Pisco has lingered as the “next big thing” in the American market for the past several years now, but it still has not achieved anything resembling breakthrough success. This unaged grape spirit from South America — a type of brandy, although closer to grappa in character — is popular with many cocktail enthusiasts and bartenders, but little known among the general public.
By law, pisco must be made in either Chile or Peru, and it must conform to the established practices of those countries. The two vary somewhat with regards to the type of grapes that may be used and the distillation process — which country makes the “true” pisco is a matter of some debate — but the resulting spirit is not dissimilar.
Barsol Primero pisco is made in the Ica Valley of Peru, in one of the oldest distilleries in the Americas. It is crafted in small batches from 100% quebranta grapes, generally regarded as the strongest of all pisco grape varietals. It is pot distilled to bottle proof, with neither water nor any other ingredients added.
The resulting spirit is crystal clear and transparent, with a ripe, fruity aroma. There is no doubt that this is distilled from grapes — it smells not unlike wine, with bread/yeast elements as well. After it opens up for several minutes it starts to take on a slightly musty odor as well.
The taste is rough and rustic. This is, after all, an unaged spirit, and it shows. (Pisco does “rest” in stainless steel tanks for at least three months after distillation, but this does little to smooth out the sharp edges.) There is lots of rich, berry fruit, but very little sweetness. It is somewhat hot on the tongue, with a bitterness that reminds me of dark chocolate. The finish is medium-long and slightly astringent.
You probably wouldn’t drink this spirit neat, but it is recommended for cocktails, especially the classic Pisco Sour or Pisco Punch.