You could be forgiven for not being familiar with pisco; compared to its more famous cousins, tequila and mescal, the national spirit of Peru is a lesser-known Latin American delicacy in Australia. A distillation of fresh grape juice, squeezed from vines established more than 400 years ago by Spanish conquistadors, its fiery taste and surprisingly smooth finish has been the pride of Peru for centuries.
To show Sydneysiders exactly what they’ve been missing, Time Out, in partnership with the Trade Commission of Peru and Consulate General of Peru, invited the city’s top bartenders to invent a summer cocktail with pisco as its hero. The result was the inaugural Time Out Pisco Shakedown, featuring four finalists selected by our editors battling it out at Potts Point watering hole the Butler for the coveted title of Sydney's first Pisco Shakedown Champion.
On October 14, an invited crowd of 100 thirsty cocktail seekers came out to judge the four shortlisted concoctions, while also enjoying a spread of Peruvian cuisine and floor-filling Latin beats. To whet their whistles, attendees sipped on a traditional pisco thirst quencher, a Chilcano, on arrival. Featuring Cuarto G’s Mosto Verde Acholado pisco mingled with lime and ginger beer, this zesty take on the classic mule was the perfect prelude for the mixological marvels that awaited.
In round one, Kate McGraw from Isabel Bondi went head to head with Jefry Santony of Bulletin Place. The delicate flavours of McGraw’s Foreign Relations cocktail were an homage to the multicultural heritage of Peru, where 19th-century Japanese settlers fused their culinary traditions with local influences. Combining a Mosto Verde Acholado pisco with a bold cordial of fermented black olive and papaya seed, clarified papaya juice and shiso soda, this sophisticated and quietly complex drink offered a radical departure from pisco’s usual vibe.
Embracing the ever-popular summer favourite, Santony’s El Hefe Spritz cleverly riffed on two very different grape alcohols. Pairing Simao and Co Sauvignon Blanc with ginger and chrysanthemum syrup, kaffir leaf and Earl Grey tea, this vibrant, sun-dappled combination proved an ideal partner for pisco’s spicy bite.
Next to do battle were Ed Craig from SoCal and Bryce McDonough from Burrow Bar. Craig’s sophisticated yet playful Flora’s Martini championed Cuatro G’s Mosto Verdo Albilla pisco, cut through with an edge of lemon verbena, myrtle syrup and a dash of bitters.
Cocktail nostalgia was the inspiration for McDonough's Margarita-Snowball hybrid, When Hearts Collide. Using Viñas de Ora Acholado pisco as its base, a tropical trip via dry cherry liqueur, lime juice, pine-cocoa Advocaat and fino sherry was finished with a splash of soda water and a Mosto Verde Italia spritz over crushed ice.
With all four finalists sipped, slurped and sampled, it was up to the 100 invited guests to cast their votes, and after a close-run race, Jefry Sontony’s El Hefe Spritz came out on top.
Santony not only has bragging rights as the first Time Out Pisco Shakedown Champion, he's also been awarded a trip to Lima, courtesy of the Trade Commission of Peru and Consulate General of Peru, to meet with the country’s finest pisco producers. The always impressive cocktail offering at Bulletin Place is sure to reap the benefits over the summer months.