Bottoms Up: Pisco — national drink of Peru

If you’ve ever been to South America, I’m sure you’ve come across Pisco. This pure, brandy-like spirit made from grape product through the distillation process packs quite a punch. My first introduction to it in the southern hemisphere many, many years ago resulted in my doing the Lambada on a coffee table with a lampshade on my head.  Need I say more about its potency? At around 40% alcohol by volume, this elixir can sneak up on you before realization gets anywhere close to kicking in.

Both Chile and Peru produce this spirit, however, Peru seems to have perfected the art. Instead of utilizing a continuous or column still like Chile, Peru uses a copper pot or Lambic still similar to how Cognac and Armagnac are made, resulting in a product with more character.

The Peruvian model is produced only in Ica, Lima, Arequipa, Moquegua and Tacna. The name comes from the port of Pisco, in Southern Peru, from which it was exported during the Spanish colonial period, beginning in the 16th century. Allowable grapes include Quebranta, Torontel, Moscatel, Italia, Albilla, Uvina and Negra Criolla (common Black). After fermenting for 18 days, the resulting wine is distilled and then rests for a minimum of three months in glass, copper or ceramic jars. It is then bottled without any additions.

In Peru, four different kinds of Pisco exist. Some are made from non-aromatic grape varieties such as Quebranta, Common Black, Mollar and Uvina. These tend to be focused with varietal character (especially if made from one variety). If you’re not used to drinking spirits, the alcohol can come across a tad aggressive. Those made from aromatic varietals like Italia, Muscat, Albilla and Torontel are fragrant, elegant products with lots of floral, fruity complexity. Those made from a blend of both non-aromatic and aromatic varietals are known as “Acholado. These can be really interesting combining distinct varietal character with lots of fragrant overtones. Mosto Verde, or Green Must Pisco, is made from partially fermented fresh grape must.

Unfortunately, there’s not much opportunity to taste Pisco here in North America. With this in mind, Mirems Ltd. and Piscobar, of Lima, Peru, formed Piscobarcorner here in Toronto this year to introduce Ontario palates to the pleasures of Peruvian Pisco.  Peru’s Piscobar is the sole Pisco-only bar in Lima and is a very popular location. Founder and chief mixologist, Ricardo Carpio, whose passion and enthusiasm for Pisco is infectious, was on hand at a recent tasting to introduce several Piscos to this market.

The four premium brands he featured were Torre de la Gala, Cholo Matias, Tres Generaciones and Campo de Encanto. The Torre de la Gaia Acholado was floral, pear-like and delicate. The Italia from the same producer was equally delicate with green pear and apple notes. The Cholo Matias Acholado, one of my favourites, possessed lots of perfume and floral notes while the same producer’s Torontel was somewhat similar with less aromatics and more nutty, corn-like nuances. Campo de Encanto Quebranta was spicy and robust, the Tres Generaciones Acholado was deliciously harmonious and elegant and the Mosto Verde from Tres Generaciones displayed aromatic elements but was a touch hot.

Aside from sipping Pisco straight up, there are numerous cocktails that highlight its unique character. Try a Pisco Sunrise with orange juice and Grenadine syrup, a Pisco Collins with lime and club soda, a Tuna Pisquirina with Tuna fruit, lime juice and Cane syrup or La Joya Cocktail with Pinot Noir and ice. Of course, there’s always the infamous Pisco Sour with lemon or lime juice, egg whites, simple syrup and bitters.

So if you’re keen on experiencing the national drink of Peru in all its glory, give Pisco a go. Just remember to sip cautiously. Agent in Ontario for the above-mentioned brands is Piscobarcorner. Contact Andrew Machalski at or (416) 901-0988.

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