Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – August 2015
Let the Cocktail Fit the CountryAugust 10, 2015
by Margaret Swaine
During the Pan Am Games in Toronto, the InterContinental’s Azure Lounge matched drinks with sports and their countries. This was the ultimate “let the cocktail fit the country” exercise and reminded me that there are some places in the world where their cocktails are as iconic as their top tourist sites.
Azure’s “Beach Volleyball” cocktail took the fact that Brazil is a power house in beach volleyball and matched it with the country’s most famous spirit, cachaça to make their version of a Caipirinha, the country’s favourite cocktail. Azure’s recipe calls for two ounces of cachaça, one lime quartered and a teaspoon of white sugar. You muddle the lime and white sugar in a shaker, add ice and cachaça, shake and pour into rocks glass (no straining) for the ultimate refreshing hot weather cocktail. (Up the sugar or lower the lime if you want a less tart beverage.)
The Caipirinha came to be in the 1800s, first made by Brazilian slaves. They drank boiled cane sugar juice called garapa and mixed it with cachaça made from sugar cane. For flavour they added spice and fruit juice. One of these mixes, the batida de limao, which is made with lime, is the base of today’s Caipirinha.
In Rio de Janeiro’s trendy Santa Teresa district, the restaurant Aprazível has its own cachaça sommelier, and a cachaça list with over 100 brands, organized under the states that produce them. Cachaça is distilled from fresh sugar cane juice: the best come from artisanal pot still production in regions such as Salinas in Minas Gerais state, Paraty in Rio de Janeiro state and Monte Alegre do Sul in São Paulo state and can be aged in wood barrels for many years.
Pitú Cachaça founded in 1938 claims to be one of the oldest and most traditional spirit companies in Brazil. If you want to make copious Caipirinhas without breaking the bank this is the brand for you. Leblon Cachaça rests up to six months in vintage XO cognac casks to lend it a sophistication and ultra-smooth character.
The Pisco Sour is long claimed by both the Peruvians and the Chileans as their national drink. Pisco is basically a white brandy (unaged) made from certain varieties of distilled grapes. In Peru they add egg white to the basic mix of Pisco, lime juice and sugar syrup and top that with a dash of angostura bitters. Beyond the slight difference in drink recipes (in Chile no egg white or angostura) is the battle over who owns the rights to Pisco.
Pisco is Peru according to the Peruvian government. The country has a town of Pisco that overlooks the Pisco River at the foot of the Pisco Valley. The town dates back to 1574. Melanie Asher, founder and CEO of Macchupisco, a leading Peruvian producer and exporter, rightly says Pisco is a deeply ingrained part of the culture of the country.
Chile however produces much more of the grape liquor and both countries have strict regulations governing its production. That said under the Chilean system, water may be added to dilute the alcohol content before sale while in Peru this is not allowed.
Pisco has been produced in the Pisco region of southern Peru since 1613 while the first documented evidence of Pisco production in Chile dates no further than 1871. However to complicate things, in 1693 Peru and Chile were not separate countries, rather part of the same territory within the Spanish viceroyalty of Peru, and Chile also has a town named Pisco.
Suffice to say both countries have strong claims to Pisco and don’t wish to give an inch to the other. And indeed they both insist they invented the Pisco Sour. The Peruvians say it was conceived in the 1920s at the Morris Bar near Lima’s main plaza. The Chileans say it was invented at a bar in the town of Iquique. Whatever the truth – Pisco sours are delicious and a must order in either country.
Macchu Pisco from Chincha, Valle de Ina, Peru is a single grape Pisco (quebranta) that’s very aromatic and flavour packed. El Gobernador Pisco from Valle di Limari in Chile is produced in a single discontinuous distillation in copper alembic stills to conserve the scents of the muscatel variety. Capel Pisco from a cooperative in the Elqui Valley in Chile is delicate and fragrant.
The Caribbean is the home of rum and to protect its provenance, The Authentic Caribbean Rum (ACR) marque was recently developed by the West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers’ Association. Most islands have both their indigenous rums and their special drinks. On Bermuda it’s the “dark ’n stormy” Goslings Rum hovering above ginger beer. On Cuba the Daiquiri, a simple mix of rum, sugar syrup and lime juice was made famous by Ernest Hemingway at the El Floridita Bar in Havana which he frequented.
Try these rums in your cocktails for spirited results: St. Lucia Distillers Chairman’s Reserve is a hand crafted blend of double distilled pot and continuous rums. Skipper Rum is a finest old demerara, produced and aged in Guyana and New Grove Old Tradition is a five year aged Mauritius Island rum.
For a light rum effect try El Dorado 3 Year Old White Rum, that’s smooth on the palate with a dry finish. Want spice and flavour – go for Chic Choc spiced rum from Quebec which launched this year. A true taste of Nova Scotia can be had with Fortress rum matured in Louisbourg, a national historic site in the province – right now available in Nova Scotia and trying to expand its horizons in Canada.
Grappa is synonymous with Italy though not known for its appearance in cocktails. Nonino, one of the best producers is trying to change that with the Nonino Tonic and other recipes, some found on the neck of the Grappa Nonino bottles on the shelves now. Luigi Francoli Grappa Nebbiolo, is value priced from a family that has been distilling since 1875.
Liqueurs are both a vital part of many cocktails and part of the identity of countries known for their love of food and beverage. In Italy quintessential Italian flavours show up in liquors such as Sambuca (anise), Amaretto (almond), Maraschino (bitter-sweet cherry/almond) and Frangelico (hazelnut).
Luxardo Sambuca dei Cesar is intensely anise and licorice like with a creamy vanilla palate. Luxardo Amaretto di Saschira has terrific marzipan/almond flavours that linger. The Luxardo Maraschino liqueur is an essential part of the cocktail The Last Word, the Aviation, Brandy Crusta and many other classics. Frangelico made from locally grown hazelnuts in Piedmont, blended with coffee, cocoa and vanilla speaks distinctively of the local tastes.
So remember, when in Rome – you know the cliché.
To find these and other picks at stores near you, click on: Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits
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