Category Mixed Drinks

How Peruvian Pisco is Made (and some yum drinks)

The History of Peruvian Pisco

Peruvian Pisco celebrates a long history joining the cultures of Europe with those of South America, as well as North America. As the story goes, grape distillation practices used in Spain were brought to the New World along with cuttings for grape vines. Peru began growing and selling wine as early as the 16th century, and is known to have begun making Pisco from freshly made wine as early as the 17th century. The advent of mining in the New World helped spread Pisco throughout the colonies, with boats taking the beverage all the way North into what is now known as California in the 18th century.

Chilé claims the famous Pisco Sour as its national beverage. However, methods for making Chilean and Peruvian Pisco differ significantly. There has also been contestation over where the distilled drink originates. History rests on the side of Peru for Pisco beginning there prior to in Chilé but, ultimately, Chilean Pisco is simply a different beverage that shares the name with one made in Peru. All of that said, there are some wonderful drinks to make with Chilean Pisco, which I’ll focus on in a future post.

An important element that separates the two National types rests in government regulations around Pisco production. Peru maintains strict controls on what can count as Pisco with a focus on developing a pure expression of the grapes used. No water can be added for diluting the alcohol levels. No sugars can be added to increase alcohol levels or alter flavor. No additives of any kind are allowed. After distillation is complete, Pisco must be held at least three months to allow for the flavors and composition of the beverage to settle. However, such aging must occur in a vessel that does not impact the purity of flavor — stainless steel or glass are most commonly used. Wood is not allowed.

How Peruvian Pisco is Madeclick on image to enlarge

The beauty of Pisco rests in its pure aromatic expression of the grape. Peruvian Pisco in particular focuses on creating an ultra clean presentation through the methods used in production. Because distillation separates the alcohol from the heavier liquids, a clean distillation process can greatly increase the aromatics of the materials distilled. With this in mind, Peruvian Pisco must be made from a just-fermented, or “young,” wine. Producers focused on quality also sort their grapes to use only the finest, cleanest fruit. In order to reduce any sense of harsh aromatics, producers focused on quality also de-stem clusters prior to pressing. Further, Peruvian Pisco must be made with only vessels that do not impart their own aromatic qualities. That is, no wood is allowed in the process.

Style of Peruvian Pisco

There are essentially four types of Peruvian Pisco.

The two primary distinctions make Pisco either as a single-varietal distillate, or a blended one. Taking the first option, the most straightforward is the Pisco Puro, which distills wine made from only one variety into an ultra clean expression of the grape. Pisco can also be made as a blend of any of the eight varieties allowed in Peruvian Pisco. This style is called Pisco Acholado. Blending can occur prior to fermentation, or before or after distillation.

The eight varieties are recognized as four, which are considered to be overtly aromatic grapes — Moscatel, Albilla, Italia, Torontel — and four that, in comparison, are less so, and so called non-aromatic — Quebranta, Negra Criolla, Mollar, Uvina. A third style of Pisco, the Pisco Aromáticas, is made from any of the four aromatic grapes, with a particular focus on preserving and expressing their aromatic aspects. A Pisco Aromáticas generally also turns out to be a Pisco Acholado, that is a blended style Pisco.

The fourth style of Pisco less commonly leaves Peru than the other three. Pisco Mosto Verde may be made with any of the grape varieties, and with a single grape or a blend. What is important here is that the young wine distilled to make the Pisco has not fermented all the way to dryness. Some residual sugar has been left in the wine, which gives the final Pisco a little more weight and smoothness on the palate, with a touch of sweetness. This style of Pisco is more commonly meant to sip on its own, rather than for blending in cocktails.

Three Piscos to Try

Macchu Pisco, Pisco Puro — Quebranta, 40%, $25
A premium Pisco perfect for the Pisco Sour, the non-aromatic Puro style Pisco from Macchu Pisco keeps a strong focus on tradition, family, and quality in its production methods. The grapes are de-stemmed, then foot pressed (rather than hydraulic) with all seeds removed prior to fermentation to reduce any chance of bitterness. The result is an ultra clear, ultra clean lightly floral nose, with a citrus palate dancing with savory back notes and lots of freshness. The quality here is wonderful, and lifting.

La Diablada Pisco 2011 Achlado Pisco — Quebranta, Moscatel, Italia, Torontel, 40%, $40
Another premium Pisco, this blend gives a lot of floral aromatic focus offering a mix of melon, stone-fruits (both cherries and peach), and touches of fruit spice. The name “La Diablada” refers to the dance of angels and demons fighting for balance. The Pisco itself seems to represent such a dance through its giving a pretty and elevated expression of a firey drink — there is no doubt this is alcohol but it’s pleasant. This Pisco does well for other styles of mixed drinks that bring in a range of fruit and spice flavors, or also other mixers, rather than the more singular Pisco Sour, which would overpower the subtlety here. The Pisco Punch would be a classic example.

