Pisco power

16 June, 2014

The South American grape brandy is garnering a new legion of fans worldwide on the back of a slew of  restaurant openings. Hamish Smith reports on the trend

Two years ago, just as Drinks International’s last Pisco report was going to press, a Peruvian man called Martin Morales was opening his first London restaurant, Ceviche.  

The hipsters weren’t to know it yet, but Peruvian food was about to become London’s next foodie fetish. Soon the capital’s pilgrims-of-trend would be saying “so long” to their Vietnamese Pho and Saigon, “hello” to Peruvian ceviche and Pisco. 

Now, London has built a bevy of establishments serving up top Peruvian nosh and slosh. Almost coming from nowhere, this has been a major boon for Peruvian Pisco exports, which up to now have been mainly concentrated in the US. 

With Lima registering two listings in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list and exporting chefs to the likes of Dubai, Hong Kong and London, this gastronomic movement is going global.  

In New York there would be a Little Peru, if the dozen or so restaurants had organised their uprising a little closer together, while San Francisco has long harboured a hankering for Peruvian fare – ever since a peculiar spirit from the port town of Pisco arrived at the dock of the bay in the 19th century. 

San Fransiscans didn’t waste any time in creating their Pisco Punch, a local favourite to this day.

Inseparable partner

So what does this mean for producers? Well, sales. Unlike some cuisines where the accompanying drink is an incidental bystander, Pisco is an inseparable partner to Peruvian food. 

At Ceviche in London support for the national spirit is clear. It doesn’t serve a mixed drink unless it contains Pisco. “People ask for a gin and tonic and we have to say: ‘no only Pisco’ – it was a risky move,” admits bar manager Miguel Arbe. 

With slivers of citrus-cured fish, salads and grilled meats decorating the tables, you could imagine Ceviche’s diners looking longingly to the wine menu, but not so. “We are selling more cocktails than wine,” reports Arbe. 

Over at London’s Michelin-starred Lima (pictured) – which will open a second restaurant in July, Pisco cocktails are a cornerstone of the offering. “The Pisco Sour combines perfectly with Peruvian dishes that contain lime juice,” says Damian Barbato, bar supervisor at Lima. 

“But Pisco works with almost all flavours, including any kind of fruit or spice. It’s also great for making infusions, of which we have 20, using exotic fruits and herbs from Peru. Pisco is becoming very popular among Europeans and this is not only because of the cuisine. It is also about the combination of freshness and simplicity in Pisco cocktails.”

Pisco is garnering the right kind of interest. Quality not quantity is Peruvian Pisco’s strong suit. In fact, volumes are small (less than 1 million 9-litre cases (outnumbered 7:1 by Chile’s production) and production standards are exacting. 





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