The three of us had been enjoying Pisco cocktails, writing down notes, and taking pictures for almost three hours. And with 7 cocktails down, there was 1 more to go in the competition until we could compare notes and tally up the score. But to our surprise the last contestant actually made 4 different Pisco cocktails that represented the Four Seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. So instead of seeing 8 Pisco cocktails in front of me, there was 11. This was going to be a long night.
When Encanto Pisco asked me to be a judge for their competition being hosted at Spoonbar in Healdsburg, I immediately said yes. And though the event took place on a school night, I was delighted at the chance of tasting concoctions from some of the top bartenders and mixologists in Sonoma, Napa, and San Francisco. It was also a great opportunity to catch up with my friends over a pre-competition dinner that featured a special Peruvian menu, paired with a Pisco Punch of course.
Throughout the night, one by one, the contestants mixed their drinks in front of a crowd of Pisco fans that cheered and applauded enthusiastically. But the judges did not get to see who made the cocktails, instead we sat at the bar and waited for the drinks to be served to us, with a number, their recipe, and their story. To me, the story, the inspiration behind each drink, was just as important as its taste, balance, and ingredients. And the stories were as diverse and unique as the 8 drinks we tasted:
- Butch’s Last Stand
- The Four Points
- North Meets South — 2nd place, Erika Frey
- The Stowaway
- One Fifteen
- The Fujimori
- Hijas de la Sakura Maru — 1st place, Michael Pazdon
- The Four Seasons — 3rd place, Yael Amyra
Of the 8 cocktails that made references to the Gold Rush era, to the historical connection between San Francisco and Peru, and to the fusion of Japanese and Peruvian cultures, we picked 3. In 3rd place, The Four Seasons for creativity. In 2nd place, North Meets South for their use of Quebranta paired with Ghirardelli chocolate garnish. In 1st place, Hijas de la Sakura Maru for the classic presentation and combination of ingredients that paid homage to the first Japanese immigrants in Peru.
By the end of the evening, I was impressed by the passion of all the contestants, evident in the drinks they made and the stories they shared. And though this may have been a small competition, everyone there was doing something much bigger. We were spreading the word about the oldest distilled spirit of the Americas. We were sharing our love for Pisco with new fans. We were building community. And all I had to do was have a good time at a bar, drinking 11 Pisco cocktails on a school night.