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How to Drink Suyo Pisco with Alex Hildebrandt and Ian Leggett

How to Drink Suyo Pisco with Alex Hildebrandt and Ian Leggett

On February 4th, the world will be celebrating International Pisco Sour Day and it’s a great cocktail. Our two guests reveal why pisco should be enjoyed for more than just one day and in way more than just one cocktail.

Suyo Pisco was truly meant to be. Alex Hildebrandt and Ian Leggett, co-founders of Suyo Pisco, happened upon each other while working in the same office. Both are half Peruvian and half American and both had the vision it took to create something that bridged both worlds. That something is Suyo Pisco.

It’s great to have them both with us today to explore the journey it took to bring liquid to bottle.

Watch it on YouTube

Cocktail of the Week: El Capitán

El Capitán
The Peruvian take on the Manhattan mixes pisco with sweet vermouth. If you haven't already fallen love with pisco, this cocktail will make you!
Check out this recipe
El Capitán

Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Alex and Ian. Just remember that I own the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of Lush Life podcast, with all rights reserved, as well as my right of publicity. So if you want to use any of this, please email me!

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Susan: Well, I’m so excited to hear your story. Why don’t you introduce yourselves and then we’ll get into your background and things like that.

Alex: Yeah, that sounds great.

Susan: Why don’t we start with, Alex, since you started.

Alex: Sorry, jumped the gun a little bit there. Susan. Yeah, Alex Hildebrandt, co-founder of Suyo Pisco. I live in the United States and a good friend of Ian’s and we are now business partners.

Susan: All right. And Ian.

Ian: I’m Ian Leggett, the other co-founder of Suyo Pisco. I’m currently live in Peru, so I manage more of the production side of the pisco, making sure we have boots on the ground the side of production.

Susan: I don’t know which one of you wants to take this on, but who wants to tell me a little bit about their background? Who wants to start?

Ian: Alex, go for it.

Susan: Alright, Alex.

Alex: Sure. yeah. Happy to go either direction on this one. Susan? Personal background, business background, maybe  both, how they, how they merged?

Susan: Oh, definitely personal!

Alex: How far back do you want to go?

Susan: From the beginning of time.

Alex: Sure. So I was born in Peru. My father’s Peruvian, my mother’s American. They were there because my father was working with his father in the rubber industry in Peru which in addition to mining is one of the large industries in all of Peru. We wound up moving to the US when I was three because there was just a lot of political turmoil happening in the country during the early nineties.

I think my mother was probably knocking on the door quite a bit to get us back to the US where she’s from originally. She’s actually from the west coast and the opportunity just became right where my father came to the US to start his own business. We moved to the Midwest, which sounds a little bit random on paper, but it actually makes a little bit of sense because Akron, Ohio was, and I think to some degree still is, the rubber capital of the world.

That’s actually where we ended up. I spent most of my childhood in Ohio, played sports, was into a lot of different things. and I wouldn’t say anything super unique about my upbringing other than the fact that being multicultural obviously has its differences than a lot of the people that I grew up with, that I had around me.

I was super fortunate growing up to have the chance to go back to Peru to visit my family because most of my family does still live in Peru, with the exception of my immediate family who’s here in the States. I’ve always been relatively closely connected with my family, but at the same time, there’s always been this aching sensation of not feeling Peruvian enough when I’m in Peru and not being American enough when I’m in America.

So, in this weird in-between spot, which is something I always had in the back of my mind, and as I grew older just became more and more prevalent. Interestingly enough when I reconnected, well, I’ll get to this actually a little bit later, but I moved to Boston after I went to school. I went to college in Ohio, moved to Boston shortly thereafter, where I live now, and worked in a few different industries.

I spent a lot of time working in investment banking, and then I worked for a healthcare services firm doing corporate strategy and development where I met Ian. I won’t get too deep into the business side of this yet, because I’ll let Ian go first, but that was a really good opportunity.

