Category Archives: Pisco

Review: Pisco Waqar

waqar pisco 525x924 Review: Pisco Waqar

Waqar! Waqoff!


Pisco, essentially an unaged brandy, has been fueled by the revival of the Pisco Sour and a few other piscoriffic cocktails. But Chilean pisco is something of a rarity in a day and age where Peruvian pisco rules the market. Waqar is produced from muscat grapes grown at the foot of the Andes in Tulahuen, in northern Chile; in Peru that would make this an aromaticas-style pisco.

Muscat makes for a distinctive brandy, and Pisco Waqar is no exception. The nose is heavily perfumed and infused with aromas of rose petals, honeysuckle, lemongrass, and some hospital notes. The body is typical of pisco — a pungent, exuberant spirit with notes of lemon oil, crushed flowers, a touch of pears, and more perfume (or rather, what I imagine it would be like to drink perfume). The finish is a bit spicy — not just racy the way white brandies can be, but fiery on the tongue.

Initially a bit daunting, Waqar grew on me over time, winning me over in the end.

80 proof.

B+ / $50 /

Review: BarSol Perfecto Amor

barsol perfecto amor 200x300 Review: BarSol Perfecto Amor“A Peruvian tradition revived.” That tradition: An aperitif wine made from fermenting grape juice, fortified with Pisco. The grapes used for both the juice and the Pisco are Quebranta (50%), Italia (25%), and Torontel (25%) — the classic grapes that are used in Peruvian Pisco.

Sherry and Madeira fans will probably eat this right up. The nose (and color, too) is typical of oxidized wines, pungent, but with raisin and citrus overtones. On the body, it’s lighter than you might expect, with ample sweetness from the juice offset by notes of spiced apples, cloves, and light sherry character. It finishes slightly sweet, finishing with a slight raisin character. I expect most poeple who were served this spirit blind would expect, based on the color, body, alcohol level, and flavor components, that they were actually drinking sherry.

After you tell them what it is, they may very well wonder why they weren’t.

34 proof.

B / $18 /

Review: BarSol Pisco – Quebranta & Italia

barsol pisco 191x300 Review: BarSol Pisco   Quebranta & ItaliaPisco is a spirit on the rise, and Peru’s BarSol makes a huge range of them — seven varieties at present. Below we look at two single-grape varieties, a quebranta and an italia, which are probably the two most common pisco grapes grown. Thoughts on each follow. Both are 80 proof.

BarSol Primero Quebranta Pisco – 100% quebranta grapes, BarSol’s entry-level Pisco. Fresh nose, with notes of powdered milk, and some pine needles. Piney on the tongue, with some lemon notes in the mid-palate. Altogether this is mild on the pisco spectrum, with a short finish that is reminiscent of pear. Overall it’s a solid choice for a mixing pisco, offering classic pisco character without being overwhelming with the brash and young funkiness that’s typical of this spirit. B+ / $20

BarSol Selecto Italia Pisco – 100% italia grapes, a step up in price. Much bigger on the nose. Big citrus notes, some evergreen aromas, but more of it than the quebranta. On the palate, the body is much more viscous than the quebranta, with a honey bent to it. Racier all around, spicy, with a longer finish and a certain chewiness to it. A good choice if you’re looking for less neutrality in your spirit and more indigenous character, without a whole lot of funk. A- / $35

Review: Macchu Pisco (Original)

Macchu Pisco Bottle Shot 86x300 Review: Macchu Pisco (Original)We’re stepping back here. In 2011 we reviewed Macchu Pisco’s “La Diablata” bottling, which is made from a blend of grapes in the “acholado” style. This is the Peruvian company’s original pisco, a single-varietal bottling made from Quebranta grapes.

It’s a solid pisco, mild but traditional with plenty of musky funk on the nose. Breathe deep for leather and tar notes, olive pits, and kerosene. On the palate, the fire is there, but restrained, held back by more notes of tree bark, licorice, forest floor, olives, and a bit of honeyed sweetness. All in all it’s got classic pisco structure, though it could really use a little more zip, a bit more life in it, and more acidity in the finish.

Overall, though, it’s a good introduction to the spirit for the uninitiated.

80 proof.

B / $23 /


Review: Campo de Encanto Pisco Grand & Noble Acholado

campo de encanto pisco bottle low 120x300 Review: Campo de Encanto Pisco Grand & Noble AcholadoOne of the top brands of the pisco revival, Encanto has been making waves for years — and we’re only just now getting around to reviewing it formally. An acholado style pisco, Encanto is a blend of distillate from four types of grapes — Quebranta (74%), Torontel (6%), Moscatel (4%) and Italia (16%). (Most other pisco styles are single-varietal. See our primer here.)

