The Battle Over Pisco: Pisco Wars Aside, This South American Spirit is a TreatSep 22, 2022 11:33AM ● By Gina Birch
If you don’t know Pisco, it’s time for an introduction. If you’ve already met this sassy Chilean and Peruvian spirit, buckle up and come along for the ride.
Pisco is distilled from fruit—grapes specifically—which classifies it as a brandy, but this is not like any brandy you’ve likely tried. It has been described as the love child of vodka and tequila and can be interchanged with these spirits when crafting cocktails.
“It’s worthy to be a stand-alone category like tequila,” says Catalina Gaete-Bentz, founder of Catan Pisco. Catan Pisco’s smell is reminiscent of tequila. The palate is a little rustic yet smooth with pepper, spice, and a hint of sweetness.
The grapes used in the distillation process for pisco are very specific but can still vary depending on whether it’s made in Peru or Chile. Catan is the first Chilean pisco that is made 100 percent from Pedro Ximenez, a grape typically used to produce sweeter wines. It’s also the first American pisco brand.
Something else that sets Catan apart, a distinction that has been turning heads in the spirits industry: It’s the first woman-owned pisco company in Chilean history.
Gaete-Bentz wanted to establish a business that combined her Chilean roots with the American culture in which she grew up. Pisco seemed the perfect vehicle. “We celebrated with it [pisco] for every special occasion,” she says. “A pisco sour would gather us.”
Pisco sour is a classic cocktail that begins with an uncomplicated mix of one ounce each of fresh lime juice and simple syrup to three ounces of pisco. What sets it apart is the single egg white that when added and shaken all together over ice creates a frothy texture. A few drops of Angostura bitters are famously and artfully floated on the froth, adding a spicy dimension.
In a tall, frosted glass bottle, with clean white lettering, Catan’s packaging intentionally resembles that of vodka. Gaete-Bentz believes it makes pisco more approachable for American consumers who know and love vodka.
To make it even easier for consumers to experiment with and ultimately fall in love with pisco, she packages and ships cocktail kits. Each one includes a full bottle of Catan along with all ingredients and instructions needed to make a designated drink.
Pisco punch is one of the offerings. Created in San Francisco in the 1800s, it’s one of the city’s most iconic cocktails. Catan’s recipe has been simplified a bit but is just as delicious as those you find in top bars. It calls for 1 ounce each of lime juice, simple syrup, and pineapple juice, 2 ounces of pisco, shaken with ice, and strained over ice.
Warning: It’s difficult to just have one.
Pisco is made only in Chile and Peru; both countries claim exclusivity. It’s a battle known as the Pisco Wars.
Each South American country wants a “geographical indication” for pisco, like Champagne. No sparkling wine can legally be called Champagne unless it is produced in the Champagne region of France and only with a combination of three specific grapes.
It’s a bit complicated but suffice to say pisco has been a bone of contention between the two countries for decades. Peru even bans people from bringing Chilean pisco into the country. Talk about a bar war.
“I’m not just woman in a male-dominated field; I’m also a Chilean, so there is discrimination on the back end too,” says Gaete-Bentz. Many Peruvian restaurant owners, even other female entrepreneurs, refuse to serve or even try Catan because of the Pisco Wars.
Undeterred, Gaete-Bentz forges onward, presenting her unique brand in unique ways to both preserve and promote the legacy of this embattled spirit that has been uniting people for decades.
Gina Birch is a regular contributor. A lover of good food, good drinks, and a fun time, she is also a well-known media personality in Southwest Florida.