I’m not sure how the Lady Friend and I began discussing pisco, but we finally procured a bottle to try. Her sister had been in Peru for some time and raved about the liquor, but by the time we developed an interest in trying it, she was already back home, and hadn’t brought a bottle along. Pity. Despite a watchful eye in local liquor stores, pisco remained elusive, until recently when two bottles were discovered by Lady Friend in Blanchard’s in Revere: Macchu Pisco from Peru ($23) and Capel from Chile ($16). She went with the frugal option, and brought it along for our weekly cocktail rendezvous.
Pisco is a clear grape brandy produced in either Peru or Chile. Apparently there is a large debate in the pisco world about which country invented it. Peru seems to have the edge, since the drink is named for the pottery it was stored in, which in turn is named for the city in which it was produced: Pisco. It is the national drink of Peru, and they are trying to introduce legislature to regulate the term ‘pisco’ referring to the product made only by Peru, like France does with champagne, cognac, armagnac, and, oh, everything else they make.
Despite all this, we got a Chilean pisco. Oops.
Naturally, the starting drink had to be the Pisco Sour, probably the most popular drink associated with this liquor. We started by watching Robert “Drink Boy” Hess’s video on the subject, available here. The lemon/ limon/ lime issue is interesting, and some have suggested that perhaps Meyer Lemons are involved in the debate, but we went ahead and just used fresh lime. We meant to try a lemon version, but didn’t get to it. However, I prefer Dale Degroff’s ratios for sours, reducing the sour ingredient a touch. Another derivation from Hess, we decided to use half an egg white per drink instead of the whole thing. Lady Friend enjoys eggs, I do not. We split the difference.
Combine the ingredients, then dry shake with spring to emulsify the egg. Add ice, shake/strain/serve. Pour into rocks or Pisco Glass. Add dashes of Angostura bitters onto foam for aromatic and aesthetic presentation. Use a straw or toothpick to swirl the drops into the foam.
The dry shake with spring is an interesting tidbit I picked up from (again) Robert Hess in his video of the Prado (he shaved). Remove the spring from a Hawthorn strainer (yes, it comes off) and put it in the shaker with the ingredients for the dry shake. The spring will help to whisk the egg, and create a nice thick foam. Then, remove the spring, add ice, and do a second shake to chill the drink.
Then, pull it off the other side, and pop it into your shaker tin.
As far as the Pisco Sour is concerned, it was a tasty, if uninteresting tipple. I initially smelled a brandy/grape odor when we opened the bottle, but further sniffing revealed more of a tequila character. The taste, taken straight, was also tequila-like, but without the smokiness. Very grassy, but not nearly as much as a cachaça. Perhaps a different brand/blend/nationality would lend a more interesting flavor. I made a version without the egg white, which I prefer. The taste and creamy mouthfeel of the egg distracted me from the overall flavor. We also tried a Pisco-rita (2oz pisco, 1oz triple sec, 3/4oz lime juice) which while also tasty, lacked character. It was much more smooth and mellow than a traditional Margarita would be. Lady Friend described it as “a margarita made with a sub-par tequila.” She did, however, enjoy the warming buzz from the pisco, as opposed to vodka, which she feels is a “cold buzz.”
While our pisco experience wasn’t amazing, it wasn’t unpleasant either, and we are both looking forward to further experiments with the clear liquid. I’m interested to try a Sidecar recipe (1oz pisco, 1oz lemon juice, 1oz triple sec), or perhaps as a substitute for vodka to add character in place of vodka’s neutral stance. Either way, a Peruvian version must be acquired for comparison between the two, and reviews for Macchu Pisco seem favorable. I look forward to it.
Sidenote: As near as I can tell, pisco is pronounced “pee-sko” or “peas-co.” Robert Hess makes me cringe every time he says “piss-co.”