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Fire Water and Punch

  Pisco is at its simplest, is Brandy from Latin America.  Pisco is Aguardiente, the word comes from the Latin “Agua” for “water” and “Ardiente” meaning “fiery” – Fire Water.  Simliar to Brandy, which is short for Brandywine, from the Dutch expression for “burnt wine” or distilled wine.

Most nations in Latin America claim proprietorship of Pisco and that has lead too many arguments, from the halls of academia to the tables of tabernia. Peru claims the beverage got it’s name from the Peruvian town of Pisco. Chilean linguist Rodolfo Lenz said that the word pisco was used all along the Pacific coast of the Americas from Arauco to Guatemala, and that the word would be of Quechua origin meaning “bird”. Most convincing (to me) is Chilean linguist Mario Ferreccio Podesta’s theory, that the etymology to which pisco was originally a word for a mud container, much like amphora.

The Spaniards introduced distillation almost as soon as they arrived.  In the Viceroyalty of New Spain vineyards were introduced by missionaries wherever they could get Vitis Vinerfera to grow. and the late 1500’s there were vineyards producing wine commercially from modern day growing regions like Chile in the south to California in the North . So significant and threatening to the Spanish mercantilist that in 1595 the Spanish Crown banned the establishment of new vineyards in the Americas to protect the exports of its native wine industry.

By the 17th century Pisco was being exported including back to Spain and Portugal for fortification of wines. By the 18th century Pisco represented almost 90% of the grape beverage produced. During the California Gold Rush Pisco became a hit in San Francisco.

Pisco is made in an alembic Pot Still, just like Spanish Brandy or Cognac. It is distilled to between 60 and 80 proof with some Gran Pisco coming in at 86 proof or more. There are eight approved grape varietals, Muscat is by far the most popular grape because of its aromatics followed by Torontel and Pedro Ximenex. Pisco must be aged for a minimum of three months in vessels of “glass, stainless steel or any other material which does not alter its physical, chemical or organic properties”.

Peruvian Pisco must be made in the country’s five official D.O. (Denomination of Origin) departments—Lima, Ica, Arequipa, Moquegua and Tacna (only in the valleys of Locumba Locumba, Sama and Caplina). Chilean Pisco must be made in the country’s two official D.O. (Denomination of Origin) regions—Atacama and Coquimbo. The right to use an appellation of origin for pisco is hotly contested between Peru and Chile. Peru claims the exclusive right to use the term “pisco” only for products from Peru. Chile, regards the term “pisco” as generic, and it argues the spirit is simply a type of alcoholic beverage made from grapes.

The Bank Exchange and Duncan Nicol, circa 1893.

Pisco Punch was made famous by Duncan Nicol at the Bank Exchange Saloon in San Francisco. Nicol was the last owner of the Bank Exchange when it closed its doors permanently in 1919 because of the Volstead Act.

Duncan Nicol invented a pisco punch recipe using: pisco brandy, pineapple, lime juice, sugar, gum arabic and distilled water.

Simple Pisco Punch
2 ounces pisco
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
2 ounce pineapple Juice
1 ounce simple syrup

Add all ingredients to cocktail shaker with ice. Shake for 15 seconds. Double strain into an Old Fashioned glass filled with ice. Garnish with an orange twist.

 

One bank Exchange regular said, “It tastes like lemonade but comes back with the kick of a roped steer.” Others said “it makes a gnat fight an elephant.” Harold Ross, founder of The New Yorker magazine wrote in 1937: “In the old days in San Francisco there was a famous drink called Pisco Punch, made from Pisco, a Peruvian brandy… pisco punch used to taste like lemonade but had a kick like vodka, or worse.”

Pisco found many fans during its heyday. In Rudyard Kipling’s 1889 epic From Sea to Sea, he immortalized Pisco Punch as being “compounded of the shavings of cherub’s wings, the glory of a tropical dawn, the red clouds of sunset and the fragments of lost epics by dead masters.”

Pisco has found fans in a new generation of Mixologist and imbibers. The clean nature of the bandy makes a nice base for cocktails. Here is a modern update on Punch from me.

Lenny’s Pisco Parlor Punch
3 ounce Barsol Pisco
1 ounce Lime Juice
½ ounce Lemon Juice
1 ounce Small Hands Pineapple Gum Syrup
½ ounce Velvet Falernum

Shake with ice and double strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a cherry or pineapple or both.

 

Velvet Falernum is a longtime staple item of resorts and bars in Barbados, and today for its use in Tropical, Tiki and Caribbean drinks such as the Rum Swizzle, Mai Tai and Zombie. Made from an infusion of spices and lime juice into sugar cane syrup and Barbados Rum.

