Ah, Pisco... ¡Materia encantadora!
Now I've always been fairly partial towards all kinds of Brandy, and a quick glance at the recipes of nearly any older cocktail book will show that the mixologists of eras past seemed to think pretty highly of it as well. Yet despite this cocktaillian affection for distillates of the vine, I've often had a hard time convincing people to try cocktails based upon an aged example of the spirit. All that goes out the window when the various & sundry other kinds of Brandy come up, however.
There are many of these - as one drives the limousin away from the relatively-known, if oak-tinted, worlds of Brandy & Cognac, a whole world of spirits (made from fruits other than grapes too!) becomes apparent when regionally-produced variations come to the table: Grappa from Italy (California as well), Eau de Vie or Marc from France, Pálinka from Hungary, Brandy de Jerez from Spain, Aguardente Velha from Portugal, Coconut Arrack from Sri Lanka, certain (real) Schnaps from Germany and even Apple Brandy from the wilds of New Jersey. Now, much as I like these examples of Brandy, none of them can hold a candle to the soft, fragrant flavors of a good Pisco from Peru and/or Chile.
Wait, Peru and/or Chile!?! Without digging too deeply into the issue, it seems the origins of this wonderful spirit are (and have been) rather hotly debated by these two countries for quite some time. Suffice to say, I am firmly in the camp of the Peruvians on this one (with no disparagement intended to the Chileans mind you). Why pick a side you ask? Two reasons - taste & a measure of petty vengeance:
Now, I've sampled a handful of Piscos, three of these being Chilean - and for a time the ABA brand was among my favorites (the other two were unspeakably awful). Then the producers decided to stop exporting it to these shores, without a phone call or even a memo reading something like, "Hey, you'd better stock up quick Chris" (enter the petty vengeance). Of the Peruvian Piscos I had tried (in bars mostly), I had no bad experiences in the matter of taste - quite the opposite really. But where was I to find Pisco in my part of the country (where the liquor store operators only recognize words like 'E&J' or 'Bacardi')? Luckily, in the course of speaking with a certain master mixologist, I was very promptly put into contact with Mr. Diego Loret de Mola, a mighty-fine gentleman whose BevMax company handles the marketing &c. for BarSol - a fantastic Peruvian Pisco whose equal I have yet to find. As the word was spread to me, so shall I pass it to you - go out and pick up a bottle (or ten) of this fantastic Pisco - I promise you'll love it...
Well, that's great and all, but what do I do with it, you ask? Try a Pisco Sour to start, then move along to a few other great libations like David Wondrich's Piscodora. You could try substituting Pisco (or another of the lesser-known Brandies I'd mentioned earlier) into cocktails that call for a 'plain' Brandy (try a Roman Punch or Scorpion Bowl this way). Failing all those (or if you've already tried them) you could start really playing with your Pisco. Prior to the untimely death of my computer, I had promised a certain 'tender of the Tiki persuasion that I would share some particular infusion recipes, and I shall not disappoint (©):
2 Cups: Quebranta Pisco (BarSol)
1 large Lemon
3 Tblspns: fresh Lemongrass, minced
3 Tblspns: Demerara sugar
2 Tblspns: fresh Meyer Lemon juice
1 Tblspn: Coriander, toasted
1½ Tsp: dried Lavender
1. Carefully clean & peel the Lemons, being sure to remove & discard all of the bitter white pith. Press the Meyer Lemon & reserve 1 oz. of the juice (if the Meyer Lemon is shy on juice topping it off with the regular Lemon is fine).
2. Dry the Lemon peels on a baking sheet in a low-temperature oven (200°) for approximately thirty minutes & set aside to cool. While you're waiting, toast the Coriander in a small, non-reactive saucepan over low heat (1-2 minutes).
3. Combine all ingredients in a large container & agitate to dissolve the sugar.
4. Place in a cool, dark place for ten days, swirling contents vigorously several times.
5. Fine-strain out the solids, being sure to press them to extract all liquid & return the infusion to a clean container. Allow to rest for another 4-6 days, being careful not to agitate.
6. Carefully rack, decant or filter liquid off of sediment and fine-strain again by preferred method (coffee filter, cheesecloth, &c) until liquid is clear.
7. Bottle & Enjoy in any number of Pisco-based cocktails, such as this variation on the delicious Pisco Sour (©):
2 oz. Límon Piscello
¼ oz. fresh Grapefruit juice
¼ oz. fresh Lime juice
¼ oz. fresh Lemon juice
1 oz. Raw Simple syrup
1 fresh Egg white
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 dash Regan's Orange bitters #6 (or my Spiced Lemon bitters if you've got 'em)
Combine ingredients (except bitters) in a shaker & dry shake to emulsify. Add ice and shake again, straining into a cockatil saucer or sour glass. Dash bitters on top & swirl into some kind of "artistic" pattern as an aromatic garnish.
Cheers & Enjoy!