Hope for pisco overseas

15 April, 2024

Producers are hoping that a focus on experimenting with different grape varieties will give the spirit a boost in international markets.

Pisco’s been around for a long time, but surprisingly it’s still a spirit that is mostly consumed in its domestic markets of Chile and Peru. According to Christian Visalli, global spirits director for Familia Torres, owner of Chilean pisco El Gobernador, around 95% of the global business is happening within these markets. However, this is changing. The global cocktail scene is experiencing more and more demand for new drinks that champion natural ingredients, and pisco fits the brief.

Success of the sour

When thinking about pisco in cocktails, the mind immediately goes to the Pisco Sour. A classic cocktail, it’s been showcasing pisco since its inception in the early 20th century. American bartender Victor Vaughen Morris opened Morris’ Bar in the capital of Lima and is said to have invented the drink, although Peru and Chile, much like their debate over pisco’s origin, have their own variation on the classic serve’s origin. Nonetheless, it’s been a vehicle for the spirit for over a century.

Right now however, demand for pisco in the upper echelons of the global bar industry is wavering. Scarfes Bar at The Rosewood Hotel in London, No.41 on The World’s 50 Best Bars 2023 list, only stocks one pisco brand, finding little demand for the spirit or requests for cocktails which include it. In comparison, Notting Hill’s Viajante 87, which is inspired by Latin America, has two pisco drinks on the menu which are popular, including the Pisco Sour. The bar said, especially due to having it listed, it sees a lot of requests and makes a lot of Pisco Sours.

Juan Carlos Munita, export director at Pisquera de Chile, Compañía de Cervecerías Unidas (CCU), which owns Pisco Mistral, is positive on the international outlook: “We’re trying to expand more into Europe as we see more opportunities and more people calling for the product. The future is bright for us, we have good opportunities and are trying to connect with more bars as bartenders and owners see pisco as a versatile spirit that they can use in a range of drinks.”

Domestically, the Pisco Sour remains strong and, in fact, consumers are looking to further pisco drinks. Diego Macedo, founder of Sastrería Martinez, a speakeasy in Lima, says out of the bar’s pisco-based offerings, the Commodore – which uses Pisco Barsol MV Torontel, red vermouth, almond milk with lemon, pineapple and cinnamon, is the most popular. Macedo adds the Pisco Sour: “Really represents the true taste of Peru and our community. Sweet, sour and strong, but at the same time super-easy to drink. However, I prefer to drink a Chilcano, a Highball-style drink with lime and ginger ale alongside the pisco.”

Sastrería Martinez is now doubling the number of pisco cocktails on its menu. “We’ve really seen its popularity rise and guests visiting us are specifically asking for pisco cocktails. There’s plenty of room for pisco cocktails to grow and feature more on menus globally as it’s definitely becoming more popular among cocktail lovers,” Macedo continues.

Greater variety

The other great strength of pisco, aside from its versatility in cocktails, is the nuances of the terroirs and different grape varieties used in production. However while Peru is allowed to use eight varieties and Chile 11, there’s a case to suggest these aren’t utilised – particularly in Chile where just Moscatel, Torontel and Pedro Ximenez make up the bulk of production. Diego Loret de Mola, founder and director of Peruvian brand Barsol Pisco, has been experimenting with different grape varieties for years now, and he believes it’s an important step for developing new cocktails.

“In general terms I think the category is growing, so it’s time to focus on the grapes. I think there’s a big awareness of different varieties and the authentic flavours and aromas,” he says.

“The Sour is normally prepared using the main pisco grape, the Quebranta, but I can see a lot of the other types such as the Torontel, Moscatel and Italia being used,” says Loret de Mola. “There’s curiosity as people want to make other cocktails and bartenders are going beyond the Sour. Cocktails are still the driving force and that invitation to discovery.”

When creating the pisco, Loret de Mola considers the cocktails a new expression could work with, including focus groups with bartenders. While it’s a spirit that can be sipped neat, it’s clear that pisco will continue to be led through cocktails. “When you taste the grapes, you drink the wine and you taste the pisco, you can see a clear path of characteristics. My mission is to transfer all organoleptic properties of that grape into the wine and into the pisco in the most natural way possible. The diversity and amount of grapes offer more opportunity to continue making different styles of cocktails with different styles of grapes that give you natural aromas and flavours.

On the Chilean side, Minuta of the CCU is seeing the benefit of exploring more grape varieties. “We’ve worked with three Moscatel grapes and are going to add Torontel in small amounts.

While domestic bartenders don’t need encouragement to mix with pisco, developing the use of different grape varieties may engage more with the international scene. It may even push the development of new pisco-based drinks, while simultaneously making the Pisco Sour more exciting to bartenders around the world, breathing new life into the classic.

The international off-trade is an area which also requires attention. El Gobernador’s Visalli says that in the export market “there is little to no consumption of pisco without the consumption occasion”.

Visalli also notes that the Pisco Sour is working well in the on-trade, but it has a “challenge when we try to bring that into the off-trade and at-home consumption as it’s a cocktail that’s not so easy to prepare’’, he adds.

“It’s a great vehicle to build awareness but we are putting more effort into promoting an easier way to mix pisco. In the domestic market the Piscola and El Piston, mixing with cola or tonic, are two very easy ways the consumer can approach the pisco category.”

Overall it seems pisco’s domestic heartbeat remains strong, with consumers going beyond just the traditional serves. However, a focus on different grape varieties could re-energise the international appeal of the Pisco Sour and encourage more complex serves in the world’s top bars, which would, in turn, boost the global off-trade.

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