Q&A: Bringing Peru to America, Sip by Sip
The Window Seat recently had the chance to chat with Melanie Asher, owner and distributor of the Peruvian brandy, Machu Pisco. As the drink gets more and more popular here in the U.S., I asked Melanie all about the pisco sour and the Peruvian heritage that stands behind it.
The Window Seat: First of all, what is a pisco sour?
Melanie Asher: The pisco sour is a quintessential Peruvian cocktail, made with pisco, a Peruvian brandy and sour mix. Oddly enough it was invented by an American in the 1920s who travelled to Peru and liked his piscos so much that he decided to stay and open the Morris Bar where the pisco sour was born.
TWS: Why is a pisco sour better than a margarita?
MA: There is something magical about a pisco sour. It makes you instantaneously happy, very chirpy, and it goes straight to your head… in a good way. It is also smoother than a margarita.
TWS: What is your connection to Peru?
MA: I was born in Lima, Peru (my mother is Peruvian) before moving to the States. We produce our pisco in Ica, though, which is near the Nazca Lines. Ica is the cradle of pisco production and the fascinating thing about it is that it is located in the Peruvian desert where you’ll find pockets of vineyard oases and the tallest sand-dunes in the world.
TWS: How did you decide to begin your own pisco label?
MA: Actually, I have been dreaming about starting Macchu Pisco since I was 12 years old when I poured this Peruvian elixir into my ice cream! My sister Lizzie Asher and I started the company in 2003. We produce a family line of piscos–Macchu Pisco (our flagship pisco), La Diablada (a pisco blend), and Nusta Pisco (a luxury sipping pisco) in Peru and then export them to the U.S. I deal primarily with production… crushing the grapes by feet! Lizzie deals with marketing… being our Pisco Girl!
TWS: Aside from its fantastic drink, what else do you think North Americans should experience about Peruvian culture?
MA: The Peruvian food is amazing. Lima is being touted as the next gastronomic capital of the world. We have a beautiful mix of European, African, and Asian immigrants that have married fantastically with the native dishes to make an extraordinary cuisine. I would also suggest that every American travel to Peru and visit the literally breathtaking Machu Picchu and the incredible (again, literally) Nazca Lines, both reminders of the Incan civilizations.
TWS: Where in Peru can you find the ultimate pisco sour? Where in the U.S.?
MA: In Lima, La Calessa is renowned for its pisco sours and Las Huaringas for its coca-sour (that’s a pisco sour made with coca-leaf macerated pisco). In the U.S., you can find the best pisco sours at Eastern Standard in Boston, PX in Virginia, Sushi Samba in Vegas, and El Chalan in D.C..
TWS: Tell us more about Machu Pisco. How long has it been on the market? How does it differ from other piscos?
MA: Macchu Pisco and La Diablada are produced all-naturally. In fact, there is no other liquor in the world that is produced without any additives, as ours is. That’s why we coin the slogan: All the Highs without the Lows! Our products have been sold in the U.S. since 2006, and we are now available in D.C., New York, Boston, Vegas, Maryland, and Virginia.
TWS: Where can customers find Machu Pisco right now?
MA: If it’s not at your local liquor store, you can find it at Wine Specialist.
My name: Rachel Berg.
Favorite way to get around: By Venetian gondola during starlit high tide, gliding past decaying and slightly spooky palaces, with perhaps a bottle of prosecco placed between the gondola seat cushions.
View that took my breath away: Unable to sleep in the mystical city of Sfat in Israel, I wandered outdoors predawn and was treated to a purple-on-purple sunrise below the mountaintop that seemed to emerge feet-first through ground-level clouds.
Greatest travel lesson learned: Sunny weather isn't everything. Some of my best travel memories involve go-karting through a deluge turned mud-fest in Mexico, drinking tea in the cold Denali tundra, and watching electric thunderstorms roll through national parks out West.
Most challenging travel moment: Getting leveled by altitude sickness in Cuzco and realizing that my body was forcing me to slow down and rest despite the fact that there was so much to do and see.
Travel ambition: To see the northern lights.