Why you should care
Because your mouth cares.
Pisco? Here’s the breakdown: You distill grape wine into brandy spirits, high-proof spirits, sip and stand back. Or better yet, sit down. Because if you’re in Chile or Peru, where ownership of pisco’s origins is still hotly contested, you’re just going to be getting in the way of people who actually can handle their alcohol. And pisco is very definitely a drink you should at the very least try to handle.
“They made us a tray of it,” says military man and world drinker Jack Kroskey about a recent trip to Santiago, Chile. “I’d like to finish the story, but I remember very little after that. Except that it was delicious.” Sometimes colorless, sometimes yellow or amber-colored, pisco has been around since the 16th century, and if current consumption rates are any indication, Chileans produced 26,417,205 gallons of it in 2013 (no stats on how much of that was solely Chilean consumption), making this kind of delicious, downright delectable.
What you’re really drinking is a combustible 86-proof kind of fun fuel for whatever the evening holds.
Especially if delectable means it tastes like a cross between grappa and a less full-bodied cognac. Mixed as a sour — with a simple syrup, lemon juice and an egg white in a cocktail shaker for about 15 seconds before being strained into a 6-ounce cocktail glass and slightly drizzled with bitters — it’s the kind of drink, with or without ice, that sneaks up on you. Which is to say the taste supersedes the fact that what you’re really drinking is a combustible 86-proof kind of fun fuel for whatever the evening holds. And unless you’re moderating the drinking, your evening won’t be holding much post facto.
Beyond the drinking of it, the production of pisco is fraught with all kinds of proprietary weirdness. Like how only sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France can be called Champagne, or “they” — in this instance the French appellation board — will sue your ass off, pisco can only be made in either the Atacama or Coquimbo regions of Chile. That is, only Chilean pisco can. The war with Peruvian pisco rages on, and it seems, at least temporarily, the Peruvians are winning: Peru exports three times the amount of pisco that Chile does, and in 2011, the Peruvian stuff, in addition to winning more than 20 gold medals for taste alone, won the distinction of being glossed the best liquor in the world by the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles.
“I can see how a peasant like you would be enthralled with a decent but not superspecial drink like pisco,” says travel and food writer Richard Sterling, whom The New York Times once called the Indiana Jones of gastronomy. “But a drink, specifically a cocktail, is worth more than how drunk it gets you and how fast. Really, there’s no liquor south of the border better than tequila anyway. And why an entire continent can’t make a good booze is beyond me. Quién sabe?”
An opinion that we almost heard, except to us it sounded something like “superspecial … pisco … drunk!” Which is to say, consume at your own risk, just make sure you consume it, bucket-list-style.