I was recently in Peru for a couple weeks, and of course my primary objective down there was cocktail reconnaissance. I’ve always enjoyed pisco, and I’d been to a couple educational seminars on it, but I had still only ever tasted a few brands because we have very little of it in my state. So in between everything else I had planned down there I really wanted to get to know the spirit an the cocktails made from it.
I spent that whole time drinking pisco everywhere and every way I could find it, and I’ll give you my thoughts in my usual unorganized, drunken stream of consciousness manner.
The first thing I noticed was the customs declaration form they give you on the plane. Among the list of items prohibited from entering the country is “drinks manufactured abroad with the denomination ‘pisco'”. I knew they took the rivalry with Chile seriously but not that they would go so far as to confiscate the stuff!
Of course, the first drink I had was a pisco sour. When in Rome, amirite? I was surprised to see the bartender make it with limes! Later that day I went to the grocery store and I found out why. They don’t have lemons in Peru! My Spanish at that point was non-existent, but I asked the store clerk where I could find a lemon and he pointed me at limes. I had to get a phone out and show him a picture of a lemon and he told me they don’t ever have them!
I’ll spare you the whole long back story, but suffice it to say that “lima” is how you say lime in Spanish (and “limon” is lemon) in most places except, oddly, in the country whose capital is Lima. There they call them “limon amarillo” but you’re really hard-pressed to find one. Even employees in the produce department of a grocery store have never seen one. I saw them just once, at a really great cocktail bar, and I looked everywhere.
Their limes, though, aren’t the same. They’re small like a key lime and taste less bitter than the Persian limes we get here. They’re still seemingly about the same sourness. Here’s a good article I just found that backs up my findings and explains them much better.
I want to try making a 50/50 mix of lemon and lime in pisco sours in the future. I’ve only ever had them with lemons stateside but the Peruvian version was better.
The second drink I had was a “maracuya sour”. Maracuya is how they say passion fruit there. (Much of the Spanish world says “parcha”. )
In Peru, the passion fruit was the most sour I’ve ever tasted. I travel all over eating those things, sometimes right off the tree, and normally they’ve got an acid level similar to grapefruit. Not in Peru! Those bad boys had a kick almost like a lime or a lemon! I don’t know if it was seasonal or if it’s always that way, but it made for a killer sour.
The maracuya sour is on every menu there, right under pisco sour. Looking around I saw more Peruvians drinking that (in my very unscientific informal poll) and after trying one I saw why. It was incredible. I want to add it to my menus here, probably doping our passionfruit juice with citric and maybe malic to replace lime juice.
For NYE, I invented the Lima 75, which was basically a French 75 variant with passion fruit as the acid. It was off the hook. That ones’ going on my menus too.
I asked every Peruvian I could what their favorite pisco is. They often said “acholado” which is like if you asked someone what their favorite whiskey was and they said “bourbon”. I would then follow up by asking what brands and they really loved Porton.
Acholado is what’s typically used for sours. Cuatros Gallos seemed to be the most common brand, and a bottle of their well acholado was like $8 USD and worth every penny. They’ve got some higher end stuff that people drink straight. They seem to like Mosto Verdes and Italias for that. Personally I dig the Quebrantas, but it might only be because Quebranta is so much fun to say. It sounds like a racial epithet or something. (Really though, a good one is delicious, but that’s true of all of the varietals I think.)
People drink a lot of straight pisco too. We were doing laybacks on the dance floor at the wedding I was attending. We did them on NYE and I drunkenly poured some in my nose. Have you ever gotten liquor in your nose? It hurts about 10x more than you would think, and for much longer. The next time a woman complains about childbirth just pour some pisco up your nose and then tell her she doesn’t know what pain is.
The other drink I saw almost everywhere was a chilcano. A chilcano is basically pisco, ginger ale, and juice, usually lime but sometimes passion fruit. I just don’t like ginger ale, and it seemed to always be Canada Dry which is a particularly awful product, but I think with a mild ginger beer (or a good ginger ale if such a thing exists) it might be great. I might even just make my own ginger ale to try to perfect a chilcano.
Another thing that shocked me is they drink pisco and tonic. I don’t know why that’s shocking. I guess maybe because we never drink a brandy and tonic. But thinking about it, why not? The pisco tonics I had were very good. It’s not got all the herbaceousness of a G&T, but the funk of pisco gives it more character and depth than a V&T. They also had some good tonics down there. I saw Q, Fever Tree, and some other brand I wish I recorded. Plus well tonics like we have.
Beyond that I saw a couple pisco punches and lots of original pisco cocktails. It really seems that P&T, chilcanos, and the 2 sours are the bulk of what Peruvians drink when imbibing liquor. And of course they have all the other non-pisco cocktails too, and they drink them, but I didn’t because who goes to Peru and drinks whiskey?
Overall, I have to say my appreciation for pisco is at an all-time high. I’d like to go back to Peru one day and see Porton and a few of the other places it’s made. It’s really a delightful spirit, and they’ve got lovingly-made pisco cocktails everywhere.