Pisco, a clear brandy of about 80 proof, distilled from grapes in Peru and Chile, is catching on in Jersey. Kitty Agbaglud, head bartender of the South American eatery Two Sevens in Princeton, suggests trying pisco in place of vodka or tequila. “Between the brightness of vodka and the sharpness of tequila,” she says, “pisco is like a friend you never knew, but instantly click with, because the taste of grapes is so familiar.”
The juice of up to eight varieties of grapes are often blended to create pisco. Because the distilled spirit is not aged, diluted or infused before it is bottled, the grape flavors remain vibrant, and even a sense of terroir is detectable. Sound familiar? “It is an all-natural product and is simply the soul and essence of wine,” says Johnny Schuler, master distiller of Pisco Portón in Lima, Peru, an author of books on pisco who is considered the world’s leading expert on the subject.
The most famous pisco cocktail, the pisco sour, is thought to have originated in Peru more than 100 years ago. Around the turn of this century, Peruvian distillers started exporting pisco to the United States for the first time since Prohibition. They soon caught up with and surpassed the exports of Chilean pisco to the U.S.
“Now the doors are open, and we’re very excited to be able to present that Latin American flair to our guests in ways they haven’t tried before,” says Juan Placencia, who makes a dozen pisco cocktails at his Oh! Calamares restaurant in Kearny. He and his brother plan to open Somos in North Arlington this year with a selection of piscos that they hope to expand into the largest on the East Coast.
Agbaglud describes the qualities of the brands she carries at Two Sevens. “Macchu Pisco is smooth and easy, so we use it in our standard cocktail, the cinnamon pisco sour,” she says. “There’s an astringency to BarSol and an earthy, countryside quality to Campo de Encanto.”