There is a Pisco war raging in South America, with bottles of the spirit going head to head in a battle of pride and nationalism. At the core of the fight: Who makes the best Pisco, Peru or Chile?
Pisco is a type of aguardiente (meaning burning water) that is technically a brandy. Made by following strict guidelines for distilling fermented grape juice, Pisco has been produced for hundreds of years using grape varietals that were brought to the region by Spanish Conquistadores.
The case for Peru: Peru uses a minimum of grape varietals, but has a number of regions where the spirit can be produced. Wood is never used, as regulations do not allow the use of materials that can alter the spirit in any way. Instead, the Pisco is kept in steel or plastic containers, or in the traditional botijas or jars, to then be poured into bottles. Although Peruvian Pisco is regulated, it's still artisanal and made by hundreds of small producers. Keeping to the same centuries-old procedures, with production in the hands of artisans, modern Peruvian Pisco has the same characteristics as those produced hundreds of years ago.
The case for Chile: Almost double the number of grape varietals can be used to make Pisco in Chile, but only two regions (Coquimbo and Atacama) are designated for production. The spirit can be aged in oak or not, although it's more widely consumed un-aged. Chilean Pisco is produced under close regulatory scrutiny with single-batch distillations (the law forbids continuous distillation) or even double and triple distillations. Chilean Pisco producers tend to be housed in newer, modern facilities with technology guiding the process. The resulting Pisco is consistent year after year in flavor and style.
I took up the cause of trying to quell the war as only a not-so-innocent cocktail-tasting bystander can. Pitting the Pisco Portón from Peru against the Marnier-Lapostolle KAPPA Pisco from Chile and using a typical Pisco Sour recipe, I found a tie.
The Pisco Portón did give the Pisco Sour a little more citrusy kick, but the KAPPA Pisco added floral notes — both of which were welcome to the palate. Even when pairing with food, both Pisco Sour mixtures withstood the test. A different cocktail recipe would be needed to break the deadlock.
A Margarita made with Pisco proved that only one contender could be the winner. Known as the KAPPA Rico, the blend with Grand Marnier and lemon juice put the Chilean Pisco over the top.
But, hold on, not so fast; the Pisco Portón had a winner, too! A Pisco-based Cosmopolitan martini made with pomegranate and cranberry juice was edgy. I didn’t add any lemon/lime juice to the mix; the Pisco brought it all to the party with its tart, citrusy undertone.
It looks like this war will rage for years. I will gladly continue to do my part to cease all hostilities. Any recruits available?
2 parts Pisco Portón or KAPPA Pisco 1 part lemon juice 1 part simple syrup 1 egg white Angostura bitters
Combine first four ingredients in cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Strain into glass. Top with a few dashes of bitters.
1½ parts KAPPA Pisco 1 part Grand Marnier ¾ part fresh lemon or lime juice ¼ part simple syrup
Combine all ingredients in cocktail shaker; shake vigorously and strain over ice into glass. Garnish with lemon or lime and orange slice.
2 parts Portón Pisco 1 part Grand Marnier or Triple Sec 1 part cranberry juice 1 part pomegranate juice
Combine all ingredients in cocktail shaker full of ice; shake vigorously and strain into martini glass.