Small Hands Gum Syrup is about as close as you can get to Duncan’s original.

Bodega San Isidro dates back to the 1800’s. However, the most remote documents retrieved from the local town archives date back to 1919. In 2005 Bodega San Isidro became the top exporter of Pisco of Peru, being the first company ever to export one solid 20’ container of Pisco in Peru’s history. BarSol specializes in piscos produced with Quebranta, Italia and Torontel Grapes. They are produced in both styles, a) straight pisco and b) Mosto Verde Pisco. An “Acholado” pisco is also made, from a blend of piscos from the 3 single grape varietals.

 

 

 

 

How to Manhattan

A Manhattan is a cocktail made with whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters. While you may use any whiskey of your choice my personal preference is for Rye. The cocktail is usually stirred then strained into a cocktail glass and garnished with a Maraschino cherry. In a cocktail so simple the ingredients are of utmost importance.

212 is the area code for Manhattan, and also the recipe. 2 parts rye whiskey, 1 part sweet vermouth and 2 dashes of angostura Bitters.

As far as Rye goes there are many great Ryes out there. Michters, Bulliet Rye, Sazerac Rye, even Basil Haydens; my personal go to is Old Overholt Rye. It was first recommended to me by Super Star bartender Amanda Reed. I had always kept OH around for years, but her recommendation only confirmed my own feelings.

Old Overholt, said to be America’s oldest continually maintained brand of whiskey, was founded in West Overton, Pennsylvania, in 1810. Henry Oberholzer (Anglicized to “Overholt”), a German Mennonite farmer, moved to West Overton, Pennsylvania, on the banks of Jacobs Creek in Western Pennsylvania in 1800. His family came from the area of Germany which specialized in distilling rye whiskey, and Henry took up the tradition. Since its founding Old Overholt fans have included everyone from Gunfighter and gambler Doc Holliday to Civil War general Ulysses S. Grant and U.S. President John F. Kennedy was a fan.

Whisky writer Jim Murray said “creamy nose…citrus notes…very hard rye…momentarily moist and sweet before going on to perfect the driest, crispest finish of its genre”. And that is what you want in a Manhattan, I find most Bourbons to be too sweet once you add the Vermouth.

It used to be that the standard was to have a great whiskey and simply threaten it with Vermouth. It used to be that the quality of vermouth available to bartenders was so low that many would just wave the bottle of vermouth and threaten the cocktail with it. Some would just do a rinse of vermouth or sometimes use an atomizer to mist the cocktail like it was perfume.

Today, we are in a vermouth (and Amaro) renaissance. There are literally hundreds of different vermouths on the market in a wide variety of sweetness levels and spice profiles. But I still love the Carpano Antica Formula. Antonio Benedetto Carpano is the individual traditionally credited, posthumously, with inventing what we know today as red Italian vermouth. The Carpano brand was formalized some years later by Carpano’s nephew. This distinctive and powerful aromatized wine should be considered a standard component in any respectable bar.

“Rich, fruity and enticing, this sweet vermouth is warmed with notes of fig and dried cherries, and just faint hints of spiced gingerbread and bitter orange peel. Drinkable solo as an apéritif, or use it as a cocktail-mixing favorite. (KN)” –95 points Wine Enthusiast

Bitters the traditional Angostura is fine. I like Scrappy’s Orange Bitters, the bit of orange is a nice complement to the sweet Vanilla in the Vermouth. But use what you like, Chocolate Bitters is cool and different.

And lastly don’t use cheap nasty Maraschino Cherries! Spend less on the whiskey and you have a budget to spend on good vermouth and real cherries!

The OG Maraschino cherries, called Luxardo cherries. Before it became known for its preserved cherries, Luxardo was a distillery on the coast of what was once an Italian province, but is now modern-day Croatia. Founded in 1821 by Girolamo Luxardo, an Italian consul in that region, the company made its name with a cherry liqueur called Maraschino, which Girolamo based on a medieval spirit. The liqueur was made from sour Marasca cherries and made by distilling the fruit’s leaves, stems, pits, and skins. It’s those pits, by the way, that give the liqueur its characteristic nutty background flavor, which is often mistaken for almonds. They are in the same family, drupes. In 1905, the distillery started selling cherries candied in a syrup of Marasca cherry juice and sugar, thus creating the original Maraschino cherry.

The OG Manhattan

2 ounce Old Overholt Rye

1 ounce Carpano Antica Vermouth

2 dashes Angostura Bitters (or Orange Bitters)

1 Luxardo Maraschino Cherry

1 cup Ice cubes

Combine whiskey, vermouth, and bitters in a cocktail mixing Pint glass. Add ice and stir until chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

 

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