Published on July 30th, 2013 | by Mark Chesnut
Q&A: Portón Master Distiller Johnny Schuler Shares Peru’s Pisco Secrets
Johnny Schuler, master distiller at Portón, has dedicated much of his adult life to the pisco industry. He has traveled extensively in Peru and around the world to educate spirits industry professionals and the general public about the culture, heritage and craftsmanship that makes pisco so unique.
Mr. Schuler was awarded the Medal of Honor by Peruvian Congress in recognition for all that he has done to promote pisco and uphold Peruvian culture and tradition. He continues his work as a pisco ambassador, regularly speaking at wine and spirits events and judging tasting competitions, including the prestigious Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, where he has sat on the jury for several years. His expertise and enthusiasm for pisco can also be seen on his popular television show, Por Las Rutas del Pisco, which is aired throughout Latin America and the United States. A trained chef and successful restaurateur, pisco is also showcased in the dishes and at the bars of his restaurants in Peru, Granja Azul and Key Club. When he is not working, which is rare, he enjoys spending time with his family at their home in Lima.
In 2011, Portón launched in the United States. In this exclusive interview with LatinFlyer.com, Schuler talks about why pisco is on the lips — figuratively and literally — of more people than ever before.
What’s the big deal about pisco — why are we hearing more and more about it?
Pisco is making a comeback! Originally introduced to the US back in the 1850’s in San Francisco (but produced in Peru for over 400 years), it was most famously incorporated into Pisco Punch cocktails. Newly rich gold prospectors, thirsty sailors, and eventually all of San Francisco developed a hearty appetite for pisco that lasted until the supply was cut off by Prohibition in the 1920’s and became an incredibly well kept secret. Today, bartenders and patrons are discovering this fabulous white spirit made from grapes.
How important is pisco in everyday Peruvian life?
Very important – it is part of our tradition, music, culture, and even a part of our poetry and art. The very first drink someone orders in Peru is a Pisco Sour, whether it is a local or tourist. Even at wedding receptions, pisco is served alongside champagne, and pisco sours are never far from sight. From Lima to the traditional valleys that produce pisco, most establishments offer a glass of pisco served neat. It is permanently engrained in our system. It is a drink that we enjoy and appreciate.
What’s the most traditional way to savor pisco?
Either pisco neat or a pisco sour. Below is a Portón Sour recipe:
• 1 ½ parts Portón
• ½ part fresh lime juice
• ½ part simple syrup
• ¼ part egg white
Shake ingredients with ice. Strain into chilled glass. Garnish with a dash of bitters.
What’s the most unique way to use pisco?
Pisco can be used in a variety of cocktails due to its versatility. If you change the spirit in your favorite cocktail to Portón, it will take it to a new level of flavor profiles. Pisco can also be used in cooking, particularly in ceviche dishes as the strength of the pisco stands up to the acidity of lemon and spice in the dish.
What makes a good pisco product overall?
Pisco has several unique characteristics:
• Pisco is one of very few spirits in the world today still distilled to proof. Portón, specifically, is still handcrafted to this day, which is an homage to the long lasting pisco-producing tradition in Peru.
• It is a spirit distilled from wine, not the pomice (skins, pulp, seeds, and stems of the grape).
• The spirit is distilled in wood, but is un-aged and therefore does not have any change of aromatics.
• Unusually, pisco is made from grapes – fruit — and not a vegetable.
• There is no water used to regulate the alcohol content of pisco.
• It is a beautiful expression of Peru.
MORE PERU TRAVEL TIPS & INSPIRATION:
• “My Cusco” — Cusco Travel Tips from Paul Jones, Totally Latin America
• “My Lima” — Lima Travel Tips from Photographer Fabián Alata Arcila
• 5 Traditional Peruvian Food Ingredients You’ve Got to Taste