Home services

Pisco Punch, From San Francisco, Has Come House to Peru

The Pisco Sour, the Capitán, the Chilcano. While Peru’s contemporary cocktail culture features spirits beyond pisco—from mezcal to rum, gin to whiskey—it’s these classics, all of which are based on the country’s homegrown spirit, that still command the reverence of local bartenders. Recently, however, a fourth pisco drink joined the canon of classics. Legendary in San Francisco until Prohibition, the Pisco Punch—a notoriously secretive and potent mix of pisco, lime juice, pineapple, sugar, gum arabic and coca wine—has made it to the spirit’s native home.

The Pisco Punch rose to fame between 1893 and 1919 at the Bank Exchange, where bartender Duncan Nicol served it with a two-drink limit. “It floats me in the region of bliss between hashish and absinthe,” remarked one patron about the drink, while another claimed “that it could make a gnat fight an elephant.” Nicol took the recipe to his grave. However, pisco history researcher Guillermo Toro-Lira documented his rediscovery of the recipe in the 2006 book Wings of Cherubs. According to Toro-Lira, Nicol’s secret ingredient was the cocaine in Vin Mariani, a Bordeaux wine made with coca leaves from Peru.

Toro-Lira is particular about the ingredients when preparing a Pisco Punch in the U.S. “The pineapple must be fresh from Hawai‘i and the limes fresh from the Acapulco region, in Mexico. If I can find it, the gum arabic has to be from Sudan,” he says. He also prefers Italia pisco, which was used in the original Pisco Punch. It’s made from a sweet and aromatic grape variety with notes of tropical fruits and honey. “I find its marriage with pineapple to be supreme,” he says.

In 1777, more than a century before the Pisco Punch appeared at the Bank Exchange, Peruvian navigator Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra introduced pisco to California. In return, Toro-Lira’s work transported the Pisco Punch to Peru: The publication of his book led the recipe to spread across Lima.

BarSol Pisco founder and master distiller Diego Loret de Mola, who had his first Pisco Punch two decades ago, has seen it flourish in the capital since then. He attributes its rise to an abundance of fresh pineapples and limes at local markets, making the drink accessible, not to mention a natural fit for the local palate. But it’s not just ease fueling the Pisco Punch’s popularity. “Peruvians love rescuing old traditions,” says Loret de Mola.

Throughout Lima today, bartenders are playing with the Pisco Punch by further localizing the drink: introducing local ingredients like agua de piña (water infused with pineapple peel and spices like cinnamon and clove) and swapping in different pisco grape varieties, spices, citrus and garnishes.

Marcos Blas, beverage manager at Bar de Lima, sees the Pisco Punch as an opportunity to recreate a piece of history lost with Prohibition. After meeting Toro-Lira in 2010 and diving into the history of the Pisco Punch, he landed on an elegant, balanced combination of Italia pisco, agua de piña, pineapple syrup and lime juice for his version, which has been on the menu since opening in December 2022. He garnishes the drink with a pineapple skewer and adds dehydrated coca leaf powder to the rim of the glass, a nod to the coca in Vin Mariani. Blas also sees his version as a way to promote Peru’s pisco culture. “To us artists behind the bar, we are ambassadors of pisco and pisco is Peru,” he says. 

Meanwhile, at Astrid y Gastón, the flagship restaurant of Peru’s star chef Gastón Acurio, bartender Carolín Katiuska Ruíz serves an elevated take on the drink. The spirit at its base is made from a semi-fermented mosto verde Italia grape distillate, which she says is both “aromatic and subtle.” Her agua de piña and syrup are made with cinnamon, cloves, star anise, allspice and molle (a slightly piquant, peppery and sweet Andean berry). Flowers and herbs from the restaurant’s garden act as a garnish. The cocktail has evolved there over time and is especially popular in the summer. “It’s versatile, refreshing, fruity, a bit sweet and playful,” Ruíz says.

And at Museo del Pisco, where the Pisco Punch first appeared on the menu 12 years ago, head of bar Enrique Hermoza prepares it with a torontel pisco, lime juice and three pineapple-centric housemade ingredients: agua de piña, pineapple juice and pineapple and molle syrup. He describes the torontel pisco as “the special touch” of his take on the drink; he chose it because the spirit’s stone fruit, cinnamon and honeysuckle notes harmonize well with the pineapple and molle.

For Hermoza, the Pisco Punch is a good showcase for aromatic piscos (made from moscatel, Italia, albilla or torontel grapes) that are often outshined by the nonaromatic quebranta grape in traditional drinks, like the Pisco Sour or Capitán. He hopes that more bartenders will use these lesser-known expressions as a way to help drinkers better understand and “completely fall in love” with the wider spectrum of the spirit.

In the 1930s, limeño César Miró penned the lyrics to the Creole waltz “Todos Vuelven,” which has become the anthem of expats and generations of Peruvians born abroad. “Todos vuelven a la tierra en que nacieron,” the song goes; “everyone returns to the land where they were born.” The words also ring true for the Pisco Punch. By making it with native pineapples, limes and coca leaves, and using the drink as a gateway for drinkers to the wider world of the iconic spirit, Peruvians have made the cocktail their own. A century after it was last served at the Bank Exchange, the Pisco Punch has finally come home.

Source link

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button