Encanto is a very fresh and lively Peruvian pisco, lacking in the hoary funk that defines so many of its competitors. The nose features fresh citrus along with some pine needle — tangy and inviting, almost gin-like. The body follows suit. Ample lemon notes meld nicely with secondary notes of evergreen, pencil shavings, and modest floral notes on the back end. As pisco goes, this is easygoing, pleasant, and — again — fresh. While pisco still doesn’t show up in a whole lot of cocktails today (and few are drinking this stuff straight), if you’re going to invest in one bottle of pisco, Encanto is probably the one to buy.

Note: Encanto has a single-varietal pisco in the works which I’ve tasted (once). Not sure how close it is to release… stay tuned.

A / $35 /

Pisco Disco Cocktails

Okay they’re really not disco-inspired cocktails, but it was tough to resist the whole rhyme scheme. Absolutely abysmal wordplay aside, Pisco is indeed a wonderful South American brandy that is sorely under-represented in the cocktail world. Here are a couple of recipes courtesy of our friends over at Portón that are worth checking out and warming up with during these frigid winter months.

Pink Passionimage001 Pisco Disco Cocktails

2 parts Portón pisco
1 part pomegranate juice
1 part tangerine juice
Sugar to taste
Pomegranate seeds for garnish

Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice.
Shake well and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with pomegranate seeds.

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The Pisco of Chile: Control C and Espiritu de Elqui Reviewed

Chile celebrates its Independence Day on September 18, and this year the country took the opportunity to revive the battle its been locked in with Peru over who originated — or makes better — the South American spirit of Pisco.

Distilled from grapes, Pisco is essentially unaged (usually) brandy, though in Chile they are more apt to drop their Pisco in an oak barrel for a few months or years than they are in Pisco.

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Review: Los Artesanos del Cochiguaz Pisco Especial

los artesanos del cochiguaz pisco 35abv Review: Los Artesanos del Cochiguaz Pisco EspecialHere’s an oddball review: A bottle of pisco brought back from Chile (which disputes with Peru who originated this Latin spin on unaged brandy) called Los Artesanos del Cochiguaz.

Los Artesanos del Cochiguaz’s Pisco is available in a variety of proof levels (not to mention a variety of other spirits). This one is bottled at 70 proof. Lightly aged, it’s a very light, brassy yellow in color.

The nose is reminiscent of grappa, and not a bad one. Alcoholic and earthy, but not heavy, a benefit of the lighter proof level, I’m sure. On the tongue there is a surprising sweetness here, and I’d be surprised if this hasn’t been doctored in some way (however marginally). Wood aging helps, I’m sure, to temper some of pisco’s more notorious up-front brashness, giving this spirit a very mild character and lots of caramel notes.

Beyond that, there’s not a whole lot here. There’s some evergreen and some citrus character, but these are very mild next to the more sugary notes. Surprisingly sippable, just not a whole lot more to report beyond that.

B / $17 per 700ml bottle /

Review: Pisco 100

Pop quiz: What’s the proof level of Pisco 100?

84 proof, of course!

The origin of Pisco 100’s name is unclear, but this Peruvian Pisco — an “acholado” style blended of distillate from several grape varietals — is a pungent example of the spirit. On the nose, traditional Pisco character — jet fuel, aromatic pine needles, woody coconut husk. The evergreen sticks with you into the body, which speaks again of the forest, with a mushroomy finish that makes you forget about that gasoline rush on the nose.

Earthy, fresh, and fragrant, it has a lot to like, especially those fun aromatics, though it’s a touch on the pricey side.

B+ / $40 /

pisco 100 Review: Pisco 100

Review: Kappa Pisco

Just when you thought it was safe to put the old Pisco Wars to rest (you were fighting in the Pisco Wars, weren’t you?), Kappa comes along and dredges it back up again. You see, unlike the vast majority of modern Piscos, Kappa hails from Chile, not Peru, the latter of which has long claimed (and, for the most part, been accepted as) the true home of “real” Pisco.

Pisco, for those not in the know, is essentially an unaged brandy, and it’s available in nearly as many styles as whiskey is. Kappa is its own monster — made by Grand Marnier not from the traditional grapes of Peru but from Muscat. So far so good: Some of the best grappas tend to be Muscat-based, so why not Pisco?