He and I, being Peruvians, we bonded and really spent a lot of time talking about how we can build something together that helps bridge both of our cultures. And it was really something that was very conceptual in nature for a number of years. Then we reconnected in Lima a few years back and came up with this idea about Suyo, which I’ll get to a little bit later. But that’s the bullet points on my background.

Susan: So now how about you, Ian? Then we’ll get to if there’s any pisco in your background.

Ian: Perfect. So my name is Ian Leggett, as I mentioned, was born and raised in Peru to a Peruvian mom and Peruvian-American father. I’ve always had that duality in both my countries. A lot of my family lives in the States and a lot of my family lives in Peru. So much like Alex, I was brought up not feeling entirely Peruvian while in Peru and not feeling entirely American while in the US,

I grew up in Peru up until I was 18, went to college in New York, and then moved down to Boston where I met Alex. I was working more on consulting, strategy consulting for the healthcare services. so nothing to do with pisco. The most I had to do with pisco was that I liked drinking it. That’s the extent of my knowledge.

But there was always this desire, right, to bridge both countries. Growing up in Peru, there were so many amazing things that I experienced both natural resources, people, culture, traditions, that I always wondered, why hasn’t this become more known in the world,

So the initiative that Alex had in mind before it was even pisco. It was how can we create a bridge between both our countries? How can we make Peru known to the world and the world more familiar with what Peru has to offer?  So that’s where it all started.

Susan: Absolutely. Now you both have this dual upbringing with the American and the Peruvian, and I wondered, what did the Peruvian side bring> What did you miss when you went down to Peru and you came back to the States? What were those things that you missed about Peru and you thought, oh, they would I really miss them. I wish they were here.

Susan: Alex, why don’t you start?

Alex: Yeah, I mean, growing up I would say the no-brainer is food. The food is just something that is unparalleled.  You can find good Peruvian restaurants scattered around the US. They are few and far between and you never quite get there. But I would say undoubtedly the food would be mine.

And then of course, you can’t beat the weather. I think I was really fortunate that I had a chance to visit a lot, like I said, growing up, and that the timing is perfect because it would basically be like clockwork every year. Once it when you’re in elementary school, you have a couple weeks of Christmas break.

I would go down and spend two weeks in Peru where it’s the summer because it’s the southern hemisphere. So I’d always come back thinking, man, why am I living in the snow? This doesn’t really make a lot of sense. But yeah, so cuisine and weather were the two things growing up for me.

Susan: And you, Ian?

Ian: I’d say the warmth of people. Something that I always grew up with was feeling close to people and, you greet someone, you give them a hug, you give them a kiss. When I got to the States, it was a little bit colder so I would always get confused whether to shake someone’s hand or give them a kiss or a hug.

So that coziness and when you go into someone’s house and they receive you with a ton of food. It’s something that definitely I missed. And of course with that comes family, I definitely missed just being close to my family and Peru.

But I gotta say, after I lived in the States and moved that back to Peru, the one thing I missed the most was delivery services Amazon Prime. Just being able to get something to your door in the couple days. That’s definitely, I was like, oh man, I wish I could order this online and just get it right now. I got so used to that. We don’t have Amazon Prime yet but hopefully soon.

Susan: I love that. I love that, it’s so funny. The fact that, oh, the warmth of the people is what I missed. And then in America, delivery. I guess America is the land of getting everything right now. So you would miss that. I remember when I moved to London, I felt the same way. Now we do have Deliveroo and all those things and Amazon, but I was like, after New York, so long in New York, I was like, why can’t I get it right now?

So I do understand that now. How did you find when you started working out that in the first job that there were no Peruvians and finally when you worked together you found a Peruvian on the roster and were like, I gotta meet this person?

Alex: Yeah, that’s, it’s a good way to put it “on the roster.” Because we do often times feel like we’re a team because we tend to stick together when we do find each other because there are a few Peruvians I would say, in my experience, living in the US. I would say we  sought each other out and as I’m sure you’ve heard us maybe online, you read elsewhere.

