Whether made from grapes (pisco), sugarcane (rum, cachaca, aguardiente) or local fruit (liqueurs), these pours are worth seeking out. Although some are associated with traditional drinks, like the Pisco Sour or Caipirinha, creative bartenders are taking these spirits to new heights. Only a few years ago, many of these products were relatively obscure. Today, they’re widely available throughout the U.S., from premium brands to limited-edition bottlings.
Pisco (Peru and Chile)
This fragrant grape-based spirit, similar in some ways to an eau-de-vie, is made in slightly different methods in Peru and and Chile. In general, Peruvian pisco is made in a more traditional style-no wood aging, no water added-while Chile utilizes more modern techniques.
Why it works: “The marinade include bay leaf and thyme, two savory notes you can pick up in some Cabernets,” says Summer Haines, Nine-Ten’s director of food and beverage. “Plus, the rich and delicate meat calls for a wine with structure and tannin, but not astringency.
Rums (Venezuela, Guyana and others)
According to Ed Hamilton, who runs the Ministry of Rum Web site, most rum produced in Venezuela has a relatively light character, though some notable offerings are more robust, such as Santa Teresa 1796 and Pampero Aniversario Rum. Venezuelan law requires that all rum be aged to at least two years, one of the longest aging laws in the industry.
By comparison, Guyana rum is fruity, rich and full-bodied, made from sugarcane grown around the famed Demerara River (as in Demerara sugar). Suggested bottlings include Pyrat XO Reserve Rum and El Dorado 12-year-old.
Other South American Spirits
Less traditional but still worth seeking out is Solbeso, a new product distilled from cacao fruit harvested in Ecuador and Peru (not the cacao beans that make chocolate).
It’s clear in the glass and has a rounded, funky flavor that evokes ripe tropical fruit, with a dusty hint of cocoa on the fade. Although Solbeso is distilled in Peru, it is filtered and bottled in the U.S.