Drinking and travel go together like unemployment and screenwriting; one tends to precede the other. I’ll let you figure out which. However, a joy of travel and drinking is discovering spirits native to a region whose export is so limited that they seem relatively obscure until you find such a dizzying plethora of them in their native country, and of such high quality, that you wonder why the world hasn’t demanded them into oblivion.
Such it is with pisco, a Peruvian brandy that, much like Brazilian cachaca, has a very limited distribution in the U.S. and innumerable brands and styles within its home country. The inaccessibility of those brands and styles in the US is a shame.
Peruvian pisco is aged a minimum of three months in an inert container, such as glass or stainless steel, and is immediately bottled after aging. This, combined with the use of pot distillation in the production of Peruvian pisco, lends it its aromatic and musty character and makes it ideal for toying with in cocktails.
Where rum is brash, pisco is refined. Where tequila is noisy, pisco is subdued; and where vodka is feeble, pisco is bold. In other words, it is both versatile and intriguing. And while the Pisco Sour is the national drink of Peru, it is the Pisco Punch that lends itself to summer cloud gazing.
3 parts Pisco brandy
2 parts pineapple juice
1 part lime juice
1 part simple syrup
3-4 drops gum arabic
Mix all ingredients thoroughly in a shaker with ice. Pour into a punch or tall glass and garnish with pineapple.
The Pisco Punch was invented at the Bank Exchange saloon by Duncan Nicol in 1893 and is meant to be scalable and serve one or one hundred as your pocketbook and daring allow. The gum arabic is primarily a textural addition and can be dispensed with. However, doing so will give the punch a thinner feel. The Pisco Punch is delectable enough to have the likes of Rudyard Kipling exclaiming that it’s,
“…compounded of the shavings of cherub’s wings, the glory of a tropical dawn, the red clouds of sunset and the fragments of lost epics by dead masters.”
Now, I don’t know about all of that, as it sounds as if it was written after a square dozen of the drinks, but it is inarguably delightful and perfect company to share the shade with. The more you serve, the more friends you’ll keep.
Gabriel Szaszko writes at www.cocktailnerd.com and feels his heart swell at the appearance of multiple Piscos on store shelves.
Pot Stilled Beauties
Pot distillation is the oldest form of distilling and rectifying high proof spirits known to man. It is also called “batch” distillation because the product is produced in a single step, or batch, and then can be further rectified by successive distillations. This is distinct from column distillation, patented in the early 1800s, because the process of continual rectification can occur within a single run. More efficient? Yes. Does it lend more character to the spirit? Largely, no. Pot distillation is lauded for the unique characteristics it can lend to a distillate and the artisanal quality of its production. Here are some of my favorite pot-stilled spirits.
Appleton Estate Extra Old 12 Year ($35): Appleton products are distilled in traditional copper stills and have that distinctive quality shared by almost all Jamaican rums usually referred to as “funk.” Appleton’s Extra Old 12 Year is no exception but the extensive aging mellows the brash funk character a bit and instead features rich burnt brown sugar and caramel flavors.
No. 209 Gin ($32): No. 209 gin is distilled at the 209 distillery in San Francisco, which, of course, features a large pot still. No. 209 is distilled five times and this lends it a crisp and lean quality that makes it suitable for mixing in drinks with very few or delicate components such as the Martini or Gin & Tonic. 209 is not juniper-forward like most London Dry gins and, instead, features a set of botanicals known for their aromatic qualities such as cardamom and rosemary.
Redbreast 12 Year Old Irish Whiskey ($38): Redbreast is, hands down, my favorite Irish whiskey for sipping. It proudly announces its pure pot still roots on its box and, to me, is reminiscent of drinking a well-made hot buttered rum, light on the rum. It presents an array of fruit notes on the front including peach, pear and banana and then settles back into a warm vanilla finish with slight spicy and peppery overtones. – GS