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PISCO MASTERCLASS

Bar Pachamama

In the interests of research, I attended a masterclass on the fiery Peruvian spirit Pisco. The Peruvian tourist board are keen to promote the ‘Pisco route’. The first thing I learnt is the Peruvian Pisco differs from its Chilean rival in being distilled by traditional artisan methods. The fermented grape juice or must has no additives by law, not even water. It is a great source of national pride. The methods date back to the Spanish colonization in the 16th century. The name comes from a small town on the Pacific coastal desert, near to one of the oases where the grapes are grown. Legend has it that pre-columbian cultures over a thousand years ago honoured local birds, the pisku (probably small waders that are found in large numbers like sanderlings). Pure Pisco is made from a single grape variety such as Quebranta, with raisin and apple taste or Mollar with a herbal, honey flavour or Uvina with a touch of olive or Moscatel with sweeter peachy overtones. A mixed ‘acholado’ Pisco can be made to make a more complex beverage. The drink is not aged in wood nor in any material that can impart a flavour so traditionally in ceramic jars (also these came to be named piscos) and now stainless steel.

The history too is fascinating. Originally produced by the Jesuits it was sent to all corners of the Spanish empire. Pisco was exported to California during the Gold rush days as all cargo from eastern North America had to go around Cape Horn, making it a cheaper option. In the 1950’s Lima was popular with Hollywood stars. Orson Wells and Ava Gardner stayed at the Grand Hotel Bolivar, John Wayne at the Hotel Maury. Wayne married a Peruvian who became his lifelong companion, but that is another story. The most famous cocktail at the time was the Pisco sour, a mixture of Pisco, lime, sugar, ice, egg white and bitters. I tried an alternative cocktail called ‘The Pisco Punch’, which dates to 19th century San Francisco. This has pineapple, lime juice, sugar, and secret ingredient gum arabic, that allegedly delays the effect of the alcohol, cheers.
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