On her quest to discover how best to enjoy Chile’s national spirit, Lucy Britner travelled to distilleries in pisco’s permitted production regions of Atacama and Coquimbo, (much) earlier this year. And this is what she learned…
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a spirit must pair well with either tonic or cola. Or when it comes to pisco, both. While the Piston and the Piscola are delicious stalwarts, MoM went in search of other ways to enjoy this versatile grape spirit. Chile’s pisco producers are bound by the rules set out by the spirit’s Designation of Origin, but with 13 different permitted grape varieties, various strengths and wood-ageing allowed, the range of piscos on offer make for some vastly different tastes – even in the same cocktails.
From the giants to small, family-owned operations, pretty much every distillery visit on our trip started or finished with a Chilean Pisco Sour. The serve is slightly different from the frothy Peruvian version with which many of us are familiar. There’s no egg white in this drink, so to knock up a Chilean Pisco Sour, all you need is 90ml pisco, 30ml sugar syrup and 30ml lemon juice. Shake with ice and strain into a Champagne flute, et voila.
Beyond the well-known serves, we’ve rounded up some top cocktails from a handful of distilleries, so you can enjoy your very own pisco disco.
The serve: The Iorana
The booze: Pisco Capel Moai. Perhaps the most recognisable pisco bottle going, this chap is modelled on the Moai statues on Easter Island (which is a special territory of Chile). ‘Iorana’ is apparently ‘hello’ in Easter Island’s native Rapa Nui language. This pisco is a Reservado, meaning it is 40% abv, and it is matured in American oak.
The serve: A twist on a Piston
The booze: El Gobernador. This Reservado is made by wine and brandy supremos Torres and global brand ambassador Negro Cofré Torres (no relation) says the aim of the game at El Gobernador is to present pisco as it is, “an elegant and versatile spirit”. This pisco is made using 50/50 Muscat of Alexandria and Pink Muscat grapes and it doesn’t see any wood ageing. This gives the pisco a floral aroma of jasmine and elderflower as well as white stone fruits. Torres recommends a twist on the Piston to get the summer evenings going.
50ml Pisco El Gobernador
30ml freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
200ml elderflower tonic water
Method: Pour the ingredients into a Copa glass filled with large ice cubes with big ice cubes. Garnish with a grapefruit wedge
The serve: The Elqui Punch
The booze: Pisco ABA. This is the bottle you’ve probably noticed on the back bar because it has been exported to the UK for a while now. Pisco ABA hails from the Elqui Valley and the flagship ABA is made using Muscat of Alexandria grapes. Jasmine, mandarin and honey are present on the nose and like fellow Reservado, El Gobernador, this is a versatile liquid. This cocktail features one of Chile’s other famous exports – Chardonnay.
Method: Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a glass. Garnish with a wedge of lime – or a piece of guava and some edible flowers, if you’re feeling fancy.
* To make the guava purée, mix the 1kg sugar with the 2kg guava pulp until you obtain a purée. Or you can use a ready-made purée.
The serve: Neat, optional rocks
The booze: Bauzá Anniversario. Deep in the Limari Valley, the Bauzá estate stretches into the Andes, with some vineyards 1,500 metres above sea level. Here, Bauzá Anniversario is among the stand-out piscos and we think it’s a great one to sip on its own or with a cube or two of ice.
The pisco, which is made using 50% Pink Muscat, 50% Muscat of Alexandria grapes, is aged for six years in American oak barrels. General manager Rodrigo Bauzá Fernández finds an “elegant aroma” with honey and nuts as well as cocoa and vanilla. On the palate, he describes a “delicate alcohol” with notes of dulce de leche and orange peel. The release marked the distillery’s 85th anniversary and we think it deserves to be savoured.
The serve: Andes Breeze
The booze: Espiritu De Los Andes. ‘Spirit of the Andes’ is part of major Chilean alcohol company CCU and it is made with 100% Muscat grapes. This pisco is popular on the Chilean bar scene and it is characterised by its fruity nose, which features pear and apple. The Andes Breeze cocktail plays on these pear notes to pack an extra pear-y punch.
60 ml Pisco Espiritu de los Andes
2 pear slices
2 cucumber slices with skin, cut lengthwise
40 ml of pear juice
3 mint leaves
3 lemon wedges Tonic water
The method: Crush the lemon and mint in a glass. Add the pear juice, pisco and ice and stir. Place the pear and cucumber slices around the edge of the glass. Add more ice and top with tonic before giving the drink a final, gentle stir.
Food, glorious food
If you’re anything like MoM, then all good drinks should ideally come with good food. As part of the trip, trade group Pisco Chile’s official brand ambassador, Rodrigo Flores, was on hand to offer some pairing tips.
“Pisco is a very versatile spirit, loaded with floral and woody notes,” he says. “Transparent pisco is rich in terpenes, the natural compounds of the grape that provide elegant fresh and floral notes.” He says restaurants use unaged pisco in dishes, particularly with seafood, including scallops and river shrimps. “A perfect pairing is garlic and lemon scallops accompanied by pisco sipped neat at a low temperature.”
Meanwhile, the ageing process in pisco is known as Guarda or Envejecido. Pisco aged in barrels from six months to less than a year is known as Guarda, and more than a year (with no specific limits) for Envejecido. “These piscos go perfectly with high-quality chocolate or in desserts where the balance between intensity and sweetness is combined with the aromas obtained from American or French oak,” finishes Flores.
Now, time for a pisco disco.