Sunday, 17 March 2013

Pisco tasting

With Lou on her culinary quest of the best national and international dishes throughout our travels, I have been taking a slightly different approach and working my way through some of the local beverages, particularly of the alcoholic variety. So being in Peru I most certainly could not pass up the opportunity of taste testing the local delicacy, Pisco. And what better a place than the Museo del Pisco in Cusco. Upon entering this bar/restaurant/magical play land you automatically get a sense that you are back in Melbourne, except everyone speaks Spanish... Behind the bar there is an almost endless variety of the national spirit from all the major producing regions and covering the opposite walls is a graffiti style depiction of the history of Pisco and a flow chart of the distilling process.
Perusing the mouth watering cocktail menu for sometime, we both decided that a Pisco tasting was a must, and after some very poor bumbled Spanish we found out that our Macedonian waiter could speak English and we ordered a tasting plate. So under his more than capable guidance we allowed him to select four Pisco's for us to taste. But before getting to savor this new spirit, which will definitely be gracing our own bar upon returning to Australia, our waiter gave us a very detailed explanation into the world of Pisco. For those who don't know Pisco is a clear spirit fermented and distilled from grapes. Similar to its other alcoholic cousin wine, it has very strict rules in terms of grape variety, origin, aging, processing and alcoholic content (only between 38-48%). The true Peruvian Pisco, Chile make a similar type of Pisco although do not abide by the regulations, can only be made from 8 grape varieties grown in 5 Peruvian regions, Lima, Ica, Arequipa, Moquegua and Tacna. After harvesting, like wine, the grapes are put into large tubs ready for stomping. Depending on the type of grapes and if varieties are mixed the final product will be different. After 6 lots of grape stomping the juice is then put into a maceration tub known as a 'puntaya' and left to settle for 24 hrs. Then it is transferred to the fermentation tubs, nowadays typically made from concrete or stainless steel, to turn it into alcohol. This typically takes between 7-14 days and is purely a natural process between the sugars and yeast in the grapes which is only observed by the Pisco producer to ensure the process does not stop or pass certain limits. Once the fermentation process is finished the juice is transferred to copper vat stills in preparation for the distillation. Using very controlled heating, to ensure the aromatic components of the Pisco are maintained, the volatile elements of the grape juice are vaporized away from the near final product. Finally the distilled product is stored in vessels or 'botijas', which do not alter the physical, chemical or organic composition of the liquid, for 3 to 9 months. After this the final product is ready for tasting . . .
Like I mentioned before our waiter selected 4 Pisco's for us to try, 2 Pisco puro's (only made from a single grape variety), an acholado (a blend) and a mosto verde (when then grape juice has not been allowed to fully ferment). Within the 2 Pisco puro's we tried an aromatic grape variety (torontel) and a non aromatic (quebranta). First savoring the aroma of the Pisco we then each took a small sip, only letting it sit upon our tongues for a few seconds, before swallowing and exhaling out our mouth. After appreciating the first and discussing the aromas and taste we soon made short work of the last 3 following the same process as before. Amazingly, whilst all the alcohol contents were very similar 42-42.5%, there was astonishing differences between all four Pisco's, not just in alcohol sensation but aroma and taste.
After our very informative and delicious tasting we noticed our tummies were grumbling, so we headed down stairs to see if the food menu was as extensive as the Pisco. Whilst not being as big a food connoisseur as my wife, I must admit the menu certainly did not disappoint. Sharing meals, as we always do to experience all the flavors, we had a Rabbit in Gravy and an Alpaca Mini Burger, both of which were to die for. To wash all this down with we had a Chilli Infused Pisco Sour, which whilst it only had 50/50 split chili Pisco to plain Pisco it packed an awesome fiery punch.
So if you are ever in Cusco and wanting a history lesson that doesn't involve the Incas check out the Museo del Pisco.

- Ryan -

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