Peruvian cuisine, by it’s own right, has increased in popularity around the world. Born from the cuisine of ancient civilizations, the cuisine has evolved from immigrant influences and modern chefs, such as Gaston Acurio, who have brought the cuisine to the international scale. Lima is now known as the gastronomic capital of South America—not only due to modern Peruvian cuisine, but the emergence other evolutions such as Chifa (Peruvian-Chinese) and Nikkei (Peruvian-Japanese).
I had to make another decision on what to focus on during my travels in Peru and it started as an overwhelming task: on one hand, just focusing on the variety of peppers (Aji, Limon, Mirasol) and potatoes indigenous to this area would have been a decent amount of subject material. Or, I could spend my time learning about the variety of sauces (Ocopa, Rocoto, Huancaina) that are a central part to the cuisine and help to quickly create variations between dishes. Or, just learn as many dishes as possible from Lomo Saltado, Rocoto Relleno, and Adobo to Pollo a la Brasas, Cuy, and Chicharrones or Aji de Gallina, Anticuchos, Causa, and Ceviche. Or, corn stuff.
I ended up doing all of the above (more here and here), managing to taste and learn my way through the cuisine—from frequent market visits, to making my way through Gaston’s book, and hosting a Peruvian inspired dinner party—as well as decided take the opportunity to explore a lesser known ingredient: Pisco.
Yes, Pisco. Pisco is one of the underlings of the alcohol or cocktail world. Famous in both Peru and Chile, Pisco is the alcohol of choice for many and serves as an ingredients in the two most popular cocktails: Pisco Sour and Chilcano. You can call it a “Brandy”, but let’s not be quick to categorize this baby.
Disclaimer: This is the production process from a boutique Chilean based Pisco producer. The general process will be the same, but certain steps such as aging and barreling will vary among producer, price points, and types of Pisco.
We begin with a harvest between March and May, of what might seem like White Wine: collection of the grape juices (different varieties of grapes will be used), separation of the liquids and solids, and a fermentation period (The fermentation period isn’t long enough to produce the concentrated White Wine that is usually bottled and sold, but yields something similar.)
Distillation is the next step: through a process similar to boiling, we are separating the liquid using density points into Methanol (head), Ethanal (body), and proposal (tail). Quality productions will fully discard the head and tail leading to a loss of a lot of the original liquid.
And lastly, is the optional process of aging—whether in tanks or wooden barrels. This aging, both method and time, differentiates the types of Pisco, albeit sometimes just with marketing.
For a more in-depth dive into Pisco, check out Eater’s guide here.
Chilean or Peruvian?
I don’t feel strongly enough about this subject to take a side here, but let it be known, both cultures feel strongly about the origination and superior quality of their Pisco. Something tells me that this war actually has nothing to do with the Pisco itself, but more of pride and politics. Not to claim proficient historical knowledge, but these countries have gone through political and territorial clashes leading to strife of all things, even Pisco.
General usage: use cheaper piscos for infusions and cocktails if the pisco itself will be masked (like a Pisco Sour); for the Pisco & Tonic, go for a higher range. In my bar, we used the Quebranta Pisco variety for all infusions and cocktails. Pisco Porton was our high end.
Chilcano – La Picanteria (these guys make it strong and without the sweet)
In a highball glass, muddle 4-5 limes quarters. Add ice to fill the glass. Pour 3 ounces of pisco of choice into the glass. Add 2 ounces of fresh lime juice. Top with ginger ale and add 2-3 splashes of bitter. Give a mix with a long spoon and garnish with a lemon slice.
- Add brown sugar to the muddle for a sweeter variation
- Substitute the lime juice and quarters with other acids, such as grapefruit or orange
Pisco Sour – Kokopelli (for an amazing pisco sour)
Straight into a blender, add ice (roughly enough to fill a rocks glass), 3 ounces of pisco of choice, 2 ounces of simple syrup, and 1 ounce of lime juice. Start blender and over the running blender crack a egg white. Let blender run for a few more seconds before pouring the deliciousness into the rocks glass. Top with a sprinkle of cinnamon.
- Substitute pisco for a pisco infusion by storing your pisco in the choice ingredient for 102 months (Passion Fruit, Strawberry, Cocoa, Cinnamon, and Yellow Pepper were our infusions)
- Use Chicha pisco to make a Chicha sour
- Switch the syrup and lime quantities depending on sweet or sour preference
Pisco & Tonic – Maido (same combination can be used for other “& Tonic”s)
In a brandy or martini glass, line the inner side of the glass with a cucumber slice cut the long way. Add 2 ounces of a high quality pisco adding an orange peel and lemon peel before topping the glass with tonic water. Mix briefly. Take a rosemary stem and briefly scorch it before placing on top the drink and serving immediately.
Bloody Martin – Original (best take on pisco infusion, inspired by Martin, the bar manager who loved serving Aji Amarillo Pisco to guests)
In a a cocktail mixer, muddle 4 quarters of lime. Add a scoop of ice, salt, pepper, 2 oz of a Yellow Pepper (Aji Amarillo) Pisco infusion, a dash of worchester sauce, (optional: tabasco sauce) paprika, and 4-5 oz of tomato juice. Shake and pour into a highball or collins glass. Garnish with a celery stick in the glass and green olives on a toothpick across the top. Pepperoni stick garnish optional, but preferable.