Aug 9, 201210:38 AM
Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

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:

Pisco Sour

3 ounces pisco
1 ounce simple syrup
1 ounce key lime juice
1 egg white
Angostura bitters (2-3 dashes)
Ice cubes

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. 

Serve immediately.

Pisco Punch

As invented in San Francisco around 1900, the days of the wild Barbary Coast
(Thanks to David Wondrich, Esquire magazine, 2012)

1 pineapple(s)
* 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.

 

 

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All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

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In New Orleans, when the subject is wine and spirits, it is very difficult to leave Tim McNally out of the discussion. He is considered one of the “go to” resources in the Crescent City for counsel and information about adult beverages and their place in the fabric of life in this great city.

 

Tim is the Wine and Spirits Editor, columnist and feature writer for New Orleans Magazine; the Wine and Spirits Editor and weekly columnist, Happy Hour, for www.MyNewOrleans.com; the Executive Editor and monthly features writer for Gulf Coast Wine + Dine Online; creator and editor of his own website, www.winetalknola.com; all in addition to his daily hosting duties on the radio program, The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, on the air at WGSO – 990AM, every weekday, 3- 5 p.m, and streamed live on www.wgso.com.

 

Over the years, Tim has proved to be an informed interviewer, putting his guests at ease, and covering tactile and technical information so that even a novice can understand difficult agricultural and production concepts. Tim speaks with winemakers, wine and spirit ambassadors, distillers, authors, people who stage events and festivals, and takes questions from listeners and readers, all seamlessly blended together in a program that is unique in America.

 

Tim’s love of wine actually came about many years ago from his then wife-to-be, Brenda Maitland, a noted journalist in her own right, and together they have traveled to the major wine producing areas in the US and Europe, seeking first-hand information about beverages that give us all so much pleasure.

 

They were instrumental in the founding of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, a major national and international well-regarded festival of its type. They both continue to be involved with the planning and staging of this multi-venue, five-day event now over twenty years old.

 

Tim is also considered one of the foremost professional wine judges in the US, being invited to judge more than 11 wine competitions each year, including the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (the largest competition of American wines in the world, with more than 6,000 entries), the Riverside, CA International Wine Competition, San Francisco International Wine Competition, Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition, Indiana International Wine Competition, Sandestin, Florida Wine Festival Competition, the State of Michigan Wine Competition, the U.S. National Wine Competition, and the National Wine Competition of Portugal.

 

Tim is a guest lecturer to many local wine and dine organizations, and speaks each year to the senior class in the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.

 

Staying abreast of the news of the wine and spirits world is a passion for Tim, and he is committed to sharing what he knows with his listeners and readers. “Doing something I love, with products that I truly enjoy, created by interesting people, coupling the experience with culinary excellence, and doing it all in the greatest city in America,” are the words Tim lives by.

 

It’s a good gig. 

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