Pisco recipes: How to drink the South American clear grape brandy.

Pisco recipes: How to drink the South American clear grape brandy.

Pisco recipes: How to drink the South American clear grape brandy.

Wine, beer, and other potent potables.
Aug. 8 2011 6:51 AM


Don't hate it because it's fashionable.

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Where the pisco sour enjoys renown, pisco punchreally enjoys notoriety. A pineapple-y elixir, it was supposedly brought to perfection by Duncan Nicol at a storied San Francisco bar called the Bank Exchange in the late 1800s. In the account of luscious Lucius Beebe, pisco punch was "the wonder and glory of San Francisco's heady youth, the balm and solace of fevered generations, a drink so endearing and inspired that although its prototype has vanished, its legend lingers on, one with the Grail, the unicorn, and the music of the spheres."

Nicol's precise recipe died with him, but many fine minds—guided by an article in the fall 1973 number of the California Historical Quarterly—are convinced that they can reach his heights by using pineapple-infused gomme syrup. If you're willing to pay for shipping, you can send away for this stuff. If you're up for a minor science experiment, you can make your own. But you cannot, under any circumstances, come up with a quick, cheap substitute. (Sno-Kone syrup just won't cut it.) I wasted a great deal of effort attempting to contrive an effortless pisco punch. The attempt was fruitless in every respect. However, I did learn that, with seltzer and pineapple juice and grenadine, you can reinvent Harold Ross' spurious recipe as a formula for a quartz-colored cooler, faintly tropical and fairly decent.

Also, my reading has convinced me that, gomme syrup or no, it is no longer legally possible to make authentic pisco punch. There is no reason to disbelieve the rumors that Nicol's pisco punch depended on the active ingredient in the "Peruvian Speed Bumps" about which P.J. O'Rourke has memorably written. It would be consistent with Toro-Lira's concluding observation that "tonics and syrups containing cocaine ... were very popular from the 1860s to the 1890s and at the disposal of the Bank Exchange." And it would square with a quote relayed by A.J. Liebling in The Honest Rainmaker, where pisco punch is characterized as "an insidious concoction which in its time had caused the unseating of South American governments and women to set world's records in various and interesting fields of activity." I strongly recommend against trying to use street drugs to duplicate these results. You could try searching for unprocessed sun-dried coca leaves, but be sure to consult a physician, an attorney, and a shady biochemist before proceeding.

It would better for your health and your pocketbook to stick with capital-C Coke. The Piscolapisco and a little lime juice topped with the real thing—is one of the highest uses to which cola can be put as a mixer. The cocktail is ideal for fretful home bartenders who are skittish about the risks of the pisco sour (salmonella) and pisco punch (arrest for possession with intent to distribute) and also too timid to engineer their own pisco sidecar s. And this is one last talking point for you:


"You know, Jen, if I were a pisco importer, I'd be pushing the Piscola as an entry-point cocktail for twentysomethings. So approachable! It's less sweet than a Cuba Libre and less sharp than a Jack-and-Coke, but it doesn't exactly require a refined palate, either."

"You're so right, Cecil! It's actually a perfect angle for the Chileans whose stuff will be hitting the U.S. market this fall. Did you know that they celebrate a National Piscola Day? What a great way to mask the deficiencies of their adulterated swill!"