Got Pisco?

By: José Manuel Simián

A few years ago, a Chilean magazine assigned me to interview Jason Littrell, a New York–based mixologist who was championing pisco as a cocktail drink. He had been a paid “ambassador” of the Chilean producers of the grape-based spirit, but he assured me that his love for pisco was genuine.

“I’m in love with this spirit,” he told me in a Manhattan bar. “It’s way more transparent and delicious than many of the spirits we drink in the states.”

Littrell’s optimism came with a vision: in five or 10 years, he said, we’d see pisco finding a way for itself into the palate of Americans. He saw restaurant chains such as TGI Friday’s or Outback Steakhouse offering pisco cocktails on their menus, thanks to the wave of more adventurous bartenders such as him opening the country’s palate.

But until that vision comes true (as it may well do), pisco is still mostly a rarity in the United States—a treat you can only find in Peruvian restaurants and a few bars. Or something a New York writer needs to travel to Peru to find in its real form. (A separate matter altogether is the fight between Peruvians and Chileans over the “ownership” of the spirit, a dispute that the EU recently settled in favor of Peru.)

National disputes aside, you should go out and look for a good sip of pisco to see what the fuzz is all about before the summer is over. Even better: get your own bottle (you may have to do a little searching to find it in your area) and make yourself a pisco cocktail to kick off your night.

And please, skip the piscola (a concoction of pisco and Coca-Cola that, if you grew up in Chile like me, may have marked your first and forgettable encounters with alcohol), and go for the refreshing tart sweetness of a pisco sour. Pour three ounces of pisco, one ounce of lime juice, one ounce of simple syrup (half sugar, half water) and 1/2 an ounce of egg white in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously, pour over rocks or in a flute glass, and finish with a few drops of Angostura bitters.

You may need to go for seconds to see Littrell’s vision for yourself, but I guarantee you’ll understand where he was coming from right away.

José Manuel Simián is the Executive Editor of Manero. He used to be a lawyer and is probably listening to Bob Dylan as you read this.