You catch that unmistakeable citrus on the nose, plus Pisco’s equally unmistakeable funkiness. From there, the body takes you toward flowers — strong honeysuckle and a little rose petal, almost like a gin. That menthol, wood oil, and petrol character pervades, however, marring some of Kappa’s natural delicacy. The finish is pungent, and a bit rustic, a weird counterbalance to some of the lighter notes in the mid-palate.

Interesting stuff, but the crazy bottle design is more of a conversation piece.

85 proof.

B+ / $34 /

KAPPA Pisco Review: Kappa Pisco

Review: Macchu Pisco “La Diablata” Pisco

A new entry from Macchu Pisco (one of the bigger distributors of this Peruvian brandy worldwide, but whose standard product we’ve never reviewed), La Diablata is an “acholado” style pisco — a blend of three grapes: Quebranta, Moscatel, and Italia — which puts it in the same wheelhouse as Encanto.

La Diablata, as the name implies, is pungent and exotic. A funky nose, with evergreen overtones. The body offers more of that pine needle character, plus leather, and cedar (or at least cedar box) notes. Some stone fruit on the mid-palate… apricots, maybe. But that is fleeting before a traditional, funky pisco finish takes hold, leaving you with thoughts of roots, vines, and the earth.

80 proof.

B / $38 /

la diablata pisco Review: Macchu Pisco La Diablata Pisco



Pisco 101 with Duggan McDonnell

I can safely say now that I know more about Pisco than I ever thought I would. More than I ever thought there was to know, actually. And yet, I’m still little more than a novice.

Pisco is, put simply, unaged, grape-based brandy from Peru (or Chile, which we’ll discuss later). Peru puts strict controls over its national spirit: Eight grape varieties may be used to make it, the wine made from those grapes may be distilled only once, it must be rested for three months in neutral vats (commonly steel or plastic, no wood), and no water can be added to dilute it before bottling. Because it can’t be altered in any way, Pisco’s alcohol content typically varies in the 75 to 90 proof range.

It sounds simple, but there is a startling variety of Pisco being made today, and more and more of it is making its way into the U.S.

Recently I sat down for a Pisco primer with Duggan McDonnell, proprietor of San Francisco’s Cantina, and a partner in the new Encanto Pisco project, which we’ll talk about in a bit.

To call McDonnell a Pisco enthusiast would be a vast understatement. He knows Pisco the way Robert Parker knows wine, and in an hour plus of lectures and tasting with him, my mind (and notebook) overflowed with wisdom about the spirit and about Peru, where McDonnell travels frequently to oversee everything from grape harvesting to vat blending for Encanto.

So without further ado, here’s a look at some of the most common Pisco varieties on the market, all of which we tasted (brands tasted are noted parenthetically).

Pure/Single Grape – Quebranta – About 78% of grapes grown for Pisco are Quebranta, making this the most common (by far) type of Pisco sold worldwide. A red grape originally from Spain, this is what anyone who’s had Pisco before has likely tried and will remember: A nose of petrol is most telling, with a musky, coconut husk character that’s hard to miss. But there is sweetness in the mid-palate, a nougat-like character, which doesn’t so much balance the spirit as it does temper it. (Conqueror / $22)

Pure/Single Grape – Torontel – As far away from Quebranta as it gets, this aromatic grape is reminiscent of Riesling or Muscat, making the Pisco thick with perfume on the nose and flowery, lemony notes in the body. That characteristic Pisco funk is still there, but it’s tempered by all those aromatics. Powerful and memorable, but a little goes a long way. (Vinas de Oro / $32)

Pure/Single Grape – Italia - The “most beloved grape in all of Peru” leads to this gentle expression of Pisco, one which lands somewhere between Quebranta and Torontel. It shares more of its DNA with the latter, offering mild aromatics, but still has a semblance of wood, like Quebranta — not of lumber or barrels but rather of tree bark. Hard to pin down its myriad undertones, but overall quite enjoyable. (Vinas de Oro / $32)

encanto pisco 231x300 Pisco 101 with Duggan McDonnellAcholado – Put simply, a blend of grapes. The “meritage” of Pisco, if you will. Acholado style gives the producer the most flexibility of all the Pisco styles, but it requires more effort since blending is involved. Encanto (McDonnell’s Pisco) uses three grapes and a solera style of blending, where one season’s distillate is carried over in part to the next, waterfall style, essentially forever, so that all Encantos from here on out will have at least a little of the original Encanto inside. The result? Funky up front, then a distinct sweet, butterscotch finish. Some flower essence is notable, too. This is a journeyman’s Pisco, more complicated than its brethren, but still honest and sincere. (Encanto, $36)

