Pisco, a Peruvian grape-based liquor similar to brandy, can be summed up simply as “a tale of sublime culture, flavor and mystery concocted into one mighty fine beverage.” Pisco has had a longstanding history in South America and is among one of the world’s oldest distilled liquors. But not many have tried this versatile, clear liquor or have even heard of it. Thankfully for mixologists and cocktail enthusiasts, pisco is currently having its second coming in North America and can be found on cocktail menus around the country once again.
Pisco’s rich history is linked to Spanish Viceroyalty who settled in the southern Peruvian Valleyof Ica and planted vineyards in the 1500s. Although there is some degree of tension between Peru and Chile as to which culture can claim the spirit as their own, the port city of Piscoi's considered by Peruvians to be the birthplace of the liquor. In 1849, in the height of the California Gold Rush, Peruvians immigrated to the United States, in hopes of cashing in on the gold rush, bringing their national spirit along with them. Sailors and tradesmen also caught wind of the pisco while visiting the port cities of Peru en route to San Francisco and began to import pisco into the city.
Once in America, Pisco took off like wild fire and became a popular spirit. It was especially popular in San Francisco saloons, most notably the Bank Exchange & Billiard Saloon where its last owner, Duncan Nicol, invented piscos most famous drink—Pisco Punch. From merchants to Mark Twain and Rupyard Kipling, Pisco Punch left quite the impression. Kipling made the drink world famous when he described Nicol’s drink as being “compounded of the shavings of cherubs’ wings, the glory of a tropical dawn, the red clouds of sunset, and the fragments of lost epics by dead masters.” Needless to say, we think he was a fan of Pisco Punch. With the onset of the National Prohibition Act in 1919, Nicol was forced to close Bank Exchange forever and according to pisco legend, he took the exact recipe to his grave shortly after the saloon closed. Since then, pisco for the general public has fallen into obscurity but North American mixologists held a torch for pisco and studied written accounts of the cocktail to recreate Nicol’s original version.
You can find a recipe for Pisco Punch below using a family-owned artisanal pisco, Gran Sierpe:
1 ½ Oz. Gran Sierpe Pisco
1 Oz. Pineapple Juice
1 Oz. Lime Juice
½ Oz. Simple Syrup
Handful *Fresh mixed berries, optional
Mix all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, shake well, and serve in a highball glass with ice.
*Add muddled berries before shaking.
Garnish with a pineapple wedge or fresh berries.