Campo de Encanto, Acholado Pisco — Quebranta, Italia, Torontel, Moscatel, 40.5%, $35
Focusing on the Pisco blend, the Campo de Encanto shows off citrus notes on the nose, while shifting to orchard fruit and flower alongside a fresh winter forest element on the palate. Apple plus almond flower and evergreen show up here giving a rich while lifted, fresh and energetic flavor to the Pisco. While the Campo de Encanto can work for a Pisco Sour, it suits blending for light fruit focused cocktails that step outside a singular citrus expression. The Pisco Punch is a classic example.

Drinking Peruvian Pisco

The Pisco Sour and the Pisco Punch are two classic cocktails but a ton can be done with Pisco. Though I’ve been playing with mixing Pisco drinks myself, I am going to refer you to cocktail recipes developed by others here.

The Classic Pisco Sour, from Imbibe Magazine:

Pisco Punch (invented originally in SF), from Pedro Miguel Schiaffino:

To play outside the classics, following are some recipes that will take advantage of the Acholado Pisco style.

An Andean Dusk, developed by Meaghan Dorman:

A TON of fun Pisco recipes great for Acholada Pisco, and some for Puro:



To read more on Pisco:

An article in PUNCH from Alia Akkam:

An article in BEVERAGE JOURNAL from Robert Plotkin (including more recipes):


Dedicated to Marilyn, David, Kelly, Mary, Mary, Alyssa. sniff.


Thanks to Melanie Asher. Thanks to Marilyn Krieger and David Greenberg.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to


An Early Tasting of Matthiasson 2011 Vermouth

Matthiasson 2011 Napa Valley Vermouth

It isn’t everyday you get to sip a vineyard designate Vermouth. The Matthiassons are getting ready to release their first–a 2011 Flora based Vermouth from the Yount Mill Vineyard.

Flora stands as one of California’s unique varieties, designed in 1938 at a California based agricultural research facility as a cross between Semillon and Gewurtztraminer. The result gives a heady earth-spice to a lushly slick-bodied grape.

The Matthiassons chose Flora as the base for their dry Vermouth, generating the floral spice component on the nose followed by a savory (hinting at exotic) earth spice on the palate. The contrast between aroma and flavor on this Vermouth is part of its interest.

Matthiasson 2011 Vermouthclick on illustration to enlarge

The Matthiasson 2011 Napa Valley Yount Mill Vineyard Vermouth opens with a pretty nose of orchard fruit verging into erotic edges of floral spice and lift. The palate turns to show a savory spice and curved back of flavor with a medium long finish.

The Vermouth gives a rich caramel color in the glass generated from fermenting Flora on skins. This Matthiasson Vermouth is a celebration of Autumn as it rolls into cooler evenings. Enjoy it as a sipping drink on your own or even better with friends.


The Matthiassons are getting ready to release their 2011 Vermouth in the next few weeks. Keep an eye out for it on their website here:

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to

And Now For Something Completely Different 1: Tasting Housemade Bitters, Vermouth, and Tequila with Jeremy at Criollo, Flagstaff, AZ, USA

Criollo Hand Crafted Latin Inspired Local Food Restaurant and Bar Flagstaff, AZ

In the heart of downtown Flagstaff, Criollo Latin Kitchen, a casual dining restaurant, welcomes food lovers for brunch (on weekends), lunch, happy hour, and dinner.

The food is reliably tasty, drawing its inspiration from a sense of Latin fusion, and local, sustainably harvested ingredients. The upside of life in the Southwestern United States includes extended growing seasons, while also land locking us out of other items for local harvest. As a result, the menu at Criollo adjusts to these various needs to celebrate a blend of offerings that readily stretch across the year, with other seasonally determined foods, and a few treats flown in (like their cornmeal+coconut, instead of batter, rolled calamari).

The wine list at Criollo remains consistent with the Latin inspired focus, showcasing wines from across South America along with others from Spain or Portugal.

For those wanting only food for lighter fare, or just a drink, Criollo also showcases what turn out to be honestly some of the best bartenders in Flagstaff, as well as a bar stocked with quality liquors.

Getting to Know Criollo’s Bar: House-made Bitters, and Barrel Aged Tequila

* House-made Barrel Aged Tequila

Several months ago, Paul, the owner of Criollo, tasted barrel aged tequila and decided to invest in bringing the flavor to his Flagstaff bar. Seeing I was unsure how much difference the process would offer, Jeremy, one of Criollo’s bartenders offered me a before and after taste.

The bottle Republic Tequila offered flavors of citrus and cactus (we in the Southwest really do know what cactus tastes like, in case that sounds ridiculous to any of you–it’s a kind of pithy green, very lightly sweet touched, mild dirt, hint of bramble flavor), with a dusty heat.

To age their tequila, the bar has brought in a barrel originally used for aging bourbon. After acquiring the barrel they soaked it with water for several weeks, before then draining it and filling it with Republic Tequila.

The barrel aged tequila had significantly changed from its bottled sibling. The flavors had deepened and taken on earthier elements, with a woody character plus cinnamon and spice notes.