Mosto Verde – The most complicated form of Pisco. I brought this bottle (reviewed here), as it’s one of few Mosto Verdes available in the U.S. Mosto Verde is produced by halting wine fermentation before it’s complete: You get a low-alcohol wine (about 8%) with lots of sweet grape juice leftover. The result is, of course, a sweeter distillate with more acidity to it. It’s a very nice style in comparison to the musty, richer traditional versions, something with more crispness and “snap” to it. Great, but more of a before-dinner drink, due to the sweetness. (Porton, $TBD)

Chilean – Another that I brought. Generally considered lesser Pisco by those in the know, Chile also claims to be the originator of the spirit, though few today go along with this assertion. This Pisco features caramel notes due to barrel aging, is smoother thanks to a second distillation process, and has had water added to level out the proof. Duggan said he tasted glycerin, feeling it was “doctored.” I find that reasonable. This is pleasant to drink, but it bears minimal resemblance to the real stuff from Peru. (Bauza, $19)

How do these work in cocktails? We finally tried Encanto and Porton in the exact same recipes (right down to the amount of ice), side by side, for both a classic Pisco Sour (below) and a Cuzco Mule (like a Moscow Mule, but with Pisco), and I was surprised. I had thought the sweeter Porton would make for a better cocktail, but in both cases it was overpowering, providing a huge amount of spice and too much astrigency, making it hard to drink more than a few sips. The milder Encanto made for a much more balanced cocktail in both cases. While sipping straight I might have preferred Porton, few people are drinking Pisco without extra ingredients… and I wouldn’t blame them. Encanto was the clear winner in both concoctions. Congrats to Duggan and crew for thinking this through and coming up with a recipe that works in a cocktail.

pisco sours Pisco 101 with Duggan McDonnell

Review: Pisco Porton

 Review: Pisco Porton

I’ve learned more about pisco in the last 48 hours than I’ve ever wanted to know. In a nutshell, pisco is the Peruvian or Chilean take on brandy (the two countries are virtually over war over which pisco is “real”): Made by distilling wine then bottling it without aging, pisco is a white spirit that last had its heyday on these shores in the years before Prohibition.

Now pisco is attempting a comeback, and numerous brands are winding their way to the market. Pisco Portón is one of them, and it’s so new that it doesn’t even have a bottle design we can share with you yet. A “mosto verde” pisco, Portón is made using wine that is not fully fermented, which leaves a bit of sugar in the spirit and, ostensibly, a smoother, silkier body.

Pisco Portón is rougher than I’d thought it would be. At 86 proof that might be expected, but I imagined it would be balanced by the sugar content. Not so: Portón is hot and spicy, complex with a mix of wood, phenol, smoke, and then a finish that offers the sweetness that Portón promises: honey, lemon, and fresh satsuma. (Yeah, I just wrote “satsuma” in a review. Sorry.)

In today’s world of ultra-smooth spirits, the invariably funky pisco is an incredibly tough sell. That said, Portón is about as good as any I’ve tried to date.


Review: Gran Sierpe Pisco Quebranta Grapes

Distilled in Chile and Peru — where the definition of what is “real” pisco remains a national preoccupation on both sides — pisco is grape brandy that, unlike French brandies, is unaged (or aged very little), and generally used in cocktails.

Gran Sierpe is Peruvian pisco, and the company makes three varieties, using three different grapes or grape blends.

We got a look at Gran Sierpe’s Quebranta Grape Pisco, which is made with quebranta grapes — probably the only time you’ll ever consume anything made with them.

Quebranta grapes are mild and non-aromatic, and this pisco is also on the easygoing side. The nose is mild and charcoalish, the body reminiscent of a lighter style of grappa or, even more intriguingly, cachaca. It’s smooth, with only a minimal, rubber-like finish. I’d be curious to try this pisco as a substitute in a caipirinha, just to see what happened. It’s not really designed for drinking straight, but it isn’t bad served this way.

By the way, if anyone can clue us in on what the object on the label is supposed to be, we’re all ears. By common consensus here it is believed to be a Transformer head. (Update: Got it, thanks.)

84 proof.

B+ / $39 /

gran sierpe pisco quebranta Review: Gran Sierpe Pisco Quebranta Grapes