Peruvians are crazy for pisco. Not only is pisco, a grape brandy produced in Peru, the country’s national liquor, there are two public holidays celebrating its virtues. National Pisco Sour Day is celebrated during the first Saturday of February and National Pisco Day on the fourth Sunday of July. So one afternoon as I wandered the touristy corridor of Cuzco between the Plaza des Armes and San Blas, I wasn’t taken by surprise when I strolled by a storefront identifying itself as the Museo de Pisco (Pisco Museum). It seemed perfectly logical in this tourist mecca for a pisco museum to exist.
With its walls filled with diagrams, graphs and maps explaining the pisco-making process, distillation equipment on display, and a vast collection of bottles behind the bar, I was ready to spend a cultural day communing with this local elixir. It didn’t take long, however, to deduce that the Museo de Pisco was actually a bar disguised as a museum. This revelation did not sour my visit in any way.
While not official guides, I quickly realized that the bartending staff here had an encyclopedic knowledge about pisco and were eager to educate a gringa about their country’s pride and joy. Not only was I given a primer on the distillation process, but barman Ruben Dario educated me about the specific grape varietals used for pisco and the difference the each grape imparts on the finished product.
The bar stocks more than 40 brands of pisco, each of them with their own unique qualities. After asking several questions about the merits of different types, another bartender, Joe Rojas Garcia, was kind enough to offer me a taste of some of his favorites. As a resident of Peru, I had been drinking pisco for nine months at this point, but I had never taken the time to explore the subtle differences in various varieties.
While I was familiar with the most popular cocktails, pisco sour, Maracuayo sour (made from a local fruit), and Te Macho, (pisco and coca tea), I was instantly intrigued by the bar’s extensive cocktail menu.
Overwhelmed by all the choices, I asked Joe what he recommended. In a flirty move, he suggested the Cusquenita Linda, literally translated, “pretty little lady from Cusco.” The cocktail is a mixture of pisco, cassis, lime and aguaymanto juice.
Aguaymanto is a fruit native to Andean region of South America, also known as the capegooseberry, golden berry or Incan berry. It has a tart, yet slightly sweet, flavor. Herbalists have used it as a folk remedy for diabetes, inflammation and asthma.
Not being a fan of sweet drinks, the fruit mixture intrigued me. The red-orange drink was presented in a martini glass with a cheery star fruit garnish. The mixture of sharp Aguaymanto with the piquant blackcurrant flavor of the cassis and sour lime proved a fitting foil for the crisp, clean and tangy flavor of pisco. The overall result was a sublime and unique tipple that was captivating and refreshing at the same time.
As I savored my cocktail, a tour group arrived, and I was able to absorb another education lecture from their guide, as well as sip on a free sample of pisco punch, mixed with lime and pineapple, offered to the group. I also watched as another bartender prepared one of the many pisco infusions made in-house, which include morado (purple corn), eucalyptus, chili pepper and ginger.
It would be easy to spend an entire afternoon or evening at the Pisco Museum, engaging with the friendly staff and sampling the many delicacies. This year, Peru’s National Pisco day falls on July 28. Wherever you may be on that day, celebrate it with a South American pisco treat.
La Cusquenita Linda
2 oz Pisco
2 oz Aquaymanto juice
¼ oz Lime juice
¼ oz sugar
1 oz crème de Cassis
Mix ingredients in a shaker with ice, then pour into a martini glass. Garnish with star fruit.