Aug 9, 201210:38 AM
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Can’t We All Just Get Along
So these two guys you know just can’t seem to get along.
And it’s the most aggravating thing because you like them both. They grew up together, went to the same schools, always lived near each other, have similar habits and are the nicest guys you would ever want to know. But they each have the same flaw: They don’t like each other.
We’re not talking mild dislike. They really don’t like each other, to the point of telling stories about the other guy, all the time. Mention some positive character point you like in one to the other, and you will immediately be informed about the naiveté or ignorance of your statement. There is passion in their emotion but it’s just not healthy.
Well, the two guys I am talking about here are not really two guys. They are countries. They are neighbors, living similar lifestyles. They even have parallel drinking habits. And they really don’t like each other when it comes to one topic: Pisco.
Chile and Peru, Peru and Chile (I don’t want to get in the middle of it all so they each need equal top-billing; geez!) make excellent spirits, and they both lay claim to being the center of the Pisco world. Serve a Chilean a Peruvian Pisco, or vice versa, then step back. Ever put a metal pan in the microwave? Nasty special effects.
It suddenly strikes me that maybe you are not familiar with Pisco. Let me back up just a bit. Pisco is a white brandy, distilled from wine grapes after they have fermented and become wine. Pisco means either bird or the clay pots in which the spirit was made by South American Indians and the Spanish. Further complicating matters is the fact that the first Pisco was produced in the former Viceroyalty of Peru, which covers today’s Peru and Chile.
Thickening the plot further is that the Pisco-producing area of Peru is around the Pisco River and the town of Pisco. The Chilean production area is in the Elqui Valley, known as the zona pisquera, near the Andes Mountain range.
Pisco is made with only three grapes, as defined by laws in both countries. The muscat is a main workhorse, along with torontel and Pedro Ximéniz, the primary white grape of Argentina and a widely used varietal in Spain’s Jerez region.
There are differences in how each country distills and the additives that are placed into the product. Chile makes use of double-distillation and sometimes “cuts” their distillate with water. Peru does not follow this technique but often uses the first part of the distillation process, the “heads,” and adds them back into the final mix. Neither process is better or bad, just different.
Peru many years ago decided to get the jump on Chile and created designations as to quality and manufacturing standards. The Chileans responded with a spirited defense, laying out in legal terms their claim to Pisco and its origins in their country. Rather than wade into the issue, the U.S. decided to accept product from both countries with the designation “pisco.” Look, we have enough battles to wage. We really don’t have a dog in this fight.
Anyway, it’s surprising to me that Pisco has not taken its rightful elevated place in the world of adult beverages, and yet these two countries continue to fight with each other, while huge chunks of the marketplace do not even know the liquid exists.
Making matters even more bizarre, the most famous cocktail using Pisco, the Pisco Sour, was invented in Lima, Peru in the 1920s by a North American bartender, Victor Morris, who was known as Gringo Morris. So much for being politically correct.
To be sure, and to be fair, there are differences between Chilean Pisco and Peruvian Pisco. I will avoid that discussion as I have friends on both sides of the border, but trust me, they are different. You should try both of them to see where your palate comes down. When tasting pay attention to aromatics, weight, fruit, alcohol integration and finish. ‘Nuff said.
You may find that using Pisco in your favorite cocktails as a substitute for vodka, tequila, gin, and maybe even bourbon brings you something different and pleasing. It’s worth a bit of experimentation.
And then there is Pisco straight, as a liqueur. It’s not like your friends are all doing the same thing. Be the first one on your block.
But the mainstay of the Pisco cocktail lineup is the Pisco Sour, a drink that requires some preparation, and the Pisco Punch, of which there are many variations, also a bit of trouble and preparation. Two of my favorites are:
3 ounces pisco
1 ounce simple syrup
1 ounce key lime juice
1 egg white
Angostura bitters (2-3 dashes)
Mix the pisco, lime juice, simple syrup and egg white in a cocktail shaker.
Add ice to fill, and shake vigorously. Strain into an old-fashioned glass, and sprinkle the Angostura bitters on top of the foam.
As invented in San Francisco around 1900, the days of the wild Barbary Coast
(Thanks to David Wondrich, Esquire magazine, 2012)
* gum syrup
1 pint distilled water
10 ounces lemon juice
24 ounces Pisco brandy
Take a fresh pineapple, cut it in squares about 1/2 by 1 1/2 inches. Put these squares of fresh pineapple in a bowl of *gum syrup to soak overnight. That serves the double purpose of flavoring the gum syrup with the pineapple and soaking the pineapple, both of which are used afterward in the Pisco Punch.
In the morning, mix 8 ounces of the flavored gum syrup, the water, lemon juice and Pisco in a big bowl.
Serve very cold but be careful not to keep the ice in too long because of dilution. Use 3- or 4-ounce punch glasses. Put one of the above squares of pineapple in each glass. Lemon juice or gum syrup may be added to taste.
* The secret ingredient here, gum (aka "gomme") syrup, is a nineteenth-century bar essential consisting of sugar syrup blended with gum arabic (the crystallized sap of the acacia tree) to smooth it out and add body. To make it, slowly stir 1 pound gum arabic into 1 pint distilled water and let soak for a day or two. When this solution is ready, bring 4 pounds sugar and 1 quart distilled water to a boil, add the gum solution, and skim off the foam. Let it cool, filter it through cheesecloth, and bottle it. It should keep, even unrefrigerated.