Ever have those friends who claim they cannot (or will not) drink a certain liquor after too many peer-pressured pulls from a plastic handle in college? Or they swear they will retch from a mere whiff of whiskey? Annoying, right? Well, when I was asked to do a review of Pisco Porton, my entire framework for the spirit was one of those cloying, annoying cautionary taIes had always promised not to become.
Earlier this year, I had a chance to travel to Santiago, Chile with a mix of sheltered coworkers and locals who promised to give us a well-rounded experience of the city’s nightlife in just a few days. I quickly learned pisco is mixed with everything – piscolas and pisco sours were everywhere and they were delicious, and as I would learn each morning, packed a hell of an aftershock. I came back raving to Susie about how this drink had kicked the crap out of me (in the best way possible). She kept nudging me to review it, but after a few raw flashbacks to how I felt from a week of pisco emersion, I decided it needed to wait until my memories from Chile dulled a bit. So, after some stalling, I was finally ready to go back and face my new frenemy.
For those not familiar, pisco is a white spirit made from grapes (technically a form of brandy) that, when done well, feel like the beautiful offspring of grappa and vodka. There’s a whole backstory where Peru and Chile fight over who does it best, but if you’re scoring at home, Porton is team Peru. If you do like history and South American culture, use this review and this article as a launching point because it covers it much better than I can.
I resolved to start with a straight pour served neat and was happy to find my sips did not leave me burning or second guessing what I’d gotten myself into. The drink was earthy with vanilla and fruity notes that came through as I savored it. I didn’t get the tobacco and oak mentioned in the review linked above, but it was still much easier to drink than I’d expected.
Now that I had invited pisco into my own home, I was ready to experiment beyond what had been prepared for me back in Chile. Luckily, Pisco Porton has a great website full of information and resources, including a strong cocktail library featuring both traditional and non-traditional recipes. After perusing (peru…no, I will not make that joke), I landed on three recipes that would hopefully prove how versatile the spirit is and didn’t sound too difficult so as not to be held back by my non-professional bartending skills.
Take the classic negroni recipe and swap out gin for pisco and you’re all set. To be honest, after I mixed this, the pisco flavor was harsh and overpowered the drink. After rebalancing it and adjusting to the bite of the pisco (it’s not a mixer that’s going to disappear unless you’re making sugar drinks … and that’s just rude), it improved with each sip. If you’re looking to try pisco for the first time, stick with more traditional sour or cola mixers, but if you like the taste of pisco on its own, this will work for you.
Once again – we’re swapping out a traditional spirit (cognac) with pisco. Unlike a traditional sidecar that can sneak up on you before you realize how tipsy you are, the pisco version doesn’t tip toe around your wavering sobriety. However, the end product was a strong drink I could sip and enjoy and ended up being my favorite of the three. The bold profile of pisco is complimented nicely by orange and lemon.
Probably the most approachable of the three, the combination of pisco, lime juice, bitters and ginger beer was made to make every Dark and Stormy or Moscow Mule enthusiast ease into trying something new. At first sip, the pisco presence was masked heavily by the ginger beer, as ginger beer often does. Even after a second attempt with a different ratio, the ginger beer overwhelmed the spirit, making for a good drink, but not a great showcase for pisco itself.
Now that I’ve got my pisco legs back, I’ve made a few more sidecars and plan to infuse another bottle of with blood oranges and see what I can come up with.
Although I didn’t make one tonight, I think everyone owes it to themselves to try a pisco sour, because as Roy Kesey said in the previously linked interview with San Diego City Beat, “When you drink a well-made one, it feels like you’re drinking the world’s best lemonade, but then you fall down after the third one.” Salud to that!