Sip and Shoot

Drink up: Houston's own Pisco Portón makes a cameo with Shakira

Drink up: Houston's own Pisco Portón makes a cameo with Shakira

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Johnny Schuler was a connoisseur of wine before falling in love with pisco, a grape-based liquor, 27 years ago. Courtesy of Pisco Portón
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Pisco Portón retails for around $40 at Houston-area Spec's. The beautiful bottle includes a photograph of the distillery, Hacienda la Caravedo, established in 1684. Courtesy of Pisco Portón
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A pisco Portonero Courtesy of Pisco Portón
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Pisco Sour Courtesy of Pisco Portón
News_Pisco Porton_Johnny Schuler
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News_Pisco Porton_Portonero
News_Pisco Porton_Pisco Sour

The new Shakira video for her latest single, "Rabiosa," has a Houston connection.

It's not a Houston athlete or one of our famous music producers — it's a bottle of pisco, glimpsed just barely as Shaki writhes in a tub of those balls that used to populate McDonald's playgrounds (and sanitation exposés on the local news). However passing the pisco cameo, it's exciting for those of us who are familiar with the first-ever brand of premium pisco — Pisco Portón.

Distilled in Peru under the eye of restaurateur and world-renowned pisco authority Johnny Schuler, the Pisco Portón brand was founded by Houston couple Cristina and William Kallop, who split their time between the Bayou City and Lima, Peru (among other travels).

The Kallops invited Schuler into the pisco-making business two years ago, and Schuler says there was a handshake deal right off the bat. "They told me, 'We want to go into business, but only with you.'"

The trio bought the oldest distillery in South America — Hacienda la Caravedo, established in 1684 — and got to work.

This "big, beautiful business opportunity," as Schuler calls it, was the culmination of several years spent as the "self-appointed and then semi-officially appointed" ambassador of Peruvian pisco — financing tasting competitions, giving interviews, and even eliminating all other after-dinner drinks at his own Lima restaurants, Key Club and La Granja Azul.

But Schuler was not always a pisco authority. He was not always even a fan of the drink.

Twenty seven years ago Schuler was awakened in the night by a phone call from a dear friend with a dire emergency. "I need a taster," he told Schuler. He was running a pisco competition, and the judges were getting too drunk to be useful.

Schuler, a great connoisseur of wines (he has more than 2,000 bottles at home) wasn't excited by the offer. But, being a professional taster, he knew to spit between samples, and by his fourth or fifth taste, he was in love. "What is this?" he recalls, "Fruits, flowers — I was in heaven. I think I am about to levitate."

Schuler didn't believe it was pisco. Traditionally enjoyed en masse in Chile mixed with Coke at a lower proof, or drunk cheaply as pisco sours in Lima, Schuler said it had taken him 40 years to realize that pisco was just like cognac — like wine.

"To make great pisco, you first make great wine," Schuler says as he pours me a taste. The liquid is clear, distilled in copper in small batches. It's not aged, but is let to rest for around eight months to a year before bottling, and it's distilled to proof — 86 proof — meaning no water is added in the process to dilute the alcohol.

Each year, one batch of Portón is made the old way, with the grapes pressed by feet. Five percent of each bottle is drawn from that batch, made from the same method it was 250 years ago. Portón is an acholado pisco, or a blend, as opposed to a puro, which is made with only one variety of grape, comparable to a single-malt scotch. It is also a mosto verde, meaning it's distilled before all the sugar has been eaten up by the yeast. That mean's it's expensive to make, and it requires many more grapes.

Portón is the only mosto verde in the American market. This year's blend is No. 7.

It's warm to drink, but it doesn't burn. There's something there that reminds me of burnt honey, which I like. Schuler finds this unsurprising, and tells me that his second favorite drink, after pisco, is Maker's Mark and Coke. If you enjoy bourbon, you appreciate Portón.

Today, Schuler's pisco collection rivals his wine cellar; he has 2,500 labels, dating back to the 1920s. "When I used to bring pisco to a dinner party," he says, "people would joke, 'Johnny, the service entrance is in back!'" Now he envisions making the pisco-making region in Peru a tourist destination akin to California's Napa Valley.

Schuler's preference is to drink his pisco neat. "I have a privileged nose, he says." But mixologists are playing with pisco, and RDG's barmaster, Paco, has a key lime Portón sour crafted already.

Here are three alternate ways to enjoy your Portón:

 

Pisco Sour - Pisco in its most popular form:
1.5 oz. Pisco Portón
.5 oz. fresh lime juice
.5 oz. simple syrup
.25 oz. egg white
1 dash bitters
Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake. Strain contents into a chilled glass. Add bitters.

Portonero - How Schuler likes his lunchtime pisco:
2 oz. Pisco Portón
1 tsp. fresh lime juice
1 tsp. simple syrup
1 slice of fresh ginger
1 dash of bitters
Ginger Ale
Pour first five ingredients into a tall glass filled with ice. Fill with ginger ale, stir and garnish with a lime wedge.

Leche con Pantera - "Panther's milk":
Pour the juice from your ceviche into a glass, top with Portón, and drink

 

Watch Shakira's "Rabiosa" video below. Can you spot the (Houston) product placement?