Pisco is Peru. Or is it? For years this is one controversy which has surrounded and plagued this popular South American grape brandy with both Peru & Chile claiming Pisco as their “national drink” and often fighting bitterly over the issue. We are not going to split hairs over who invented it. Even Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda stayed away from this controversy calling it the national spirit of both the countries. Here we will talk only about Peruvian Pisco.
I did not really know much about this flagship liquor of Peru till I was invited to the launch function of Pisco in India, aptly called “Pisco is Peru” hosted by the Embassy of Peru, New Delhi and Virendra Mittal who is the consultant for Embassy of Peru for Pisco and Quinoa. A short informative speech by Luis M Cabello, the Economic & Commercial Counsellor of Peruvian Embassy, threw light on the origins and important facts associated with Pisco.
So what exactly is Pisco? Like most of us, I was more familiar with “Pisco Sour”, a legendary cocktail first invented in Morris Bar in Lima in the early 1900’s, made with Pisco, lemon juice, egg white, sugar & bitters. But there is more to Pisco than this popular drink as I learnt that evening.
Pisco is a clear white brandy distilled from grapes. First they make a wine and then run it through a still resulting in a clear slightly aromatic high-proof white spirit which has an alcohol content between 30-40 % making it rather potent. Let’s say it is a cognac which is not barrel-aged. It has more flavour than vodka. Peruvian Pisco is always bottled at its distillation strength, is never diluted and is sans additives.
There are eight types of grapes which are used for making Pisco, four non-aromatic: Quebranta, Mollar, Negro Criolla & Uvina and four aromatic: Italia, Muscatel, Torontel & Albilla. I was surprised to learn there is not one but several types of Pisco depending on the grape variety used. Puro or Pure Pisco is obtained exclusively from only one variety of non-aromatic Pisco grapes (Quebranta being the original & the most popular). Aromaticas or Aromatic is made out of a single variety of aromatic grape while Alcolado is a blend of two or more grape varieties. Lastly Mosto Verde or Green Must is a mixture of wine and green grape juice (half fermented must) which is sent to distill.
Like Champagne Peruvian Pisco is an official appellation protected and controlled by a designation of origin D.O. It has to adhere to strict traditional production methods and can only be made in the departments of Lima, Ica, Arecuipa, Moquegua and Tacna. These are production zones recognized by Peruvian regulations.
What amazed me was the versatility of this world-renowned liquor which derives its name from “pisccu” a word of ancient Quechua language origin which means “bird”. Some say it is named after the town in Peru where it was first distilled. Pisco can be used for making a number of cocktails, the popular ones other than Pisco Sour being Pisco Punch, Peruvian Pacoma (made with grapefruit), Chilcano (made with ginger ale) & innumerable others. There are many interesting cocktail recipes available online. An off-beat one that I tried that evening was Mumbai Magic made with Kala Khatta Syrup, chaat masala, blueberry & amchoor powder. And in case you are not a cocktail person like me, then pour it neat on ice and have it with a dash of lime.
As of now only one label has been launched in India by Rad Elan Distributors called Cuatro Gallos Puro Pisco made with Quebranta grape varietal. The cost of a 700ml bottle is Rs 3000 in Delhi and Rs 3100 in Mumbai.
So if you have never tried Pisco before, all I can say is give it a shot.
By : Lavina Kharkwal