Thursday, July 18, 2013

The word on Pisco

We returned to Restaurant Halley in Vicuna the following afternoon. The spacious colonial style restaurant is lovely with beautiful interior dining areas supported by substantial indigenous wood columns and a patio with a thatched ceiling. More important they have free Wi-Fi so over pisco sours and appetizers, we were able to chat with the kids via Skype. Pisco sours are the tangy cocktail made from Pisco, a grape brandy and are served in a champagne flute with a coating of sugar around the rim of the glass to offset the sourness. They are delicious and are considered to be Chile’s national alcoholic beverage. Unfortunately, the Peruvians make the same claim and a rivalry between the two countries over the liquors’ origin has raged for decades with Peru winning a slight victory in 2005 when they obtained an endorsement from WIPO (the World Intellectual Property Organization) for the Pisco title. The Peruvians have strong historical evidence on their side as it was in Peru that the Spaniards first introduced vineyards and records indicate that Pisco was made and consumed in that country since around the early 1600’s. However undaunted, the Chileans point out that pisco has also been produced in Chile for centuries, that its pisco is superior to that of Peru and that they produce, drink and export more Pisco than Peru. To that final point, there can be no argument and it is in the Elqui Valley that more of the Pisco grapes are grown than in any other region and that Vicuña is the major center for pisco production. Pisco brandy is actually an extract from pure grape juice and around 15lbs (6 kilos) of grapes are needed to get one liter of pisco. It contains no other ingredient but the fermented “must” from some of the eight types of grapes known as pisco grapes. These grape types include Quebranta, black, Mollar, Uvina and the aromatic Muscatel among others but it is the fermented must that gives pisco its own unique flavor and the distilling process that gives the liquor it’s transparent, colorless, crystalline quality. Known as pisquerias, Ruta Norte, Capel, Mistral, Tres Erres and Artesanos de Cochiguaz are all local distilleries with plenty of awards and accreditations for their product. Capel is the closest one to town and is without doubt the largest pisco distillery in the area with a plant that turns out 36 million bottles of the stuff every year for both the domestic and international market. Besides visiting the Capel distillery and watching how pisco is made, there was also a museum and a tasting room on-site. Interesting and fun. Cheers and Salud.

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