Why it’s Time to Say Hello to Pisco

The Sea Stir's twist on a classic pisco sour
The Sea Stir’s twist on a classic pisco sour

Photo Credit: Dominic Alling

Pisco, the drink of the moment, has returned to the U.S. after near oblivion. The high-proof spirit is a clear or light-amber brandy, distilled from wine that’s made with grapes largely found in Peru, where it has been the spirit of choice since the 16th century. But in the United States and elsewhere, it’s a forgotten pleasure.

The spirit is the subject of Pisco Punch: A Cocktail Comeback Story, a documentary that premiered at the Napa Valley Film Festival, and thanks to people like Duggan McDonnell, a pisco pioneer and creator of Campo de Encanto, the spirit is being reintroduced to the United States. A former bar owner turned culinary anthropologist, McDonnell started making Campo de Encanto pisco six years ago while researching San Francisco’s love affair with the drink. During the mid-19th century, Pisco Punch was the favorite elixir of locals, and over time it all but disappeared. Today, McDonnell’s pisco can be found in cocktails all across the city.

At the Sea Star bar in the Dogpatch neighborhood, co-owner Alicia Walton uses it to make a spicy twist on the classic sour. The space where the Sea Star is located has been a bar since 1899, so it’s only fitting that pisco be featured in one of her superbly crafted cocktails. Walton infuses Aperol with chiles before shaking the mixture with pisco, honey, and lemon juice. The resulting concoction is smooth and perfectly balanced, but with a hint of heat. Make it using the recipe here and impress your friends with your knowledge of pisco. Salud!

The bar at Sea Star
The bar at Sea Star

Photo Credit: Dominic Alling

La Panchamama

From the Sea Star bar, Dogpatch

unspecified-2Chile-Infused Aperol

Yield: 750 ml

1 jalapeño, thinly sliced

2 serrano chiles, thinly sliced

¼ cup dried Thai chiles

750 ml Aperol

In a nonreactive container, combine chiles and Aperol. Cover and infuse 3 days. Strain through a cheesecloth-lined strainer or chinois back into bottle.

Assemble and Serve

Yield: one cocktail

1½ oz. Campo de Encanto pisco

¾ oz. chile-infused Aperol

¾ oz. honey syrup (1:1 water-honey)

¾ oz. lemon juice

1 egg white

5 drops Amargo Chuncho Peruvian bitters

In a cocktail shaker, combine pisco, ¾ oz. chile-infused Aperol, honey syrup, lemon, and egg white. Dry shake. Add ice and shake vigorously for 20 to 30 seconds. Double-fine strain into a chilled coupe, and garnish with bitters.