Rudyard Kipling described Pisco as, “the highest and noblest product of the age,” and “composed of cherubs’ wings, the glory of tropical dawn, the red clouds of sunset, and fragments of lost masterpieces by dead poets”. It is very rare that a single drink encompasses the spirit of a whole country. But Pisco, the national spirit of Peru typifies the beauty of this South American paradise. Named after the city where it was first produced in the 16th century, Pisco is a drink that takes you on a journey through the coasts and valleys of Peru.
What is Pisco?
Let me tell you about the drink first before delving into the majestic countryside. Pisco is a grape based brandy which shot to fame during the Spanish colonisation. With Spanish vineyards not having excellent produce, the grapes from Peru’s fertile vineyards became legendary in status. With their own wines under threat, Spain banned exports out of their Peruvian constituency. This is when the wines were distilled into the Pisco we know today.
What makes Pisco so unique is its purity. As Johnny Schuller, master distiller at Pisco Porton says” Your Cognac is made by wood, my Pisco is made by God”. Pisco uses no wood, no sugar, no water and no additives and preserves the authentic grapey taste of the spirit. The fresh mash from the grapes are fermented in copper still pots and then distilled. To be called a Pisco, it can be distilled only once and to proof (Alcohol percentage:38-48%) before being bottled.
What are the different types of Pisco?
Pisco is made from eight different types of grapes and they have to specifically grown in five limited regions of Peru : Lima, Ica, Arequipa, Mocegua and Tacna. The non aromatic grapes brought from Spain are the Quebrenta, Negra Criolla, Uvina and Mollar while the aromatic grapes are Moscatel, Torontel, Italia and Albilia. Pisco can be broadly divided into three major categories:
Puros: They are usually made from a single grape variety and distilled after they are totally dry (the yeast has consumed all the sugar and converted it to alcohol). The most common of the lot, each of the grapes gives out a different taste profile. The Quebrenta gives off the taste of fruits while the Uvina has a characteristic aroma of olives.
Mostos Verdes: These are usually distilled while the wine still has some sugar left in it. It has a much more distinctive and stronger aroma.
Acholados: These are the blends which can be produced from mixing any of the Puros or Mostos Verdes.
Pisco is enjoyed properly in the delicate tulip shaped Pisco glass. Fill it one-third with the majestic spirit and inhale the aromas. The high amounts of alcohol will take some getting used to. But once you get accustomed to it, the grapes will start to showcase their magic. While tasting, sip only a small amount before letting it warm on your palate.
Why is Peru so proud of Pisco?
Pisco is a drink which gets its flavours from the rich, fertile soil of Peru. The coastal valley regions of Peru provide for a unique amalgamation of weather conditions. Landlocked between the coastal waters coming from Antarctica and the Andes in the East, it creates for a grape which has got a very high sugar content.
The second reason why Peruvians are in love with Pisco is because it is a drink for which they have fought for. Since the breaking up of the Peruvian constituency, both Peru and Chile have claimed their rights to ownership of the drink. Although both origins are given due consideration in the United States, the Peruvians won the ownership with the Appellate of Origin from European Union in 2013.
A journey to Peru’s Pisco vineyards
Journeying through the vineyards is almost like time travel as you discover the serene beauty of Peru’s countryside. If you want to interact with the locals on the way, learn Spanish as it is the local language and will make for a truly immersive experience.
A visit to the Pisco vineyards is one of the things that should definitely be on your bucket list. At the Pisco vineyards at Ica, you can see the vines stretching out in rows before you. During harvest season, you might also participate in crushing of the grapes. Hacienda La Carvaredo Pisco Porton distillery is one of the oldest established in 1684. Nestled in the foothills of the Andes, they still create the liquor as a labour of love, with their hands. The copper still in which the drink is stored is reminiscent of a technique used ages ago and still followed today. A tasting to the famous drink with a plate of Ceviche and tapas is very much recommended.
Bodega Vinas de Oro
Located about 200 kms from the capital Lima, Vinas de Oro is one of the smaller vineyards. Opened in 1983, they focus on the modern methods of production. The extensive neat vineyards are combined with a high-tech distillery. You should definitely sip some of their magnificent produce at their beautiful modern tasting room.
El Carmelo Hotel and Hacienda
This eclectic hotel is one of the best places to experience Pisco. A 200 year old vineyard which still produces Pisco with the traditional methods, it also has a restaurant where you can combine the Pisco Puros with some delectable Peruvian dishes. There are a plethora of minute details that romanticizes El Carmelo, a peacock roaming the distillery or a selection of colonial artwork.
A trip to Peru is incomplete without trying out Pisco. A drink that takes the experience of having an alcohol to a whole new level altogether. It captures the turbulence, defiance and hard work of this beautiful nation in the most purest way possible.
This article was first published in Mail Today on 26th February 2017.
Image Credits: PROMPERU