Skip the mojitos: Pisco, the South American spirit, is the base for this summer’s tastiest cocktails, says F&W’s Nick Fauchald.
Peru and Chile have famously fought over the right to call pisco—the fiery, grappa-like spirit—their own. Now the debate is being played out in North America, as both countries are sending more (and better) pisco to the U.S. each year. Many bartenders still use oak-aged Chilean pisco, but the grapey, unoaked flavors of Peruvian pisco are more appealing. It’s made in two styles: puro, distilled from a single grape variety, and acholado, a blend of two or more varieties. Both are ideal for summer cocktails, like the three drinks below.
This blended style is best for the pisco sour, said to be invented in California then sent to Peru. Top Pick La Diablada ($38), a blend of Italia, Quebranta and Moscatel grapes, has sweet, spicy fruit notes and a long finish.
With their floral scent and delicate fruit flavors, piscos made from the Italia grape are great in light citrus cocktails. Top Pick Barsol Italia ($20) shows elegant balance, with layers of tropical fruit flavors.
The Quebranta grape makes a robust pisco—a good substitute for brandy—often with earthy and chocolaty notes. Top Pick The big, bold Ocucaje Pure ($15) is full of aromatic lemongrass and anise flavors.
In the U.S., pisco sours are usually made with lemon juice, but fresh (not bottled) key lime juice tastes even better.
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This cocktail is bright and fruity enough for a summertime aperitif; the floral aromas of the Italia pisco shine through. Making it with a tawny or late-vintage port instead of ruby port will result in a more complex, year-round drink.
High-quality pisco, even if made from hearty Quebranta, retains a fresh, grapey flavor, which is amplified in this refreshing cocktail by the addition of muddled grapes and Riesling.