LUPEC Seattle Dismantling the Patriarchy…one drink at a time!

Ladies for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails, Seattle Edition!
We try to meet up once a month in the area's best cocktail bars to try tasty libations made of gin, rum, tequila, whiskey, etc.
Occasionally we throw a party and use our power to raise money for local charities.

Follow the fun!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

November Meeting: Piscologia at Sambar

This month's blog post is written by long time LUPEC lady Courtney Randall. Courtney's blog Cocktail Quest is a fantastic place to learn a bit of history and become thirsty reading about her constant stirrings and mixings. Thanks so much Courtney for doing the post! ~WM 

When the ladies of LUPEC assemble, each meeting must include amazing libations created by talented bartenders at prime cocktail locations. Of course, having a fabulous community of talented women to enjoy them with is just a bonus. But where would the LUPEC ladies be without the joys of a well-crafted beverage? The question is too frightening to consider. In order to keep our imaginations sparked, sometimes we must hunker down and get serious about our cocktail education. Not every meeting is a party, sometimes we incorporate some learnin'. How lucky we are then to be able to explore the world of fine quality spirits and craft cocktails with excellent guidance from many our city's most knowledgeable resources.

This month's event brought us to one of Seattle's cocktail gems, Sambar, a small craft cocktail bar nestled next to le Gourmand. There, the talented and innovative Jay Kuehner would lead us on our journey to Peru for an in-depth class on pisco and featured Piscología, a relatively new pisco on the market. With an ample back bar full of obscure spirits and exotic housemade syrups and purees, it was obvious that this would not be an ordinary LUPEC gathering.

Upon arrival, we were each greeted with a refreshing aperitif that was akin to a Manhattan, though it was made with pisco. The aromatic Capitan cocktail combined an equal parts mixture of pisco and French sweet vermouth garnished with a thin strip of orange peel. Light and yet incredibly flavorful, this cocktail stimulated our palates as we were formally introduced to a most important, yet often underappreciated spirit.

With a history that spans over 400 years, pisco dates back at least to the sixteenth century when Spanish colonizers transported grapes across the Atlantic. The grape-based spirit first found its way into the United States through California primarily during the Gold Rushes in the late nineteenth century. By this time it was already a staple on many ships that made port in South America on their way around Cape Horn. San Francisco soon found itself awash in pisco, and it was there that the spirit gained nationwide attention, particularly via the writings of Rudyard Kipling and Mark Twain. Duncan Nicol, owner of the Bank Exchange Saloon, was primarily responsible for this widespread recognition as his Pisco Punch was lauded far and wide. And though I would love to believe that it was because of the refreshing combination of pisco, citrus, and pineapple gomme syrup (the addition of gum arabic creates a velvety texture), rumor has it that Nicol laced this already-delicious beverage with cocaine. Today, pisco is still most widely known in America for its inclusion in Nicol's Pisco Punch and another fantastic drink, the Pisco Sour.

Our second cocktail of the evening was Jay's homage to both the pisco sour and a pisco-based libation that is popular in Peru, the Chilcano. When combining the two, he played on the fact that both drinks include citrus and some form of sweetener. Beyond that the two drinks are only vaguely alike. The pisco sour follows the classic recipe for a sour, including the aforementioned citrus and syrup as well as pisco and egg whites. The Chilcano, however,would be considered a member the Buck family of drinks, where the base spirit, here pisco, is added to citrus and then topped with ginger beer. In most cases, a sweetener is usually added to balance out the tartness. Jay's cocktail combined the best elements of these drinks. He infused ginger directly into the pisco and also utilized crushed ginger to up the spicy ante. By incorporating the egg whites, he was able to preserve the velvety texture that the pisco sour is known for. Lime juice, simple syrup, and orange flower water concluded the ingredients. The drink was presented over ice, with a ginger beer top (from the Chilcano), and garnished with some grated lime zest and a wine grape.

The government of Peru strictly regulates what can be classified as pisco, in the same way that Bourbon is strictly defined here in the States. First of all, only eight grape varieties can be used. By manipulating the type and amount of the different grapes, the distiller has the freedom to create that perfect blend. The grape must, freshly fermented grape juice, is then distilled in alembic pot stills to bottling proof--watering an overproof spirit back down to bottling strength is against the regulations. Then, by law, it must be rested for at least three months in glass, stainless steel or any other vessel that won't affect the flavor before it can reach the marketplace.

Piscología specifically combines Torontel, Italia and Quebranta grapes. The Quebranta grape is a variation of the ancestral Viceroy grapes that the Spanish brought over to Peru. This grape is responsible for providing the dry, earthy foundation for the more aromatic flavors of the Torontel and Italia grapes. Piscología is made along the coast of Peru in the Ica region. This specific acholado, as piscos made from more than one type of grape are called, is nicely aromatic--not too intense or floral, but powerful enough to stand out when mixed with other ingredients. As a result this pisco is wonderful both on its own and makes a superb base for numerous cocktails. Jay designed our next cocktail to highlight this pisco's versatility and ability to mingle fluently with disparate ingredients. He combined the pisco with lime juice, Averna, Regan's orange bitters, Concord grape puree, and cinnamon/ancho chile simple syrup. This cocktail was then garnished with a lime wheel and some grated cinnamon. The result was a refreshing cocktail that was both tart and spicy.

After Prohibition, the popularity of pisco waned, like that of so many other exotic spirits. Pisco started to make a comeback in the 1960s when restaurateur Joe Baum decided to include the pisco sour on his menus. When he reopened the Rainbow Room in 1987 with the help of Dale DeGroff, the pisco sour traveled with him. Since then, as classic cocktails have become more popular, interest in pisco has also increased. Today, it is easier than ever to find pisco in liquor stores thanks to the efforts of companies like Topa Spirits. Owned by LUPEC Seattle member Meg McFarland and Krystle Hicks, who heads up their San Diego office, Topa Spirits strives to bring quality pisco into the United States.

For our fourth cocktail, Jay gave us a variation of one of the most famous classic cocktails, the Corpse Reviver No. 2, but with a pisco twist. First appearing in 1930 in Harry Craddock's art deco masterwork, the Savoy Cocktail Book, the original recipe calls for an equal parts mixture of gin, lemon juice, Kina Lillet, and Cointreau that is then added to an absinthe-rinsed glass. In Jay's version, the pisco replaced the gin, of course, but he wasn't done there. He also substituted Cocchi Americano for the Lillet and introduced a champagne top. The result was a refreshing, slightly more rich variation of the Reviver.

Our final cocktail was a variation of another popular Peruvian pisco drink: the algarrobina. A cream-based drink that resembles a Brandy Alexander, it usually includes pisco, cream, cinnamon and algarrobina syrup-- a sweetener made from the fruit of the Black Karob tree, the algarrobo. Jay swapped out the cinnamon for nutmeg and used karob syrup in place of the hard-to-find algarrobina syrup. He served this rich drink over ice and dusted it with fresh ground nutmeg. It was the perfect way to end the evening.

With our cocktail education upgraded and our taste buds sated, it was time to say goodnight. What were the takeaway lessons? First, pisco is darn tasty and exceedingly versatile. Second, Jay Kuehner does not mess around--you say a pisco class, he hears graduate thesis. Of course, there were no complaints. Third, drink pisco. Of course, the night would not have been such a success if it weren't for the efforts of Jay Kuehner and Meg McFarland and the very kind owners of Sambar.


  1. Eloquent recap of an amazing night. Thanks Courtney and Wendy!

  2. Wow, this are the best beverages for us!