* House-made Bitters

Jeremy Meyer, Bar Co-Manager, Criollo

Criollo’s Bar showcases a selection of fine and flavored tequilas, plus a range of good quality cachaca (I love cachaca and its beloved capirihina), along with quality versions of more traditional liquors. In order to better celebrate the subtler flavor offerings of cachaca and tequila, bartender and bar co-manager, Jeremy Meyer, decided to begin exploring and studying mixed drink recipes that would show them off.

A traditional bar ingredient for cocktails like the Manhattan or Dark & Handsome is an herbal bitter to push against the sweet or syrupy elements of the liquor base. The herbal flavor of bitters like Angostura is desirable in darker flavored mixed drinks, like the Manhattan, but often works against the lighter notes of an alcohol like cachaca or tequila. So, Jeremy decided to begin making in house bitters from other ingredients that would be more flexible at the bar, and work alongside those lighter spirits.

The basic process for making bitters, Jeremy explains, consists of first selecting flavor ingredients and then soaking them in high alcohol booze like Everclear for approximately a month. At the end of the month the resulting product is drained and sometimes enhanced with other flavors.

Currently Criollo utilizes four types of house-made bitters most primarily–strawberry with black tea; ancho chili with tamarind; black pepper with black currant; and mesquite with pineapple. Additionally, Jeremy has also made orange with anise; and cherry with grapefruit peel. As summer progresses he intends to experiment with using other ingredients found at the local Farmer’s Market.

I asked Jeremy to select his favorite summer cocktail made from in house ingredients. He chose their Barrel Punch, and shared the recipe.

A Treat From Jeremy: The Barrel Punch, a Mixed Drink Recipe

The Barrel Punch, Criollo, Flagstaff

The Barrel Punch

1 1/2 ounces House-made Barrel Aged Tequila

3/4 ounce Blackberry Balsamic Shrub (explanation follows)

4 dashes House-made Mesquite-Pineapple Bitters (explanation follows)

A squeeze of Lime

Fill the glass with soda water, then box (move between glass and shaker and back again). Pour into glass.

Top with 3 drops of Rose Water.


The Barrel Punch is a fresh, light, rich flavored, and not sweet cocktail that works beautifully for summer. It offers a light fruit and wood flavored opening, with a fruit vinegar mid-palate, and a fruit tang light rose finish. Though the flavors here are rich, the drink avoids any syrupy or too-sweet characteristics that would make it too heavy for summer. I very much enjoyed it.

Blackberry Balsalmic Shrub

As Jeremy explains, a shrub is an old fashioned way to preserve fruit. The fruit is smashed into sugar, then the resulting syrup is drained and mixed with vinegar. Here the shrub is made with equal parts fruit, sugar, and vinegar, with blackberries, and a blend of 1/2 balsamic vinegar 1/2 apple cider vinegar.

Mesquite-Pineapple Bitters

To really push the envelope, Jeremy decided to try making bitters with safe ingredients that aren’t traditionally thought of in relation to food.

The mesquite-pineapple bitters were made by soaking wood chips and pineapple in a blend of 1/2 Everclear 1/2 tequila for a month. At the end of the month the resulting drink was strained. Then, Jeremy grilled mesquite wood chips (the same kind soaked to make the bitters), put them out in the bitters themselves to add an ashen smoke element, then restrained the entire concoction, and finally added agave syrup to help bring out the pineapple flavors without adding genuine sweetness.

Finally (for now) the Bar Expands: House-made Tonic, and Vermouth

As if Criollo wasn’t already offering a host of house-made bar options, they are also making in house tonic and vermouth. Both focus on utilizing the ingredients available here in Flagstaff, including those brought in to the area by the local herbal shop, Winter Sun. Jeremy explained that in developing the following recipes Winter Sun’s owner and long time herbalist, Phyllis, was very helpful.

The tonic results from a mix of Peruvian bark powder, lemon grass, agave syrup, coriander, and lemon/lime zest and juice.

The vermouth is a local favorite. Jeremy explains he researched a typical recipe for making the spirit only to discover a number of the ingredients simply were not readily available in our small mountain town. He addressed the problem by simply adjusting to utilize local plants and herbs as substitute. Criollo’s house vermouth, as a result, draws on the flavors of Ocho root (good for the lungs), Juniper berries (a diuretic and good for fighting infection), and Mormon tea (a decongestant and stimulant), along with the more traditional elements of basil, rosemary, thyme, and citrus zest. It’s fabulous (and I’ve never been huge on mainstream vermouth). It turns out Phyllis is also a fan, even having been a bit skeptical of Jeremy’s plans originally.


For those of you in Flagstaff, get in to Criollo to try the unique offerings at their bar. For those of you visiting the area, definitely keep Criollo on your list of places to enjoy.

Criollo Latin Kitchen, 16 N San Francisco, Flagstaff, AZ 86001 928-774-0541

Thank you to Criollo, Hillary Wamble, and Jeremy Meyer for inviting me to taste Jeremy’s bitters, and Criollo’s other house-made offerings.

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to