Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Pisco Culture of Peru

Pisco, the national drink of both Peru and Chile, is a distilled grape spirit, or "aguardiente", that has a rich history dating back nearly 500 years. While the rightful ownership of the spirit is often disputed between the two countries, the city of Pisco in the Ica Valley of southern Peru is regarded as the birthplace of the product.

Centuries before the Spaniards arrived in South America, the Incan people created a complex system of canals which transported Andean river water throughout the desert. This early irrigation system, known as "Achirana", breathed life into the dry, infertile soils of the Ica Valley and provided ideal growing conditions for a variety of plant life. When the Spaniards arrived in the 16th Century, they extended the Achirana further into the countryside and in 1548, planted the first seeds for the Quebranta grape. Within 12 years, the vineyards were so fertile that Peru exported grapes and wine to Argentina, Chile, Spain and other countries. However, shortly after, the Spaniards were no longer satisfied with wine and craved the Spanish brandies they had enjoyed in their home country. They found that the Quebranta grape they had cultivated produced a strong, flavorful brandy that soon became quite popular throughout South America and overseas. Over time, this brandy became known as Pisco - named after the port from which it was exported.

Modern Pisco is quite different from the crude spirit it once was, although the traditional production methods are still practiced. There are currently seven grapes used to create different varieties of Peruvian pisco (Quebranta, Torontel, Moscatel, Italia, Albilla, Uvina and Negro Corriente), and each type produces a unique result. After the harvest, the grapes are cleaned, pressed and fermented for 18 days, resulting in a light bodied wine with a low alcohol percentage. This wine is then distilled in gas heated copper pot kettle stills, where it transforms into a pure, clear spirit with a much higher alcohol content. However, to achieve the final product Peruvian Pisco is not aged, but rested for a minimum of three months in glass, stainless steel or copper tubs that preserve the natural properties of the Pisco. It is then bottled without any added ingredients - including water. According to tradition, the Pisco must be untainted and bottled at its original proof.

One of the most noted Pisco producers in Peru is Macchu Pisco, a family-run company that creates premium Andean Pisco by combining modern technology with traditional production methods. After the grapes are hand-harvested they are pressed by foot - a tradition the family has maintained through the years. Unlike many other grape-based spirits, the pressings are then discarded and only the first extract is used to create the Pisco. This care and dedication is evident in Macchu Pisco and La Diablada Pisco, two of the company's award-winning releases. First try them neat and then whip up a Pisco Sour! This refreshing cocktail is so popular that in 2003, Peru declared the first Saturday in February Pisco Sour Day!

Pisco Sour

1 1/2 oz. Macchu Pisco
1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp sugar
1/2 egg white
1 dash The Bitter Truth Lemon Bitters

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

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