by Romina Scheufele, Sixth Generation Master Distiller at Capurro Pisco
There are eight approved grape varietals for pisco, and they are divided into two groups: non-aromatic and aromatic. Quebranta is the most popular of the non-aromatic grapes. Quebranta literally means the unbreakable. This grape adjusted well to all Peruvian microclimates when it came over from Europe, hence the name. It is the heartiest grape varietal and grows really well all over Peru. Quebranta is a hybrid of the California mission grape and Pedro Ximénez. Because one of the parents of this grape is Pedro Ximénez, it pairs really well sherry when making cocktails. This grape has really thick, tannic skin, thick enough so you can peel it like a banana. When I was a little girl, I knew this was the sweetest grape, so I would pick this one and peel off the skin because I knew the skin was so bitter. I would drink the juice, eat the flesh and throw out the skin. The pit of this grape is incredibly bitter – it scrapes your pallet.
The flavor profile of quebranta has a very earthy, dried raisin note. There’s a nuttiness and cocoa dust to it as well. When I taste pisco, I take a sip, and then I take a second sip. That first sip really preps your palate, that second sip coats your palate. The quality of pisco is best identified on the finish. Is it long? Is it clean? Can you pick up nuances? It’s supposed to be long. It's not supposed to be super short and fast. If that’s what you’re experiencing when you’re tasting a pisco, then there’s definitely been some short cuts in production. So with quebranta, you can feel how it sits on the palate, and you get that long finish.
One of the ways that we like to look at texture and feel it is using your five senses. Put a few drops of the pisco in your hand and rub them together. Open up your hands, and the alcohol will dissipate a little bit. You can smell the aromatics because you’ll have more surface area, so you’ll be able to pick up on more of the nuances. The non-aromatic varietals don’t have strong aromas – they’re there, but they’re muted. Even though quebranta is non-aromatic, the way we distill in a way that pulls out the aromatics. You can feel a slight stickiness on your hands – that’s the actual grape oil coming through. We use about 15 pounds of grapes per bottle. You can actually taste the grapes!
Traditionally quebranta makes the most authentic pisco sour – that’s because of the texture. A pisco sour is supposed to be really frothy and really creamy. The only way to achieve that is to have a base spirit that has a lot of texture to begin with. The common misconception is that you can use any pisco for a pisco sour because the lime and the sugar have the flavor profile, but that’s not true because you’ll miss out on the texture. One thing you’ll see is a pisco sour that has started to fizzle out, it has started to separate, it has floating in clumps and it looks watery. That’s usually a pisco that doesn’t have a lot of texture. The cocktail doesn’t stay intact and it can’t sit for long. You have to drink it quickly. A quebranta pisco sour versus an acholado pisco sour might taste a little sweeter, and that’s because of the texture. The human palate discerns texture as sweetness, so you can play with the sweetness level in your pisco sour.
Those earthy and nutty flavors of quebranta make it really good for a pumpkin spice latte riff on a pisco sour. You can also do stirred drinks because it has a lot of texture and the proof on the quebranta is slightly higher than the other bottlings. Quebranta also plays really well in tiki drinks. That’s because it has a little bit of nuttiness to it, a little bit of lime zest, some tropical vibes to it. The old school tiki cocktail books call for a lot of pisco. Quebranta became the unofficial bartender’s choice because of the proof and the texture – the texture is super unique.