Cocktails: A New Style of Pisco Explores the Spirit's Potential

Cocktails and Spirits with Paul Clarke

Weekly insight into the world of drinks with Paul Clarke from the Cocktail Chronicles and Imbibe magazine.


[Photograph: Wikipedia]

In recent years, predictions of coming trends in spirits and cocktails have almost invariably included a forecast of a coming boom for the South American brandy known as pisco. And while sales of the lightly funky spirit from Peru and Chile have been buoyed somewhat by the overall cocktail renaissance, and premium brands such as BarSol have raised the profile of the spirit, pisco has yet to attain the kind of visibility that has expected of it for so long.

I hesitate to put this out there as yet another prediction about pisco's fortunes, but as Jon Bonne wrote in this past weekend's San Francisco Chronicle, the once-modest realm of pisco is undergoing a bit of an overhaul—and not surprisingly, San Francisco is leading the charge.

As Bonne notes, pisco has a long history with the city. During San Francisco's formative years, before the transcontinental railroad or the Panama Canal made it easy and quick to ship materials from the East to the Pacific coast, the city's early residents slaked their thirst with whatever was at hand, and for decades this meant a level of prominence for pisco at historic watering holes such as the Bank Exchange, which served a legendary pisco punch. Today the city's cocktail scene has a particular fondness for spirits from Mexico and South America, as seen at tequila havens such as Tommy's, the aptly named Pisco Latin Lounge, and at Cantina, run by bartender Duggan McDonnell.

Now, McDonnell is doing more to promote pisco than simply pouring the eponymous sours; he's a partner in Campo de Encanto, an artisan pisco from Peru that he spent the last several years developing. With a more perfume-like aroma and an earthier character than many other piscos, Campo de Encanto was created with its use in American bars in mind. Rich and robust, the pisco was designed to have the kind of assertive flavor that many craft bartenders seek out when working with a particular spirit, while the airy aromatics justify its use in a drink calling for only light adornment, the better to show off the spirit's own character.

Campo de Encanto has only just debuted, and it's still only available in San Francisco (though conveniently, Bay Area retailers including Cask and K&L Wine Merchants offer online sales). But its appearance in one of the country's most vibrant cocktail communities could prompt a fresh look at a style of spirit that's had a lot of expectations put on it in recent years, and perhaps it will prompt curious drinkers to re-examine pisco's potential.

Pisco sours have become a craft-bar standard in recent years, along with several other drinks. Are you a fan of pisco? What are your favorite brands, and the top drinks you've had with pisco?