Chileans are pas­sion­ate about pisco

Globe-trot­ting lo­cals de­velop taste for spirit

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Arts & Life -

When I vis­ited Chile 12 years ago with my hus­band, we got the im­pres­sion that pisco was a big deal. Every­body was drink­ing the po­tent spirit made by dis­till­ing fer­mented grape juice: young hip­sters at bars sipped pisco sours, old gau­chos on ferry rides savoured it neat, and univer­sity co-eds slammed it back in pis­co­las (pisco with Coke).

The thing is, we never tried pisco on its own — or in cock­tail form — be­cause we could buy fan­tas­tic bot­tles of Chilean wine for $5 or $6. Plus, we didn’t re­ally know what pisco was; it in­tim­i­dated us (Read: we saw how drunk it got the Chileans). So, we sipped fer­mented grape juice and didn’t bother with the dis­tilled ver­sion. Our loss.

What a dif­fer­ence a decade makes. Pisco — along with other Latin spir­its in­clud­ing mescal from Mex­ico and cachaca from Brazil — is ex­pand­ing its reach well north of Cen­tral and South Amer­ica, into coupe glasses at bars in the United States and Canada. Lo­cal bar­tender Neila MacIn­tyre, who pours pisco at Ox and An­gela on 17th Av­enue S.W., says that out of all the bars she’s worked in across Canada, pisco has never been as pop­u­lar as it is in Cal­gary. She cred­its Cal­gar­i­ans’ love of globe-trot­ting with help­ing to el­e­vate the spirit’s sta­tus from un­heard of to ubiq­ui­tous.

“Cal­gar­i­ans are ex­plor­ing the world a lot more and trav­el­ling a lot more. They’ll come back from a trip to Chile or Peru and ask for pisco,” MacIn­tyre says.

“It’s one of those ‘hid­den’ spir­its peo­ple don’t know a lot about. They’re in­ter­ested in learn­ing about it and ask­ing ques­tions.”

Pisco is made in spe­cific re­gions of Chile and Peru and the two coun­tries have long ar­gued over which can claim ori­gin of de­nom­i­na­tion. The spirit is more of­ten as­so­ci­ated with Peru, which con­tains a town, a val­ley and a river by the name of Pisco, but it has prob­a­bly been made in Chile just as long. Span­ish set­tlers in the 1500s were the orig­i­nal pis­co­mak­ers — they were try­ing to recre­ate orujo, a Span­ish brandy made from pressed wine grapes.

On its own, pisco smells of white wine, cit­rus and peaches, and tastes like a creamy co­gnac. Its strength comes through in a tra­di­tional Pisco Sour (see recipe), but that oomph is bal- an­ced by lime juice and soft­ened by egg white and sim­ple syrup. The short, tart and frothy drink tastes rather like a margarita only smoother, with more grape essence and lack­ing that tequila bite. It’s del­ish.

Ox and An­gela twists this clas­sic and shakes it up as a Pisco & Pear Sour (see recipe). MacIn­tyre adds an ounce of pear purée and a bit of nat­u­ral agave syrup for sweet­ener, a change-up that adds depth to the drink. The sub­tle pear flavour plays well with the lime and the pisco’s grape notes, and the whole thing pleases my palate greatly. When MacIn­tyre tells me that some­times peo­ple come in and end up or­der­ing six in a row, I be­lieve her. (Look for a Pretty in Pink on the menu for Valen­tine’s Day; it’s made with pisco, pink grape­fruit juice, agave syrup and cin­na­mon.)

MacIn­tyre uses a Chilean pisco called El Gob­er­nador, a prod­uct she re­ally likes.

“There’s a lit­tle bit more of a rich­ness to it than a Peru­vian pisco,” she says.

Ho­ra­cio Fuentes, a wine­maker with Miguel Tor­res, couldn’t agree more. He’s been tasked with ex­port­ing El Gob­er­nador, the wine la­bel’s pisco prod­uct, to North Amer­ica and Europe and thinks he’s got a win­ner.

“It’s a pisco reser­vado with 40 per cent al­co­hol, and 100 per cent pure dis­til­la­tion. That gives it a fruiti­ness and lets its aro- mas stand out — peach, ba­nana, white choco­late,” Fuentes says by phone from Chile.

As to why pisco is be­com­ing so pop­u­lar, Fuentes guesses.

“It prob­a­bly has to do with gas­tron­omy. The restau­rants are push­ing out the pisco sour on their wine and spir­its lists. And peo­ple hear about the pisco sour from Peru and Chile,” he says.

Yes, I’d heard about it long be­fore it showed up on Cal­gary cock­tail menus from Ming to Model Milk. And while Ox and An­gela spe­cial­izes in the food of Spain and shares that Latin link to pisco, many other restau­rants don’t. It goes to show that pisco is a stand-alone spirit. Those Chileans are pas­sion­ate about pisco for good rea­son.

BASED FEA-

IS A TURES WRITER. HER OR READ ABOUT HER COCK­TAIL ADVENTURES

AT WWW.DRINK-PLAY-LOVE.COM.

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