The June 2011 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine is out, and it includes (among other things) my review column on Cachaca and Pisco — yes, we conflated the two categories. You can pick up a copy at the newsstand, or view it in digital format on Zinio. Here’s what I learned:
1. They’re both from South America. They’re both usually clear spirits. And the comparisons end there, since both spirits have unique characteristics.
2. Cachaça is made in Brazil, and is distilled from sugar cane juice. A rough-and-tumble cousin to rum, cachaça has the same intrinsic sweetness and often good whiff of sugar in the scent.
3. Brazil’s national drink, the sweet-and-tart caipirinha, topped with soda water, showcases cachaça’s best qualities, yielding a refreshing, flavorful drink perfect for a summer afternoon. Cachaça also can be subbed for white tequila or white rum in cocktails, such as in the Mojito.
4. Pisco, meanwhile, hails from Peru or Chile. It’s distilled from grapes, and then aged in vessels made of copper, glass, stainless steel, or clay for a brief spell. It often has a delicate, perfumy quality; but like wine or grappa, the character changes vastly depending on the grapes from which it is made.
5. Although the delightfully frothy Pisco Sour is the traditional way to consume the spirit, I get the sense that pisco makers are looking for a new cocktail to promote the spirit — preferably one that doesn’t include egg whites, which freak out salmonella-wary tipplers. Personally, my favorite way to consume pisco is in Pio Pio’s “Lime-na” cocktail, made with grape-infused pisco, green Chartreuse, and lime juice, on the rocks. Pisco marketers, take note! I’d love to see this one become a staple on cocktail menus across the country.
If you have a favorite pisco or cachaca (or cocktail made with either), I’d love to know!