It was in 1889 that Rudyard Kipling toured America for a collection of essays titled Sea to Sea, and while he didn’t have many kind words to say about San Francisco’s dining culture, he did have one thing to rave about: the Pisco Punch.
The cocktail — which he immortalised as being “compounded of the shavings of cherub’s wings, the glory of a tropical dawn, the red clouds of sunset and the fragments of lost epics by dead masters,” — was in fact the exotic marriage of Peruvian grape brandy and pineapples. The only person who knew for certain of its recipe, however, was Duncan Nicol, bartender and proprietor of the Bank Exchange, whom after being shut down during Prohibition ended up taking the real recipe to his grave.
No one knows whether the Pisco Punches of today are exactly like what Kipling had over a century ago, but we know for sure that the cocktail still tastes pretty damn good. Pisco is produced only in the winemaking regions of Peru and Chile, and has flavours that depend on not only the type of grapes used but also the process. When in doubt, choose an Acholado, a blend of any two or more different grape varietals that usually results in a more balanced flavour.
Then there’s the pineapple syrup and it gets slightly complicated here. Pineapple-flavoured gum syrup works best because of the silky body it imparts to the cocktail, but you can also soak simple syrup in diced pineapple overnight, or even make your own by dissolving sugar into pineapple juice.
Lastly, the recipe calls for lemon juice, but you’re free to experiment with other citruses; the tarty zest of limes works particularly well with the pineapple’s delicious sweetness.
Below, what you’ll need for your very own Pisco Punch, and your shopping guide to the best ingredients for it.
22ml fresh lemon or lime juice
22ml pineapple syrup
1 pineapple wedge
Add all ingredients (except the pineapple wedge) to a cocktail shaker with ice, and shake well. Strain over fresh ice and garnish with a pineapple wedge.
Now on to their fifth generation in the business, the pisco made by the Camposano family is made using handpicked Alexandria Muscat and Pink Muscat grapes that are grown around the ancient town of Tulahuén, located at the Andes foothills in northern Chile. The brandy is still made the old-fashioned way here — in a copper pot heated by wood fire — in small batches, and only the middle cut is retained. Expect its fruity, floral and liquorice aromas to lend depth to any pisco cocktail.
Pisco can be made from any of eight allowed grapes, so an acholado like La Diablada can provide a good all-round balance where no no one grape flavour stands out too much. This one is named after an Andean dance that’s inspired by a fight between angels and demons, and demonstrates this duality by flitting between liqueur sweetness and dryness. This delicious combination of green apples, white grapes and juicy oranges is met with leafy and heady floral notes.
This brand hails from the Ica Valley of Peru — considered to be the heartland of Pisco by many — and is made from the Italia, Moscatel, and Quebranta grape, each pressed by foot before being distilled in a small copper pot. The resulting spirits are then rested in oak casks for three to 12 months before being blended and bottled. This pisco is slightly tannic with a fruity palate, and brings a new dimension to the classic cocktail.
Made with the finest grape varieties grown in the Tacama vineyard, this pisco is created with the Quebranta, Albilla and Negra Corriente varieties, and is full-bodied on the palate with warm sensations of rum, ripe pear and sugar cane. More interestingly, the Pisco is named after the Demon of the Andes, Don Francisco de Carvajal, one of the most tumultuous figures during the conquest of Peru.
Sure, you could make your own, but you could also make your life infinitely easier with this equally stellar ready-made option. More than half of this syrup is made from the juice of ripe, cold-pressed pineapples so you get all that natural sweetness without compromising on the unique richness and viscosity that a good gum syrup should bring.
Shatricia Nair is a motoring, watches, and wellness writer who is perpetually knee-deep in the world of V8s, tourbillons, and the latest fitness trends. She is fuelled by peanut butter and three cups of coffee a day.