By Stef Schwalb
These days it seems there are plenty of new spirits washing up on U.S. shores, almost every day. We’re not talking about the ones on Ghost Hunters and All Hallows’ Eve, mind you, though the timing does seem apropos for us to get into the spirits during the month of October. Case in point: Pisco. Now we’re not going to get into the whole Peru vs. Chile debate on this – that’s just not what this section is about. We’re about introducing interesting things we’ve tried and giving you the inside skinny on them in case you’d like to as well.
We recently had the opportunity to sample Capel Premium Pisco. It’s one of four Chilean piscos currently available for purchase in the U.S. (the other three include Alto del Carmen, Control C, and Kappa). Known affectionately as “Chile’s Pisco” due to its popularity there, Capel is a distilled spirit made from muscat and natural pisco grapes that grow in Northern Chile in the Elqui Valley. This area is located at the foot of the Andes mountain range, south of the Atacama Desert. Capel offers intense, lively grapes aromas and a smooth mouth feel that’s slightly heated by hints of herbs, spice, and pepper-tinged fruit. It also has a pleasant finish that’s dry and enduring.
It’s important to note when trying pisco for the first time that there are a number of expressions developed from both aromatic and non-aromatic grapes. The four distinct styles include white (or “transparent”) pisco (unaged; great for those cocktails with a base of fresh fruit and aromatic herbs); guarda pisco (aged no less than 180 days in active wood barrels; easy to enjoy on its own or in a cocktail that highlights the fragrance and structure that the wood reveals); aged pisco (rests in active wood for at least one year; works well as a digestif and in cocktails with darker spirits that can support its flavors); and small batch pisco (derived from very small cellars; handcrafted in the most traditional of fashions).
Some piscos are made with techniques that date back to the 18th century, but overall, the process today is a blend of modern and traditional practices. The drive is to remain as traditional as possible, while still applying present-day advances in production. There are a number of cocktails you can create with pisco, and bartenders across the nation appreciate it for its versatility and flavor. One of the most well-known concoctions, of course, is the Pisco Sour. Here’s a twist on that classic that we tried with tantalizing results:
Santiago Sour (Created by David Wondrich; Photo courtesy Pisco Chile)
1½ oz. Chilean Pisco
¾ oz. Simple Syrup (equal parts sugar and water by volume)
½ oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
½ oz. Fresh Orange Juice
½ oz. Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon
Shake first four ingredients with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and carefully float ½ oz. Chilean Cabernet on top. (Side note: It’s easier to float the wine if it’s poured from a sherry glass or similar rather than from the bottle; simply pour it gently over the back of a barspoon held just above the drink). Recommended pisco is one that hasn’t been aged in American oak barriques for more than one year.