For those that don’t know, pisco is the national spirit of Peru. Made from grapes and legally required to be distilled to proof (not easy, from what we understand), it is a very interesting liquor, kind of a cross between brandy and grappa. We were fortunate to have been introduced to pisco in the early days of our mixology odyssey, and it remains a favorite alternative when we want to get ourselves out of the usual gin/bourbon/rum rut. Back when we started, there were only a few piscos being imported into the States. Now there are a lot more (yay!), so we decided to try a number and see what we think.
We chose four different piscos out of our collective bar for this tasting. More than that and we figured we’d probably be asking for trouble, or at least muddled palates. 😉
Pisco has three major classifications:
- Puro – fully distilled and made from a single varietal of grape
- Acholado – fully distilled and made with a blend of several varietals
- Mosto Verde – distillation is stopped before fermentation is complete, yielding a sweeter product. Can use one or several varietals
Pisco uses eight varietals of grape – Quebranta, Mollar, Negra Criolla, Uvina, Italia, Torontel, Albilla, and Moscatel – of which Quebranta is the most common.
The four piscos we chose for this tasting are the Ocucaje (puro Quebranta0), Barsol (puro Quebranta0), La Caravedo (puro Quebranta0) and Campo de Encanto (acholado, varietals not listed). First up, we tasted each pisco on its own.
- Nose: Grape skin, raisin, green apple. Slightly harsh alcohol bite.
- Palate: Opening is quite sweet, with vanilla notes. Mid-palate is dried fruit/raisins with bitter though not unpleasant medicinal notes. Serious alcohol bite on the finish. Fairly neutral. Bread-y/pastry notes as it opens up.
- Nose: Grapes, raisins, grape jelly. Touch of earthy loam.
- Palate: Figs and raisins to start. Rhubarb notes on the mid-palate, earthy and slightly sour.Cooked pear on the finish.
- Nose: Grape and raisin, but muted. Cake-y and fruity like fig newtons.
- Palate: Faintly sweet with mild grape notes. Fairly smooth. Closest to a vodka of the 4. Good intro pisco.
Campo de Encanto
- Nose: Melon, roses, honeysuckle, tangerine or orange peel.
- Palate:Starts with and maintains floral notes throughout, like roses or honeysuckle. Summer fruit like melon on the mid-palate. Little bit of white pepper on the finish.
Interestingly, the 3 puro quebrantas had similarities but with their own unique characteristics. As we’ve noticed before, the yeast and distilling technique make a very big difference in the final outcome.
But of course we’re all about mixing here, so we decided to try each of these in a classic pisco cocktail to see how the spirit affected the flavor of the drink. We went with the Chilcano, since apparently that is one of the most common ways to drink pisco in Peru.
- 2 oz pisco
- 1/2 oz lime juice
- 2 drops Angostura
- ginger ale
Pour first 3 ingredients over ice. Give it a good stir. Top with ginger ale and garnish with a lime twist. Cheers!
- Nose: Lime and a little bit of ginger
- Palate: Pisco up front with grape and raisin. Going into the mid-palate is sweet molasses, which transitions into ginger and lime juice. Finish is lime peel.
- Nose: Lime and ginger
- Palate: Raisin and grape flavors on the intro with a little bit of milk chocolate. Mid-palate and finish are the same as the Ocucaje. Picks up hints of star fruit as it warms up a bit.
- Nose: Lime, ginger and a bit of earthiness.
- Palate: Pomace and raisin flavors on the front along with grape must and rhubarb. Mid-palate is ginger ale and lime, with the lime a bit more pronounced than the other drinks. Finish is sweet citrus.
Campo de Encanto
- Nose: Lime, ginger and roses
- Palate: Lime, honeysuckle, and rose to start. Grape and orange peel on the mid-palate. Acidic lime and orange along with more floral notes on the finish. Slightly less sweet than the others.
As you can see, piscos provide interesting variations on a theme within the same style and varietal, and offer quite a different array of flavors when you throw different styles and varietals in the mix. We’re delighted to see more puros arriving that use some of the less common varietals, as well as acholados that mix the characteristic flavors of several varietals to create something new. We hope you’ll be inspired to give pisco a whirl the next time you decide you just aren’t in the mood for another Gimlet or Manhattan. Cheers!