, which is more an alcoholic dessert than a drink, because it’s made with evaporated milk, carob syrup, egg yolks and cinnamon. And probably the third best known is what this heat wave in Sydney made me crave: chilcano de pisco. More refreshing and less caloric than the previous two, it’s the perfect drink for chilling out after work if you happen to have some good quality pisco at home.
Chilcano de pisco
Yield: 1 cocktail
2 oz pisco (acholado or puro)
1 tsp lime juice
4 – 6 oz ginger ale (depending on the size of your glass and how strong you want your drink)
a few drops of bitters (optional)
Pour ingredients into a tall glass and stir. Garnish with a wedge or slice of lime.