Master Distiller Johnny Schuler on Pisco Porton, Spicy Ceviche and Where to Get the Good Stuff
|Courtesy of Pisco Portón|
Last week, the Taste of Peru Gastronomic Festival made its third appearance at the Miami Airport Convention Center, bringing hundreds of exhibitors, cultural activities and of course, copious amounts of food and drink. As part of the event, the Peruvian American Chef's Association (P.A.C.H.A.), in partnership with renowned spirit expert Johnny Schuler, hosted a panel on pisco, the colorless, grape-based liquor finding a foothold in the American spirits market.
A liquor unique to South America, pisco can best be described as a colorless brandy. It's often sipped neat or mixed into cocktails, from pisco punch to the pisco sour, and like any other liquor, comes in several qualities. One of the products of this influx is Porton Pisco, an ultra-premium brand made specifically for the U.S. market.
Pisco Portón's master distiller Johnny Schuler is one of the world's leading experts on the spirit. He's the former president of the National Taster's Guild in Peru, a member of the National Commission of Pisco (CONAPISCO), and a recipient of a Medal of Honor from the Peruvian Congress in recognition for his work promoting pisco and upholding Peruvian culture and tradition. Let's just say he knows his way around a bottle.
Short Order spoke to Schuler on pisco pride, spicy ceviche and where to get the good stuff.
Short Order: How did Portón originate?
Johnny Schuler: Portón is the product of a passion of an American entrepreneur who sold his ventures in Peru. He's an oilman who married a Peruvian lady, and lives in the states in Houston. So two or three years after selling his enterprises in Peru he decided to go into some sort of business where he could help Peru and he began to investigate the world of pisco. That's where he runs into me.
I come from the restaurant business. I owned restaurants in Lima, my father had restaurants. But about 25 years ago I discovered real pisco, that beautiful product. In my father's restaurants in those days we had that awful tradition of buying the cheapest product for the rack to make pisco sours. We thought, once you add the lemon juice, the egg whites, the sugar, nobody's going to notice. Big mistake.
So I'm invited one day to participate in this Peruvian Pisco championship. I tell the organizers, I'm a taster of wine, I already had a huge collection of wines, a huge cellar in my house, I had already thrown the first wine club in Peru. But they said come and organize it. So I said all right. These tasters were drinking the glasses bottoms up, so after the fourth or fifth sample they're all gone! I went and I said, this is not the way it's done. So we organized the tasting, and then they invited me to sit down. The fourth or fifth sample comes to my nose, the glass comes in and I go -- ohhhh my god what is this? Beautiful! The nose was flowers, perfumes. I had rose petals, I had orange blossoms, pineapples, ripe mangos.
I said, what is this? They said pisco, I said it can't be, This has to be something imported. It comes from somewhere else. So I discovered pisco and it was love at first sight. So to make the story short, I wrote books, began a love affair that hasn't ended and will never end.
This crazy gringo American came along and he said, let's make a business of this, it's your passion to bring pisco to the United States so let's do it.