A Sour for Every Pisco: Mixing with Aromatic Pisco

Almost two years ago I was lucky enough to visit Peru. And while I spent most of the trip in Lima, I did travel to Ica and Lunahuana to further my pisco education. The trip was enlightening on many levels, and I made sure there were a few bottles of pisco in my luggage on the way home. Pisco is still primarily an undiscovered commodity here. While many bartenders are experimenting with its unique flavors, their efforts are limited by availability as only a small amount of the pisco that is produced actually reaches the border. During my time in Peru, I tasted as many kinds of pisco as I could get my hands on--all in the name of research--and learned that there is more to pisco than I knew. More than a handful of the new piscos that have entered the U.S. market in recent years are acholados, or blended piscos. Pisco puro, pisco that is made from only one grape variety, or even mosto verde, pisco that has been distilled with some of the sugar still remaining, seldom cross the border. I was lucky enough to try both of these more obscure styles.

Pisco by law can be made from eight different grape varieties: muscatel, abillia, italia, torontel, uvina, quebranta, mollar, negra criolla. These are then categorized according to their relative aromatic qualities--the first four comprising the more aromatic, floral grapes, and the last four the non-aromatic. Many pisco distillers use the qualities of both non-aromatic and aromatic grapes to create a signature flavor profile. These acholados are usually very mixable and the go-to spirit for pisco sours. In recent years, however, many bartenders have turned to pisco puro made from quenbranta grapes to form the foundation of the pisco sour. The more delicate aroma of the quebranta grape makes it very mixable. Aromatic grapes create piscos that has a strong floral, almost perfumey aroma that make them that much harder to use in cocktails.

I have been trying for two years to figure out the best way to use the bottle of pisco that I brought back from the Rivadeneyra bodega. This pisco puro is made from Italia grapes. I tried it in a pisco sour, but the flavors didn't quite work. Then one day the solution came to me when I remembered the delightful pisco sours I drank in Ica. Of all the pisco sours I drank on that trip, they were the most memorable. I don't know if they actually added Peruvian bitters to the mixture, but they all seemed to be laced with cinnamon. Then I started thinking more about how the floral notes of the cinnamon might work with the more perfume-y flavors of the Italia grapes. It seemed worth a shot, but it turned into a delicious experiment.

Canela Sour

2 ounces pisco
1 ounce lime juice
1 ounce cinnamon-honey syrup*
1 egg white

Shake the ingredients once without ice. Add ice and shake again and strain into a chilled old-fashioned glass. Garnish with several drops of Peruvian bitters swirled in the foam. 

Notes on Ingredients: I used Rivadeneyra pisco.

*To make cinnamon-honey syrup, heat 2 ounces of water with 2 ounces of honey. Once combined, take off the heat and add three cinnamon sticks that have been broken into smaller piece. Cover and let cool. Strain and refrigerate. Makes about 4 ounces.   

Looking Inside the Cooler: Charles Baker's Colonial Cooler

Our friend Charles Baker certainly knew how to get into a couple of scrapes. He outlines many of them in his tales, but perhaps none is so memorable as the time when his boat ran out of gas and left him stranded on his way to Sandakan in North Borneo. And while considering that his stories are often fabulous and detailed, being rescued by a man in a g-string and headdress has made this tale infamous. The drink associated with the tale, the Colonial Cooler,  is often overlooked. Fortunately, the Charles Baker scholar, St. John Frizell, has resurrected it. Of course perhaps resurrection is the wrong word since he has hardly changed it. It certainly is tasty as written.

When I first pondered this cocktail, I was immediately taken by the combination of gin, sweet vermouth, an amaro, bitters, and a sweetener. As I had been playing with amari in the Martinez, I was easily led astray, thinking that the club soda was a mistake. What I missed in understanding this cocktail had much to do with the overlooking the nature of a cooler. Coolers were defined by their inclusion of ginger beer and citrus. While the Colonial Cooler doesn't really look like a by-definition cooler, looking at the recipe through that lens made more sense. In fact as soon as I saw that Frizell decided to add cucumber, I saw how much the Colonial Cooler resembled the Pimm's Cup, another very notable Cooler.

Colonial Cooler (adapted from St. John Frizell's recipe)

1 1/2 ounces gin
1 1/2 ounces sweet vermouth
1 tsp Cointreau
1 dash Angostura bitters
1/4 ounce Amer Picon*
1 sprig of mint
1 ounce of club soda

Shake ingredients, except club soda, and double strain into a high ball or Collins glass filled with ice. Top with soda and garnish with a sprig of mint, slice of pineapple, or slice of cucumber. 

Notes on Ingredients: I used Beefeater gin, Cocchi di Torino sweet vermouth, and Bigallet for the Amer Picon.

*Frizell omits this part of the original cooler, but I added it back in.Also of note, Frizell calls for splitting the sweet vermouth between Cinzano and Carpano Antica. Also, he adds a sprig of mint to the shaking tin in addition to garnish. Cucumbers are also listed as an optional ingredient.