Tasting Notes: Pisco Porton

A smooth new pisco (let it overtake vodka...)

Premium pisco for top-shelf Pisco Sours

These days, many versed imbibers have never even heard of pisco. But that wasn’t the case during the San Francisco Gold Rush of the mid 1800s. Chilean and Peruvian miners introduced the city to the spirit, which caught on and was often served up as a Pisco Punch (pisco, pineapple syrup, water, and lemon juice). A description of the “new” spirit that I adore comes from a Salt Lake City newspaper in 1903, which described it to the uninitiated. “‘Pisco,’ though a most innocent looking beverage, being colorless as water, contains more intoxication to the cubic inch than any other known liquor unless it may be the mescal [sic] of Mexico.” I can just imagine early 20th century teetotalers reading that account and shaking their heads in outrage as the country cascaded towards Prohibition. Those evil spirits!

But back to the here and now: Pisco Porton is a new player on the market, in this recently growing spirits category. But what is pisco, anyway? Pisco is grape brandy made in Peru and Chile. In terms of flavor profile, it is somewhere between vodka and tequila. As a mixer, it plays well with others, and never dominates the conversation. One of the nicest ways to get at the intriguing complexities of a pisco is to substitute it for vodka in a vodka-tonic, or vodka-soda. Where vodka gives a singular note, pisco expresses a symphony of flavors: a little savory hay and herb, tropical fruit like mango and banana, and a dash of spice. But a Pisco Sour is where the spirit really shines.

Porton is particularly notable as it’s the first widely-available premium, artisanal pisco. Interestingly, it is distilled to proof, instead of being diluted to proof, so it’s a lot more fuller-bodied and smooth than other piscos. Another point of differentiation is that it’s a mosto verde pisco, meaning that it’s distilled from partially (instead of fully) fermented grapes, a process that imbues an abundance of flavors to the final product. At around $45 a bottle, it’s not cheap. But if you’re looking to impress friends with a fantastic round of Pisco Sours (as I recently did after a day on the slopes), it’s a worthwhile splurge.