Pisco sours, Inca Trail are highlights of Peru trip
Take a look at these gorgeous Inca ruins. Buzz60
My introduction to pisco came as I sat at a hotel bar in Lima. My husband and I, along with some family and friends, were on our first trip to South America. We were there to see the beautiful country of Peru and – like all self-respecting baby boomers with a bucket list – hike part of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu along the way.
Having just arrived that morning on a red-eye flight from Los Angeles, I was ready for a pick-me-up. Now, I’m a wine person and not much of a cocktail gal, but the wine scene in Peru, while evolving, is still in its relative infancy. Pisco, the signature spirit of Peru, is the drink of choice here – so in the interest of cultural exploration, I went for it.
“You need to try this pisco sour,” my friend said, handing me her half empty glass, “It’s delicious.” She was right, it was delicious and refreshing. They say that the perfect pisco sour strikes a balance between sweet and sour, with a a silky, foam layer that rests delicately on top – and this one seemed pretty perfect to me.
An old-school drink, the cocktail dates to the early part of the 20th century. As the story goes, Victor Morris, an American bartender living in Lima, invented it in an effort to create a Peruvian version of the whiskey sour. Various concoctions followed, and eventually, bitters and egg whites were added to the mix.
While the pisco sour has been around for a hundred years or so, pisco’s origins date back much further – to the 1600s when Spanish conquistadors shipped grapes into the country to make wine. They distilled the leftover grapes into a strong brandy, naming it “pisco” after the port where it was produced and exported. Made from up to eight different indigenous grapes – Quebranta, Torontel and Moscatel, to name a few – Peruvian pisco is essentially a brandy without any barrel aging.
Starting life as a young wine, it’s distilled only once in small batches using copper pot stills, thereby allowing the unique characteristics of the grapes to be retained. Peruvians will tell you that a good pisco will never give you a headache – but beware, since no water is added to the final product, this spirit is notoriously strong with alcohol typically topping 40 percent. Not to be confused with the Chilean version, Peruvian pisco has its own official appellation that is recognized internationally and must adhere to specific production methods. Inextricably linked to the country’s national identity, holidays such as El Dia del Pisco and El Dia del Pisco Sour honor both the spirit and the cocktail.
A wide range of styles and flavors are possible in the world of Peruvian pisco – from bold and smoky to delicate and floral, depending upon the grapes used. “Puros” are made from a single grape variety, commonly categorized as aromatic or non-aromatic, and are more distinctive in character.
“Acholados” are house blends of multiple grapes, so a consistency in style is usually preferred. Mosto verde pisco is distilled from sweet wine that hasn’t finished fermentation and can be made into either a puro or an acholado.
While purists in rural areas often like to drink it neat, pisco-based cocktails are the order of the day in the large urban areas of Lima and Cusco, Peru. In addition to the ubiquitous pisco sour, another popular Peruvian sip is the Chilcano – a combination of pisco, ginger ale, a squeeze of lime and a few drops of bitters. A pisco punch, which incorporates pineapple, lime juice and simple syrup, originated in San Francisco in the late 1800s but has also gained a following among Lima’s latest generation of cocktail enthusiasts.
Having fallen out of favor for many years, the spirit is finally making a comeback in its home country and in cocktail bars around the globe.
High in the Andes lies the the fertile paradise that gave rise to the Incan Empire which, even today, remains a place of almost divine communion between the land and its people. Time
Hiking the Inca Trail
Many days, and many miles later, another pisco sour would mark a milestone for me as we celebrated a successful, but exhausting, trek with a post-hike dinner in the village of Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu.
If hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is on your bucket list, here are a few dos and don’ts for your trip.
- DO figure out which hike is right for you and DON’T wait too long to book it. Hikes range from one day to multiple days, with varying levels of difficulty. Guides are required and the Peruvian government limits the number of people on the trail to 500 per day – including guides and porters – so it’s best to book at the beginning of the calendar year to ensure a spot.
- DON’T forget about trip insurance. Stuff happens and when a vacation centers around physical activity, sudden illnesses or accidents can be a game changer. One person in our party became so ill that she was unable to go on the hike. Disappointing, to be sure, but at least she recovered some expenses through her trip insurance.
- DO have your papers in order before you travel. When you book a hike, you will have to provide your passport information to the tour company in advance, so make sure that they have your most up-to-date information on file. Another person in our party almost missed out on the hike because she had to renew her passport right before the trip and it didn’t match the information that she had initially provided.
- DO research the CDC’s vaccination recommendations for travel to Peru (currently Hep A/B and Tdap, among others) and make sure that you allow enough time to receive all the booster shots before your trip to allow for maximum protection. Vaccinations are offered at travel clinics but a visit can be a little pricey. Depending upon your insurance plan, getting your shots at pharmacies such as Costco or CVS Minute Clinics may be a less expensive option. Know that many insurance plans will not cover travel vaccinations. Shots for Hepatitis A and B or Tdap, however, are typically recommended by the CDC for the average adult anyway – so most insurance plans should cover them in the same way that they would cover flu, pneumonia or shingles vaccines.
- DO talk to your doctor about prescribing antibiotics, anti-nausea and anti-diarrheal medications for you to take on the trip. At times, you may be in relatively remote areas where there isn’t ready access to medical care, much less the drugs that might help alleviate your discomfort.
- DO take advantage of the mountains in our own backyard to get into shape for hiking the Inca Trail. While I walk quite a bit every day, there is a big difference between walking and climbing. My husband and I spent many Sunday afternoons hiking Peavine and other nearby ranges so that we were prepared for the steep trails of the Andes. On any part of your hike, you may ascend hundreds to thousands of feet. Being in shape may make the difference between enjoying the breathtaking scenery – or just trying to catch your breath.
- DON’T underestimate the altitude difference. While we aren’t exactly “flatlanders” here in the Reno-Tahoe area, there is a big difference between 5,000 to 7,000 feet in elevation and 11,000-12,000 feet. One of the best local remedies for altitude sickness is tea made from the coca plant. A staple offering in most Peruvian hotels, I drank coca tea every morning – especially in the higher elevations of Cusco and the Sacred Valley – and I could really tell the difference. (Of course, I had to warn my boss when I got back home that I might test positive for cocaine for a few weeks!)
- DO think lightweight – whether it be hiking poles, clothing layers, photographic equipment, etc. You will be carrying your own personal day pack and you don’t want to be loaded down with anything cumbersome or heavy.
- DO become proficient in taking panoramic photos. Remember that you will be hiking one of the most scenic trails in the world and the panoramic views are incredible.
- And finally, DON’T forget to stop often along the trail and take a moment to really appreciate where you are. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in “doing” that we forget about just “being.”
The perfect pisco sour
3 ounces Peruvian pisco (typically a puro like Quebranta is used, but any style is acceptable)
1 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
1 ounce simple syrup
1 egg white
Amargo Chuncho or Angostura bitters
Fill a cocktail shaker – not a blender – with the first four ingredients and shake vigorously for 10-15 seconds until the egg white is foamy (called a “dry shake”). Add ice to fill the shaker and shake for another 10 seconds. Strain into a chilled old-fashioned or cocktail stem glass and top with a few dashes of bitters.
If you’ve done it right, the foamy layer should be approximately a half-inch thick.
Rebecca Davidson is the wine supervisor at Total Wine & More, a certified sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, and a certified specialist of wine through the Society of Wine Educators. Davidson also teaches wine classes at Truckee Meadows Community College.