I’ve never covered pisco in any way, shape or form. I never sold it when I was a bartender, and have never used it within my work since, but recently I’ve had the chance to fill the clean slate with a new brand to hit the UK in Pisco Portón.
It’s probably best to explain what Pisco is before we hit on the variety of Portón.
Two countries in South America lay claim to pisco as their home-grown spirit, and much like whisky in Scotland and Ireland, the debate still rages on. The main differences between the two countries though depicts the style of pisco you wish to enjoy. Pisco is essentially a white brandy, and in Peru, pisco regulations allow for the spirit to be distilled from any one of (or a blend of) eight local grape varieties. Each imparts a slightly different characteristic to the finished spirit, but all are distilled using the same methods: stainless steel and glass are the only containers that Peruvian piscos ever come into contact with; they may be distilled only once, and never diluted. No wood-aging or any sort of manipulation other than the blending of varietals is allowed.
In Chile, pisco regulations allow distillers to have a bit more influence on their final product. Distillers may run the spirit through multiple distillations, they may dilute the final product and they can even barrel-age. However, as opposed to the eight grape varieties used regularly in Peru, Chilean pisco makers tend to focus on only three, Moscatel being the most common.
The history is rather lengthy too. I’ve taken the following timeline from the Pisco Portón website:
1560 – Spaniard Francisco de Caravantes introduces the first grapes to Peru in order for wine to be made for church mass.
1604 – Vineyards in Ica, Peru produce 81 million liters of wine, and there is substantial production in several other coastal regions.
1613 – A vineyard owner makes the first written reference to pisco in his will.
1600-1699 – Peruvian vinted wines start to outsell Spanish wines. The Spanish crown moves to protect the country’s vineyards by imposing taxes on wine exported from Peru. Gradually, vineyards switch to distilling pisco to avoid these taxes.
1684 – Juan Facundo Caravedo Roque buys a group of vineyards he calls Hacienda La Caravedo and constructs a distillery to make pisco there.
1700 – Pisco production overtakes wine production in Peru. First produced to avoid taxes, it becomes a beloved spirit around the world.
1726 – Peru’s pisco exports are double its wine exports.
1821 – Peru proclaims independence from Spain.
1830 – First written record of pisco exported to the U.S., heading to San Francisco, CA.
1849 – The Pisco Punch becomes a famous San Francisco drink and remains so until Prohibition.
1883 – Outbreak of phylloxera attacks Peruvian vines. Some farmers switch to food crops or cotton. Pisco exportation falls.
1899 – Rudyard Kipling describes pisco in his novel From Sea to Sea: “I have a theory it is compounded of cherubs’ wings, the glory of a tropical dawn, the red clouds of sunset, and fragments of lost epics by dead masters.”
1916 – American Victor Morris opens Morris Bar in Lima, Peru and invents the Pisco Sour.
1920 – Prohibition begins in the United States. Pisco, once a beloved drink on the West Coast, never regains popularity after Prohibition.
1946 – Cocktail and Wine Digest publishes a Pisco Sour recipe.
1991 – Peruvian government declares pisco a national heritage and defines approved regions and distillation methods for its production. All producers must submit their pisco to governmental organization INDECOPI to taste and verify authenticity of product before sale. The law accelerates a renaissance in the quality and pride of Peruvian piscos.
2002 – INDECOPI rules that pisco must be made from one or a blend of eight traditional grape varietals (Quebranta, Common Black, Mollar, Italia, Muscat, Albilla, Torontel and Uvina).
2004 – Johnny Schuler founds Peruvian Academy of Pisco with the mission to promote and protect the heritage of Peruvian pisco.
2011 – Portón Pisco launches in the United States.
So what makes Pisco Portón a standout? Well I had the chance to meet Johnny Schuler, creator and Master Distiller of Pisco Portón, and he was more than happy to explain the production styles that he uses.
Pisco Portón is created using a combination of traditional and modern methods. To preserve the full character of the grapes chosen, Pisco Portón uses the mosto verde method of distilling from a partially fermented grape juice known as must. This method keeps some of the natural sugars within the grapes from converting into alcohol. Despite not being the easiest method, and least popular, fifteen pounds of grapes are used within each bottle of Pisco Portón. The three grape varieties that Pisco Portón use are Quebranta (most popular pisco grape in Peru), Albilla (offers a smoother finish) and Torontel (offers a heavy aroma with strong citrus).
Pisco Portón is distilled using custom-made French copper pot stills. Johnny Schuler, by Peruvian law, can not add water to the pisco to bring it to proof, ensuring a small batch distillation process, which ultimately gives him more control over the whole process despite only having one shot at creating a batch. After distillation, the pisco rests in neutral cement containers named cubas de guardia for five to eight months in order to let the flavours marry. Once ready, they are bottled and individually numbered and signed by Johnny. All this happens within the Hacienda La Caravedo in Ica, Peru, the oldest distillery in the Americas, being established in 1684.
So how does it all fare? Well below, I give to you my tasting notes –
Pisco Portón – 43%
Light on the nose with a dry aroma of hay, cocoa and ripe grapes. Light again on the palate, with a developing sharpness over the aromatic flavours of the grapes. A slight spice on a velvet texture is present, with hints of red fruit and banana offering a smooth, well-rounded and ultimately lingering finish.
A different experience indeed, and one that would of course work well within the categories signature cocktail –
Portón Pisco Sour
50 ml Portón Pisco
15 ml Fresh lime juice
15 ml Simple syrup
7.5 ml Egg white
1 dash Angostura bitters for garnish
Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake. Strain contents into a chilled glass. Add a dash of bitters for garnish.
So I can safely say I’ve now experienced pisco. An interesting category to explore, and one that I never realised could be strict with the production when it comes to grapes and water. It will be interesting to see how Pisco Portón compares to others within the category, but the bar is high. Try it for yourself, it’s one to tick off the list for sure.
© David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.