Pisco is the subject of long-standing debate between Peru and Chile. Technically a grape brandy (Chile has looser rules with regard to terminology), pisco is the national spirit and a protected denomination of origin product in both countries. Peru has long lobbied for exclusive use of the word, in part because the spirit originated there. It must be made in accordance with strict guidelines in the Departments (regions) of Arequipa, Lima, Ica, Moquegua and specific valleys in Tacna. The resulting spirit, which must have an alcohol content of 38 to 48 percent, is smooth, slightly viscous and reflects the essence of the grapes as well as the terroir.
Jimmy Yeager, proprietor of Aspen’s namesake restaurant and bar, says: “Pisco is a very interesting and versatile spirit, perfect for cocktails. Because of its subtle nature, the flavors—[which range from fruity and floral to herbaceous, earthy and spicy]—play well with others, as long as they’re not overpowered.”
Of the three categories of pisco officially recognized in Peru, pisco puro, made from Quebranta grapes or other designated varietals, is the most popular. Pisco mosto verde uses partially fermented grape juice, or must, while pisco acholado is a distillation of different grape varietals.
The first historical documentation of Peruvian pisco dates to the 17th century, when Spanish colonists brought grapes to the country to produce wine. It had a brief heyday stateside during the Gold Rush, when Peruvian and Chilean sailors introduced pisco to San Francisco, but it fell out of favor following Prohibition, when more affordable rum became the spirit of choice.
Pisco is again gaining ground in the U.S., as mixologists like Yeager embrace it for its diversity and flavorful punch. “I prefer to drink it in cocktails, but on occasion enjoy it chilled from the refrigerator or over one large ice cube.” Salud!
Yeager attributes the inspiration for this recipe to Las Vegas beverage consultant Francesco Lafranconi. “It works very well with the Selecto, which is lighter and has nuanced flavors of tropical fruit and citrus. There’s a hint of grassy and honeysuckle notes as well, which play off the sauvignon blanc and yellow Chartreuse, while the aperol adds depth and balances the sweetness of the drink.” If drinking neat, serve pisco in a grappa glass, or over one large ice cube in a rocks glass.
1 ounce BarSol Pisco
¾ ounce aperol
½ ounce yellow Chartreuse
1 ½ ounce sauvignon blanc
Build first four ingredients in a Collins or pilsner glass, and top with club soda. Stir and garnish with grapefruit peel.