Pisco has been on the rise over the last 18 months or so here in the UK as more bartenders and consumers are embracing the South American spirit. I’ve already covered the Pisco category as a whole, explaining the different types your receive from the two main countries that produce the category; Chile and Peru, but I’ve had the chance to experience another from Peru in the form of Macchu,
So what makes Macchu stand out to the rest of the Peruvian piscos?
You need to head back to the years before 2003 and introduce yourself to Melanie Asher, CEO/Founder, master distiller and blender of Macchu pisco. Melanie saw the potential in the United States and their love for cocktails and artisanal spirits, and with this she set out to introduce the country to one of her homeland’s native spirits; Pisco. Using her knowledge of winemaking from when she lived briefly in France and the region of Bordeaux, she set out to produce her first bottling, one that would earn her a gold medal at the Concurso Nacional, Peru’s premier competition that awards the country’s best pisco offerings.
In 2009, Melanie was joined by her sister Lizzie who serves as the company’s President and leads the company’s import operations and marketing. Comprising 4 generations of women within the company (including their 100-year old grandmother Abuela Amelia, who always approves of each distillation before bottling!), they acquired their own distillery located in Ica, part of the Pisco Valley of Peru and produce three piscos – the premium single-variety Macchu Pisco, the super-premium acholado-style La Diablada Pisco and the Ñusta Pisco.
Macchu Pisco became the first super-premium Pisco to enter the U.S market. The non-aromatic Quebranta grape is distilled within copper pot stills, and then rested for a minimum of 1 year before being bottled. Within each bottle, 13-lbs of the Quebranta grapes are within, and it prides itself on being free of added sugar,enzymes, yeast or water. La Diablada Pisco however is the world’s only vintage Pisco since 2005 and is a blend of Quebranta, Moscatel, Italia and Torontel grapes. The La Diablada names implies the spiciness of the devil and the sweetness of an angel and uses the first grape pressing and the heart of the distillate only. The 4 eau-de-vies are distilled once to proof and allowed to reach naturally its 40% abv without adding any water. They are rested for over a 2 year period and once bottled, each can hold 20-lbs of grape.
So, how do they fare? Well below, I give to you my tasting notes –
Macchu – 40%
Ripe pear notes upon the nose, with a good dose of tart fruits coming through. Light, soft flavours of the pear are present on the palate, with dry grapes and sweet fruit salad flavours combining to create a long, tantalising finish.
La Diablada – 40%
A fresh, scented nose of melon, sharp grapes and ripe apricot, moving to a more concentrated kick of the apricot upon the palate. A good punch of glazed fruits blended with dry spices offers a bold finish that dries slightly.
Two very different experiences, and are great to be sipped. But there’s a classic name that many of you will recognise and, of course, works very well with Macchu –
75 ml Macchu
25 ml Fresh lime juice
25 ml Sugar syrup
1 Egg white
Shake all the ingredients within an ice filled cocktail shaker and strain into an ice filled rocks glass. Garnish with a drop of Angostura Bitters.
Refreshingly different! As is the Macchu pisco brand, who have been hosting events in London this year including teaming with Pachamama to unveil an exclusive 4 litre Jeroboam magnum filled to the brim with La Diablada Pisco, all to celebrate the 100th birthday of grandmother Abuela Amelia!
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.
The 23rd July saw me travelling down to London to a rather prestigious event where some of the elite spirits would be showcased. A rather bold concept, but when you have the International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC) 2014 winners, who incidentally were announced that very morning for, in one room, it’s an honour to have been offered the invite. Organised by both the IWSC and The Worshipful Company of Distillers, the event was to the 7th annual and held within the Vintner’s Hall.
All gold winners were on display here, with a smattering of ‘Outstanding’ silver winners (197 overall), alongside brand representatives and Master Distillers, so to me it was the perfect opportunity to not only try some of the names I hear so much about, but to also experience, and ultimately compare, the liquid of a winning brand to other similar flavour profiles and categories.
As I tasted a fair few, for ease, below you will find my tasting notes covering a variety of categories –
Bourbon Barreled Big Gin – 47%
Aged 6 months in a once used Kentucky bourbon barrel. Slight wood aromas on the nose with a smooth vanilla scent following. The vanilla dominates the palate, offering a smooth yet dry finish.
