Here in England if you offer someone a drink of Pisco they are inclined to suspect that you are taking the...well, you know what I mean. In Peru it is a different matter, and there Pisco is the national tipple to an extent that not even whisky in Scotland equals. It is a kind of brandy, genuine grape brandy but colourless, or at least any bottles I have seen are colourless. It comes in several varieties, much as French brandy may be cognac or armagnac, but the only kind that I have ever drunk under my own control (so to speak) is quebranta, the kind we have here. The contents of this bottle are powerful stuff, 42%ABV, but it can be drunk on its own like a sort of schnapps. That's not what they usually do in Peru, or at least in southern Peru which is the part I have visited.
In restaurants, bars and cafes that I visited in Lima, Cusco, Puno, Huancayo and Miraflores the menu typically lists a great string of Pisco drinks mixed this way that way and the next way. The most famous recipe is for a Pisco Sour, and I have even attended a class in making that aboard the Andean Explorer luxury train between Cusco and Puno on Lake Titicaca. Probably no two bartenders do it in exactly the same way, but it is the same sort of thing as an American whisky sour, involving egg whites and general fiddling around. I lack the patience for that sort of thing myself, but allow me to use this short review to let anyone interested know about a rather cute cocktail called a Machu Picchu, which I was served on one or other of the upmarket trains I went on and then again in a bar in Miraflores on a beautiful day.
A Machu Picchu is a three-tier drink, with red orange and green 'layers' like a set of traffic lights. For the red layer you mix your Pisco with grenadine (or some kind of red cordial or concentrated juice): for the orange you mix it with, er, orange(!): for the green with mint or the like. You drink it with a straw and you are supposed not to let the colours run into each other. I was up to that challenge, but I have yet to make my own first set of Machu Picchus. The guests destined to be the guinea pigs for this are family, so if it goes wrong they will understand and encourage me to keep trying, preferably while they are still there to pass judgment on the results.
This piece of traveller's lore comes to anyone reading this little notice with a more or less unavoidable pun on the spirit of Christmas. Enjoy. As a postscript -- if you want to order a shot of Pisco just on its own in Cusco, the best place to go is, if you can believe this, Paddy's Irish Bar which is on a corner of the Plaza de Armas, right in the centre of town. You couldn't make that up.