Thursday, December 6, 2012

Pisco: The Favorite Liquor of Peru (and Chile)


In this season of holiday parties with much eggnog and other fattening drinks, I prefer to choose regional cocktails as a combination dessert-drink.  One of my go-tos has always been the Pisco Sour, a favorite in Peru and Chile.  Pisco is the national liquor of Peru, with a National Pisco Day on July 21, but there is much debate between Peru and Chile as to which country originated the drink.  No matter, pisco is still relatively unknown here.  A wonderful base for a variety of cocktails, pisco is a clear brandy which is made by fermenting one or more grapes mixed together, all grown in the coastal desert plains.  It’s also a nice lower-calorie choice for a shot if you’re tired of tequila (which, by the way, has its only national holiday just three days later on July 24).

Piscos are divided into ones that are aromatic and those which are not, depending on the grape or grapes used, similar to other brandies.  Quebranta, Negra Criolla, Uvina and Mollar are made from just one type of non-aromatic grape; aromatic piscos include Moscatel, Italia and Torontel.   You can also try Acholado or Mosto Verde which contain at least one non-aromatic and one aromatic grape.

I have to admit that I’m a novice when it comes to pisco; I’m much savvier about the varieties of blanco, añejo and reposado tequilas.  What I’ve started to notice, however, is that there are quite a few pisco producers, and this becomes important if you prefer to drink your liquor straight up.  Some of the best brands come from Peru and include Huamani, Campo de Encanto, Cholo Matias and Torres de la Gala.



Machu Picchu
My preference when choosing a pisco drink is the famous Pisco Sour, though, which I got hooked on during my visits to Chile a few years ago.  I guess I’m not the only one, as Peru has a National Pisco Sour Day in February (there are more and more holidays dedicated to liquor, it seems).  This cocktail is simply made with pisco, lemon juice, sugar and egg whites. To me, this is the best, but you can always experiment with other pisco variations such a maracuya sour made with passion fruit or a chilcano which has ginger ale in it.
If you’re planning a trip to Peru – I only had a brief layover in Lima, sadly – try to visit the area around Ica, south of Lima, where most pisco is produced.  A worthy reward after hiking Machu Picchu, pisco can be sampled and venerated at the Museo del Pisco in Cusco.  The bar there is dedicated to everything pisco and will give out samples – oh, for a museum like that in the US!  In New York City, I always head to Pomaire in the theater district for a Pisco Sour fix.

While I don’t have another South American itinerary planned for the near future, I hope to go back to Chile soon (Easter Island is probably my favorite exotic destination) and I’m looking forward to spending real time in Peru.  If you’re researching an itinerary or just want help in planning a trip, South American Vacations can assist.

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