When I think of pisco, I think of pisco sours, and when I think of pisco sours, I don't think about drinking them in Houston. Hopefully, that's all about to change because Houston, we've got a new pisco in town: Pisco Portón.
Despite the fact that it's manufactured in Peru, Pisco Portón's roots are really here in Houston. Its founder and CEO is Houston-based William Kallop, an oilman who made his fortune drilling for oil off of Peru.
In 2009, Kallop sold his company and decided he wanted to bring an ultra-premium pisco to the US. He recruited Johnny Schuler, a worldwide pisco ambassador and Peru's foremost authority on pisco, to become the master distiller for his brand, and now two years later, the first batches of Pisco Portón ultra-premium pisco are coming to US.
What is pisco? Pisco is a mixable white spirit distilled from grapes. Pisco Portón is a mosto verde pisco, which is made from a partially fermented grape juice blend, and considered the best-quality pisco.
To make the best possible pisco, Schuler bought the oldest distillery in Peru, the Hacienda La Caravedo, established in 1684, and uses the tecnico artisanal, or artisanal techniques, which employ a system of gravity for fermentation and distillation. These techniques, combined with the ability to let the pisco rest for five to eight months after distillation, allow the pisco flavors to develop.
The initial taste of the Pisco Portón is smooth and warm. The aromas are soft, with some grassiness mixed with a floral fruitiness. Swirl it around in the glass, and you can pick up aromas of hay, banana leaf, chocolate and green apple. Swirl it around some more, and you can pick up more notes, like orange and citrus.
You can drink pisco straight up like any other spirit, but its most popular incarnation is the pisco sour. Houstonians love to drink margaritas, but perhaps it's because they haven't really had a taste of pisco sour. Having had both, I much prefer pisco sours. Because even though they pack just as much of a punch (Pisco Portón is 86 proof), pisco is much smoother. I'm much less likely to wince after a shot of pisco, and after a few sips I'm usually tipsy.
Pisco Portón is currently available in Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, and will begin distributing to other cities in the next several months. It's available for purchase at Specs for $38.62, and you can order it at many bars throughout Houston.
Chef Roberto Castre, owner of the Peruvian restaurant Latin Bites, was so excited about Pisco Portón that he took a picture of it on the shelf at Spec's and posted it to his Facebook account. He uses pisco to make his leche de tigre, or tiger's milk shot, that goes with his ceviche. I'm sure he drinks it too.
And that's the beauty of pisco. It's smooth, it's strong, it's versatile, and when it's an ultra-premium, well-rested Pisco Portón, it's damn good.