5 Things I’ve Learned About…Pisco and Cachaca

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!


Buttered Yum: 6 spirits to butter besides rum

photo credit: Corey Bunnewith

My story for Wine Enthusiast online is up this week, celebrating Hot Buttered Rum Day on January 17. (Don’t you just love these “holidays”?)  As usual, there was a lot more than could possibly be squeezed into the article.  For example, I learned you can “butter” spirits beyond just rum. For example:

1. Hot Buttered Rye – this was on the menu at Rye in San Francisco, and regularly sold out. UPDATED:  also available at Rye in Williamsburg.

2. Hot Buttered Tequila – in addition to the “Hot Buttered Toddy” that ran in the WE piece, Camper English also takes on Hot Buttered Anejo (aged tequila) in Fine Cooking magazine.

3. Hot Buttered Bourbon – hat tip to Bon Appetit, circa…1999? wow. Practically retro!

4. Hot Buttered Scotch – Also in the whiskey category, photography and cocktal maven Kathryn Yu reports that Peels has hot buttered Scotch on offer.

In other words, butter can be added to pretty much any dark spirit (brandy, applejack, Scotch…) to create a Hot Buttered Whatever. But wait – not just dark spirits:

5. Hot Buttered Cachaca – when he was at Coppa, this was a specialty of Boston bar wizard Corey Bunnewith. Of course, he was getting all pastry chef on this drink, creating a brown butter noisette to fat-wash the cachaca, and adding Maldon sea salt, maple syrup, and a final dollop of compound butter sourced from a local dairy, seasoned with nutmeg and vanilla, and aerated in an ice-cream maker.

6. Hot Buttered Pisco – also courtesy of Kathryn Yu, who spotted this on PDT’s cocktail list last year.

Other random Hot Buttered Stuff I was unable to cram into the article:

–Cold Buttered Rum – as made by Todd Thrasher at Restaurant PX in Alexandria, VA.

–Buttered rum variations made with compound butters – mmmm. Craft (NY) was selling a spiced rum with compound butter one evening I passed through (they were making their own spiced rum, by the way), and we have Bunnewith’s compound butter above.

–And finally, a labor-intensive but delicious-sounding Hot Buttered Rum recipe from The Tipsy Parson, which was just too dang long to include in the WE piece, but sounds so delightful and-over-the-top that I just couldn’t quite let go just yet. Seriously – lots of buttered rum recipes begin by making a labor-intensive batter. This one begins with a creme anglaise – and then a batter too! This is an advanced-level buttered rum.  So here it is:

Hot Buttered Rum 

By Tasha Garcia Gibson of The Tipsy Parson, New York

Despite the somewhat labor-intensive batter, Garcia Gibson says the batter can be made ahead of time and frozen in ice cube trays. After, that, it’s simply a matter of adding hot water:  “at this point, it doesn’t dirty a pan.”

However, a word of caution:  When making this batter, you won’t be alone in the kitchen for long. Garcia Gibson says that when it’s time to make the batter, the staff quickly gather around, spoons in hand:  “Everyone turns into children wanting to put their spoon in the bowl!”

Step 1:  Make the Crème Anglaise

  • 3 cups heavy cream or whole milk
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 6 large egg yolks, at room temperature

Set a large fine strainer over a medium bowl and set the bowl in a shallow pan of cold water.

In a large saucepan, combine the half-and-half and vanilla bean and cook over moderately low heat just until small bubbles appear around the rim, about 5 minutes.

In another medium bowl, whisk the sugar and egg yolks just until combined. Whisk in half of the hot half-and-half in a thin stream. Pour the mixture into the saucepan and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the sauce has thickened slightly, 4 to 5 minutes. Immediately strain the sauce into the bowl in the cold water bath to stop the cooking. Scrape the vanilla seeds into the sauce. Serve right away or refrigerate until chilled.  Yields 1 quart.

Step 2:  Make the Batter

  • 1 pound butter, softened
  • 1 pound confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1 pound light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 quart crème anglais

Cream butter and sugars together in kitchen aid until smooth. Add crème anglais and mix until creamy. Mixture may be poured into ice cube trays and frozen in individual serving sizes or used fresh.

Step 3:  Make the Drink! 

  • 2 Tablespoons (1 “ice cube”) of batter
  • Boiling water
  • 1 ¼ ounces spiced rum
  • Freshly grated nutmeg, to garnish

Place the batter cube in the bottom of a footed mug. Add 1 oz of boiling water and stir until the mixture is melted. Add the rum, and top with more boiling water. Stir until the mixture is melted. Sprinkle top with freshly grated nutmeg and serve.

Drink recipe: Brazillionaire (sriracha cocktail alert!)

I’m seeing sriracha — that fabulous “Rooster sauce” — in more and more cocktails.

What’s funny is that at first, I had assumed that sriracha was too thick and ketchup-like to lend itself to a drink. But I was advised by a bartender friend to use a light touch, adding just a couple of drops at most, which then could be dissolved with a good vigorous shake.

Congrats to bartender Tobin Ellis on his award-winning, sriracha-spiked  libation – recipe below!

1 1/2 oz. Leblon Cachaça
3/4 oz. Cherry Heering
1 oz. passion fruit purée
1 1/2 oz. fresh lime sour
8-10 fresh cilantro leaves
2 drops sriracha sauce

Combine all of the ingredients in a mixing glass and shake well with ice. Strain into a rocks glass. Garnish with 2 speared Marasca cherries.

P.S. (added 4/19)  I need to take a moment to curtsey in the general direction of Andrea Lynn, who made her own sriracha sauce and chronicled it in her “Serious Heat” column on Serious Eats. Andrea, who is also my editor over at Chile Pepper magazine, is clearly not a woman to be trifled with. Anyone willing to play with one pound (!) of cayenne chiles plus another five Thai chiles — well, that’s some major DIY chops. Check out her recipe here.