By Alli Sinclair
Working in an Irish pub in Peru had its advantages—happy hour ran for two, alcohol was cheap, and it was the perfect place to meet tourists from around the world. Before I was let loose to serve in the bar, I had to learn to make a mean Pisco Sour and luckily, this entailed taste-testing my efforts (although some were decidedly atrocious).
I got the hang of making the perfect Pisco Sour so quickly my boss thought I was Peruvian in a past life. But the Chileans that graced the Irish pub didn’t think so. They’d tut-tut my boss for allowing the gringa to make a drink with Peruvian pisco (even though the Chileans were in Peru).
Many Chileans lectured me as to why Chilean pisco was better and how the Peruvians stole their drink and claimed it as their own. It didn’t take long for me to figure out Peruvians and Chileans happily engaged in long-standing arguments about borders, football, food (check the Cerviche Wars here) and, of course, pisco.
I tend to be a fence sitter in these situations because it doesn’t pay to get either party offside. After all, I’d been a guest in both their countries and planned to spend more time in each. So depending on which country I was in, I’d nod and say, “Yes, yes, your pisco is much better than theirs.” We’d clink glasses, down the potent alcohol, and shake our heads at the disgraceful behavior of the neighboring country trying to steal the precious Pisco name.
Depending on where your pisco is from the grape brandy ranges from clear to amber in color. Developed by the Spanish settlers in the 16th century, pisco replaced orujo, a pomace brandy imported from Spain.
Chilean pisco is produced in the Elqui Valley, in the Andes. The Muscat grape is mostly used, although some vineyards prefer Pedro Jiménez or Torontel. The pisco is double-distilled in copper pot stills and the end result ranges from 60 to 86 proof. Yowza! There is Regular, Control, Special, Reserve, and Great Pisco with the Regular a poor cousin to the others.
Peruvian pisco is produced in copper pot stills also and is made with grapes grown in the regions of Ica Valley, Pisco and Ica. Yes, Pisco is the name of a river as well as a town in Peru, another handy point in the Peruvian’s argument about where pisco originated. In Peru there is Puro (Pure), Aromáticas (Aromatic), Mosto Verde (Green Must), and Acholado (Half-breed) varieties of pisco.
Peruvians love their pisco so much they have set aside the first Saturday of February for El Dia Nacional Del Pisco Sour (National Pisco Sour Day) and participants wear red and white, the colors of the Peruvian flag. When the national anthem is played, whoever is drinking pisco must finish the drink as sign of respect.
If you’re willing to delight your taste buds, I suggest you click here for an array of pisco recipes.
Hmmm…. I’m a tad thirsty. It’s five o’clock somewhere in the world, right? Cheers!