Exotic Peruvian spirit pisco is slowly gaining prominence

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New Delhi | Updated: February 17, 2019 2:03:23 AM

The clear, aromatic spirit traces its origins to the province that bears the same name, which lies on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, 143 miles south of Peru's capital Lima.

india, peru, spainSome claim that the idea originated from the experiments of Spanish settlers in Peru.

The infusion of India’s beloved dessert kheer with Peruvian spirit pisco might seem like a bizarre combination, but for diplomats from Peru, it can be the latest hot offering on Indian bar menus. “Kheer with pisco would taste really nice… it might be too ambitious for now, but we have something similar to kheer in Peru and it tastes amazing, so it’s definitely worth a shot,” said Fabio Subia, second secretary, ministry of foreign affairs, Peru, amid the International Pisco Sour Day celebrations at Le Méridien Hotel in the national capital last week. The day is celebrated annually on the first Saturday of February across the globe, but in India, the whole month has been set aside for celebrating this drink.

Peruvian pisco has a dangerously high alcohol content (between 38% and 48%), yet gulping it in the form of shots does not entail the burning sensation that arises from drinking liquors such as whiskey or vodka. That’s because pisco is made by distilling fermented grape juice into a high-proof spirit. In fact, the pisco shot is one variant of the drink that Peruvians endorse. “If someone likes having whiskey shots, they would love pisco shots too,” said Subia. However, pisco tastes nothing like wine, which is also made from grapes. The clear, aromatic spirit traces its origins to the province that bears the same name, which lies on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, 143 miles south of Peru’s capital Lima.

“The name ‘pisco’ actually derives from a word ‘pisku’ in ancient Peruvian language, which means ‘bird’. Around the Ica region of Peru, people had started growing grapes and a lot of birds used to migrate to the region. So people started associating this region with birds due to which they named the region Pisco,” explained Subia. “Naturally then, the grapes that were growing in the region and the corresponding alcohol that was made from the grapes began to be called pisco too,” he added.

Some claim that the idea of distilling grapes and converting that into brandy, which later came to be known as pisco, originated from the experiments of Spanish settlers in Peru who made use of grapes that were found to be not good enough for winemaking. However, with the many variants of pisco readily available now, the spirit is widely exported to Chile, Spain, the European Union, US, etc. Subia said while it took long for pisco to set its footing in Asia, the demand for the liquor is catching up, with India being a frontrunner.

At the celebrations in Delhi, Subia, along with his team of mixologists, created three variants of pisco. One was pisco sour, which is made by adding lime juice, sugar syrup, egg white, ice and few drops of bitters to pisco. The flavoursome cocktail can slide easily down even unfamiliar throats. Another variant the Preuvian nationals prepared was pisco punch, which tasted like summer in a glass, with the tangy flavours overpowering every bitter essence of the alcohol. The final variant was created especially for the Indian audience in the form of pisco masala, which was prepared by adding a dash of cumin powder to pisco, with other signature ingredients intact. The flavourful and aromatic cocktail was presented for the first time at Nero, a lounge bar at Le Méridien Hotel.

Going ahead, Subia said they are contemplating ways to market pisco better among Indian masses. For now, pisco-based drinks are being readily made available in bars and cafes in the country. Plans to start retailing pisco in wine shops and stores are also in the pipeline, but it is mostly work-in-progress, said Subia. “It depends primarily on how the export rules and regulations play out,” he added.

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