Posted on April 18, 2010 | By The Bon-Vivant | No Comments
Last year, I spent a month in Chile, traveling without an itinerary, going wherever the whim took me, which oddly enough, resulted in winery visits in the region south of Santiago, and a week in the Elqui Valley, mostly in the towns of Vicuña and Pisco Elqui.
Pisco, you say? Like the famous South American brandy?
In fact Pisco Elqui has the distinction of being a town named for a liquor. (Off the top of my head, the only other one I can think of is Whiskeytown, although certainly there must be more.)
Until 1936, when the name was changed by Chilean law, Pisco Elqui was called La Unión. The switch was a blatant effort by the Chilean government to establish the primacy of Chilean pisco, an attempt to put one over on the Peruvians. (The battle for pisco predominance between Chile and Peru, both of whom claim the liquor as their national drink and sole invention, is a long, sorry tale of patriotism and clever marketing run amok.)
Unfortunately, the name swap didn’t really work as intended, as the Peruvians have by no means given up the fight, but still, here’s a town named for a specific booze!
One of the highlights of my time in Pisco Elqui was a tour of the Tres Erres distillery, El Solar de Tres Erres, a charming spot where the old methods of production are celebrated up front with a great little museum, while the new are rigorously employed around back. The highlight of the tour was a tasting of Tres Erres piscos at various stages of maturation, followed by an afternoon on their shaded patio drinking complimentary pisco sours. Needless to say, nothing was completed for the rest of the day except a lengthy nap.
The Pisco Sour: an entire book could be devoted to this basic mixture of persian lime juice, simple syrup, and pisco, (the inclusion of both egg whites and bitters a matter of regional contention). As was once said of the related, 19th century San Francisco speciality Pisco Punch.
It was like a lemonade, but came back with the kick of a roped steer.
As accurate description of the pisco sour as was ever made.
Life is hard in Chile. The work week is six-days long, volcanos bury whole towns in lava, the earth shakes violently every other day, and much of the country is covered in the most forbidding desert in the world.
A person of any feeling needs a drink to take the edge off. And the pisco sour specializes in sand blasting edges away. Two of those in the late afternoon and everything feels copacetic. Three and you want to lay down for a few hours.
Which is perhaps one of the reasons why I spent a week in Pisco Elqui.