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The Second Coming of Pisco

Posted by on in December 2013 Editions
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ThPisco.jpg - 44.78 KBe ongoing cocktail renaissance has propelled pisco into the limelight and onto American backbars. Bartenders on both coasts have come to appreciate its unrivaled mixability and universally appealing character. All of our futures should be so bright.

Interestingly enough, this is not the first time that pisco has made it big in the States. During the California Gold Rush, miners from South America streamed into San Francisco bringing with them ample stock of Peru’s native spirit. Its popularity with the locals gave rise to such classics as the Pisco Sour and Pisco Punch. The brandy’s run came to an end with the onset of Prohibition when it all but disappeared in the States.

Celebrated mixologist Jeffrey Morgenthaler believes pisco stands a great chance of cracking into the American market. “I’ve been working with pisco for several years now and the thing I really enjoy most about using pisco in cocktails is the beautiful floral bouquet of the muscat grape. I often use pisco in variations of the traditional sour formula, but it also works beautifully in spirit-driven cocktails.”

Pisco is the oldest spirit made in the Americas. Spanish Conquistadors brought the first wine-producing grapes to Peru 500 years ago. While pisco can be distilled from one or a blend of 8 varietals, the prevalent grape is white Muscat, a hardy, golden-yellow variety with succulent aromatics and a gentle flavor. The Ica valley on the southern coast is Peru’s preeminent wine-growing region. Stringent production regulations by the Peruvian government do not allow anything else be added to pisco, not even water.

Pisco is also produced in the high altitudes of the Andes of northern Chile. The strikingly beautiful Elqui Valley wine-growing region is located just outside of Vicuña and renown for its varieties of Muscat, Pedro-Jimenez and Torontel grapes.

An Application Spirit

“To me, pisco better captures the essence of the grape than any other brandy, be it eau de vie, grappa, or even cognac,” contends Ciaran Wiese, resident mixologist at Tucson’s 47 Scott. “When pisco hits my lips, I immediately think of the color of grapes on the vine. Its flavor is so robust and yet tart and dry at the same time. The first time I tried a pisco sour, or the fabled pisco punch, I realized such flavor couldn’t be produced using any other spirit.”

At Nacional 27 in Chicago, sommelier and drink guru Adam Seger tempts guests with a flight of 3 BarSol Pisco Sours. “Pisco is particularly gratifying to work with. Unlike other clear spirits, the natural acidity of the brandy adds balance and complexity to a cocktail.”

The Bedford is a neighborhood bar and restaurant down the road in Wicker Park. GM and beverage director Pete Gugni created The Bedford Bramble, a cocktail showcasing the talents of recently introduced Campo de Encanto Pisco. “I chose to put the cocktail on the menu because summer is approaching and I think Latin American spirits scream fun in the sun. Pisco is a little piece of South America and I think when you drink it all your senses kick in.”

In the journey of discovery, pisco brandy is an essential port of call.

Pisco’s Big Four

According to Jeffrey Morgenthaler of Clyde Common in Portland Oregon, we’re entering the golden age of pisco. “When I started working with cocktails, there were only one or two industrial brands of pisco to choose from. Its growing popularity has prompted the release of some beautiful artisan piscos. These are glorious days indeed.”

That said, here is a brief look at four leading brands on the market. —RP

BarSol Peruvian Quebranta Pisco — Peru’s leading export brand, BarSol Quebranta is made at Bodega San Isidro in the heart of the Ica wine-growing region. The brandy is produced exclusively from the dark purple Quebranta grape. The fermented juice and pulp is single-distilled in copper alembic stills to best preserve the distinctive character of the grape. (80 proof)

Campo de Encanto Acholado Pisco — This classy recent arrival hails from the town of Pisco in Peru’s Ica Valley. Campo de Encanto is a handcrafted acholado pisco alembic distilled from varying vintages of Quebranta (74%), Italia (16%), Torontel (6%) and Moscatel (4%) grapes. Mixologist extraordinaire Duggan McDonnell was instrumental in devising the blend. (85 proof)

Pisco Capel Reservado — Produced just outside of Vicuña in the Elqui Valley, 100% natural Pisco Capel Reservado is distilled in small batches from Muscat, Pedro-Jimenez and Torontel grapes and pristine spring water drawn from the nearby mountains. After distillation, the young brandy is aged in 1000-liter oak casks between 4 and 6 months before being bottled at 80 proof.

Pisco Portón — Produced at the oldest distillery in the Americas—Hacienda la Caravedo—Portón is a brilliant example of a mosto verde pisco. It is a blend of Quebranta, Torontel and Albilla grape varietals. After pressing, the grapes are distilled prior to being fully fermented, which preserves more of their natural sugars. The brandy is alembic distilled to 43% alcohol by volume before being aged for 5-8 months.

Pisco Cocktail Recipes

The Bedford Bramble

Specialty of Pete Gugni

The Bedford, Wicker Park

Build in tall glass

1.5 oz Campo de Encanto Peruvian Pisco

.75 oz lemon juice

.5 oz Five Spice Simple Syrup

3 blackberries

Muddle and add ice

Top off with 2 oz. Ginger Beer

Garnished with a lemon wheel and blackberry


Same But Different

Specialty of Justin Noel

Contemporary Cocktails, New York

Footed sour glass, chilled

2 oz. Barsol Quebranta Peruvian Pisco

.75oz lemon juice

.75oz lemongrass simple syrup

1 egg white (Pasteurized)

1 barspoon of ginger juice

Shake vigorously with ice and strain

Add 3-4 dashes Angostura Bitters

Dust with dry chai green tea


Sideways Pisco Sour

Specialty of Diego Loret de Mola

BarSol Peruvian Pisco

Footed sour glass, chilled

2 oz. Barsol Quebranta Peruvian Pisco

1 oz. fresh lemon juice (strained)

1 oz. simple syrup

1-2 dashes Angostura Bitters

1 egg white (Pasteurized)

Shake vigorously with ice and strain

Float 1 ounce Pinot Noir

Garnish with lemon wheel


Grillo Cancion

Specialty of Ciaran Wiese

47 Scott, Tucson

Tall glass, ice

2 oz. Pisco

1 oz. cumin syrup

.5 oz. fresh lime juice

.25 oz. fresh lemon juice

1-2 dashes Bitter Truth Celery Bitters

Shake vigorously with ice and strain

Top with club soda

Garnish with grapefruit twist


Presidio Punch

Specialty of H. Joseph Ehrmann

Elixir, San Francisco

2 oz. Campo de Encanto Pisco

1.5 oz. POM Mango

1 oz. Mighty Tea Leaf Chamomile Tea Syrup

.5 oz. fresh lemon juice

Shake vigorously with ice and strain

Garnish with a wide lemon twist



Specialty of Tobin Ellis

BarMagic, Las Vegas

Cocktail glass, chilled

2 oz. La Diablada Pisco

1 oz. cucumber water

.5 oz. simple syrup

.75 oz. fresh lime juice

.75 oz. egg whites

3 fresh blackberries

1slice fresh jalapeño

Muddle contents

Shake vigorously with ice and strain

Mandolined Slice of Cucumber


Roberto is a judge at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and author of 16 books on bartending and beverage management including Secrets Revealed of America’s Greatest Cocktails.