Bedrock – 40%
Fresh and fruity on the nose with red berry and liquorice styles dominating. Sharp on the palate with a rather harsh kick of cinnamon creating a very long and very dry finish.
See-Gin Bodensee – 48%
A rather high kick of alcohol, with plenty of aromas including liquorice on the nose. Smooth and aromatic on the palate, but develops with a good kick of liquorice allsorts. A little raw because of this, but produces a lingering finish.
Hernö Juniper Cask – 47%
Lively with heavy juniper on the nose, rounded off with sweet notes. A smooth start on the palate, developing a sharp citrus that creates a lingering finish.
El Tesoro Añejo – 40%
Light caramel on the nose with hints of banana coming through. Smooth, subtle flavours of dry, sun-kissed toffee creating a lingering finish.
El Tesoro Platinum – 40%
Smooth with notes of caramel and kicks of fresh wood on the nose. Very smooth with a banana flavour dominating. A long, fresh finish that’s slightly dry.
Herradura Seleccion Suprema Extra Añejo – 40%
Light on the nose with fragrant scents of wood and honey coming through. Again light on the palate, with hits of banana and smooth, fresh agave. A slightly sharp finish that lingers.
Milargro Special Reserve Añejo – 40%
Fresh agave on the nose creates a rather aromatic experience. A rich blend of agave and wood on the palate that’s lively, yet lingers to a dry finish.
Vieux Niesson – 45%
Light with high, aromatic notes of cocoa and spices. A slow burner on the palate, with again light, aromatic flavours of wood, spice and almonds. Long finish.
Rum Company Old Guadeloupe Calvados Finish – 43%
Rich apple and orange notes, with vanilla and dried fruits kicking the end. Very smooth on the palate, with the rich aromatic fruit flavours dominating, followed by delicate sweetness that produces a long finish.
Angostura 1824 – 40%
Soft notes of wood and sugar on the nose with hints of vanilla following. Very smooth and rich on the palate, with plenty of fresh kicks of wood, honey and spice on the lingering finish.
Pays d’Auge 8yr – 41%
Rich apple aromas on the nose, yet becomes lighter once onto the palate. More aromatic styling, with a smooth, rather thin finish that’s surprisingly short.
4 Fundos– 42%
Very aromatic on the nose with fresh, light fruit flavours coming through. Sharp and very dry on the palate, with cereal flavours creating a long finish.
Blanton’s Gold Edition – 51.5%
Light wood on the nose with rich wheat and sweet honey combining soon after. A sharp spice start on the palate, that soon mellows into a sweet, long fudge finish.
Russell’s Reserve Small Batch – 45%
Light and aromatic on the nose with plenty of wood notes before dark caramel aromas step in. Light and thin on the palate, creating a mouth-watering flavour of caramel and wood before hitting a sharp finish.
Blanton’s Original Single Barrel – 66.6%
A bold hit of fruit and sweetness combined on the nose. Incredibly rich on the palate with deep kicks of caramel that creates a long finish.
New World Projects Starward Single Cask #1 – 56.5%
Fresh notes of light wood on the nose combined with sweet spice. Very rich on the palate, with an incredible sooth offering of toffee, banana, dry fruits and chocolate to create a lingering finish.
SOUTH AFRICAN WHISKY
Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky 5yr – 43%
Smooth with a slight whisp of smoke on the nose. Light and thin on the palate, with a slight kick of vanilla and coconut before the short finish.
Gibsons Finest Rare Blended 18yr
Smooth caramelised vanilla blended with fruits appear on the nose. A rich, sharp fruity start on the palate, mellowing down to a sweet vanilla and spice combination.
English Whiskey Company Peated – 43%
Delicate peat nose with hints of green fruit coming through. Short, light peat and some kicks of fruit on the palate.
Säntis Malt Edition Snow White 2 – 48%
Light, fresh, soft fruit on the nose, turning over onto the palate too. Aromatic herbs and spices combine with white fruits to create a lingering finish.
Mackmyra Svensk Reserve Double Wood Elegant– 48%
Plenty of wood and malt on the nose, although a lighter experience once upon the palate. Chocolate and tobacco flavours dominate before moving to a smooth vanilla finish.
Tullamore Dew Special Reserve 12yr– 40%
Smooth, soft notes of citrus and almond on the nose. Slightly sweet on the palate, with citrus, honey and spice combining well for a short finish.
Bushmills 10yr– 40%
Light cereal notes on the nose with hints of floral and raisin. Smooth, light and easy to enjoy on the palate, with vanilla, spice and kicks of chocolate combining for a short finish.
Bushmills 16yr – 40%
Dark fruits mix with deep hits of malt on the nose. Sharp, rich malt on the palate too, although smooths into a short finish of sherry.
Bushmills 21yr – 40%
Light, aromatic nose of sherry and fresh fruits. Cinnamon and liquorice combine on the palate, with a long finish of the sherry and malt.
Teeling Vintage Reserve 30yr– 46%
Fine, light caramel notes on the nose, with rich almonds following. Sharp start on the palate, but mellows into a light malt, honey and spice blend that creates a lingering finish.
Redbreast 15yr – 46%
Aromatic ripe fruit on the nose, with a soft malt finish. Plenty of barley and vanilla on the palate creating a rich and slightly sweet finish.
Grant’s Voyager – 40%
Rich on the nose with smooth cereal notes and ripe fruit. A combination of honey, fruit and chocolate dominates the palate, creating a rich, sweet lingering finish.
Ballantine’s Limited Deluxe Blend – 43%
Ripe berry and barley blend on the nose, with hints of citrus cutting through. A sharp start on the palate with vanilla countering the citrus for a long finish.
Grant’s Deluxe 18yr – 40%
A lively cereal nose with a good blend of toffee and honey. A light offering on the palate with toffee and ginger, mixing with hints of spice on the short finish.
Glenmorangie Signet – 48%
Light notes of toffee, fudge, chocolate and cinnamon blending together on the nose. A developing sharpness to a ripe malt kick, which mellows towards the short, rich finish of stoned fruit.
Glenmorangie 18yr– 43%
Light on the nose with citrus and fresh white fruit dominating. A developing kick of spice on the palate, followed by a dry, fruity finish.
Glenglassaugh 30yr – 44.8%
Smooth, dried fruits on the nose, followed by a light offering of raisin on the palate. A good kick of malt and spice on the finish with hints of tobacco.
Glenglassaugh 40yr – 42.5%
Rich chocolate and toffee notes on the nose. Burnt wood blends with nutmeg to create a long, rich, deep offering.
The Dalmore 25yr– 42%
Soft vanilla on the nose with hints of dried fruits and citrus. Soft, smooth oak that warms flavours of chocolate and toffee into rich offerings.
Glenmorangie 25yr – 43%
Light cereal notes combined with coffee and dried fruits on the nose. A slight citrus kick on the palate with honey, subtle spice and oak flavours creating a long finish.
Glenfiddich 125th Aniversary Edition – 43%
Aromatic scents of wood on the nose, with plenty of ripe fruits following. A good citrus burst on the palate, with a developing richness of malt and sweetness, leading to a whisp of smoke on the finish.
Glenfiddich Malt Master Speyside– 43%
Soft toffee and honey combine on the nose with ripe pears. Very soft on the palate, with sharp fruit, spice and vanilla offered on a short finish.
Some absolute crackers available, despite missing out on the likes of vodka, cognac and brandy, fruit spirits, shochu and armagnac as well as the names I’ve already had the pleasure of experiencing (Elmer T. Lee, Southwestern Distillers, The King’s Ginger, Mozart Gold and Col E. H. Taylor Jr the stand out missing expressions from the above list).
One expression that has truly surprised me was the New World Projects Starward Single Cask #1, coming in at a hefty 56.5% and hailing from Australia. This whisky has dominated my conversations of the event to anyone who will listen to me! One that I will be sourcing as soon as possible so I can enjoy a country that granted, you wouldn’t expect to get a good spirit from, especially compared to their wines, but have raised their output considerably and most importantly, winning a gold medal that highlights their work and effort.
Congratulations to them, and to the rest of the winners!