You probably heard us make the joke about the fact that we didn’t recognize each other when we first saw each other because neither one of us probably looks like what many would consider Peruvian, whatever that means and our names are not particularly Peruvian sounding either. We chuckle about that one all the time.

But, yeah, we were the only two in the office, We would go over to each other’s houses to watch World Cup soccer games because Brazil was in the World Cup in 2018, unfortunately not this past year. And make drinks and stuff like that.

Susan: And what were you drinking?

Alex: Probably Pisco Sours, which we quickly discovered was not our favorite pisco drink, actually, the more that we consumed them. But a little bit of everything. I think, it’s important for us to, I think, be really transparent about the fact that we are new to this industry and this is not something that was really on our radar.

We both always enjoyed drinking spirits, but in those situations, I know we were drinking pisco, but we probably were drinking a little bit of everything because admittedly, you can’t find, unfortunately, that the most pisco options in the US, especially in Boston where we were living.

We probably had just something that we found around the corner and we’re like, oh, let’s put it in a pisco sour. The reality is, which we’ll talk more about, we just don’t think that’s the best positioning for pisco because it’s such a complex and amazing spirit and is highlighted in much better ways, not only sipping neat, but in cocktails as well.

Susan: Well, let’s get right to that because you both decided that you wanted to work together and that you wanted to bring something of Peru either to the States or just to light, should I say. You settled on pisco. Now wanting to create a spirit and the actual going about making or finding the spirit to make or to distribute are two very different things.

So I would love to hear your journey to finding that exact pisco that lit your heart on fire so much that you wanted to bring it to the world.

Alex: Go ahead, Ian.

Ian: Yeah, I can get started with this one. So what you said there, Susan, is really important, your journey because we see this more than a business, we see it as a journey of discovery. And it’s not only a journey of discovery to bring pisco to the world, but it’s also a journey of discovery for us to get to know our country more,

So it all really started, if we date back to when Alex and I thought about this, we were sipping a cocktail at a bar in Lima, near my house. We just looked down and we both ordered a pisco drink,  I, I believe we were both drinking a version of the Capitán, which is a Manhattan riff with pisco which we love, by the way.

It’s amazing and Alex just looked down and looked up and told me, Hey, what if we start a pisco brand? And that’s really where it started. We had no idea how to make a pisco, what makes a pisco good? What makes a pisco bad? And it just started there,  We initially thought about it in the most simplistic way.

Okay, let’s contact one of these producers and tell them to slap a label on a bottle and then we can export it. That’s the easiest way to create a spirit. And then we talked to probably all the biggest producers there, and we realized that the one thing we were passionate about was not just commercializing the spirit, but also growing the category and reformulating the category.

We started digging a little bit more, and we found that there’s currently 531 producers allowed by the Denomination of Origin (DO) to produce pisco. If you go to the local supermarket, you’ll probably find 20. So Alex and I were wondering what is going on with the other 510? That’s where  our journey of exploration started.

We decided to scratch the big producers and hop on my car, drive to the nearest valleys, which is the Mala Valley, and start going door to door, seeing which vineyards would open their door to us and engaging in conversations with them. We probably visited, Alex came to Peru probably four to five times in a six month timeframe.

We just started visiting vineyards. And I have to say, the first thing that convinced us that we wanted to go with her first batch yes, was the pisco. We loved the pisco, but more than the pisco was the person behind it, this woman called Janice Ponce de Leon. When you meet someone and automatically you feel this connection and trust that’s what happened.

We were received with the most warmth that I could possibly imagine. She let us into her vineyard, we tasted her pisco, and immediately we realized, okay, this is someone who has our same vision of how to grow the category. It’s not someone that wants to make a quick dime.

It’s someone who wants to premiumize the category and make it pride for Peruvians to say we are owners of the most beautiful spirit in the world,  And that’s where it all started. Really. It was meeting this person, liking the product and just handshake agreement. Let’s make this work.

And this was right before Covid, so the rest was actually the product development which we can go into later happened entirely during Covid, which was a challenge, but it also gave us something to do in the hours that we were not working our other jobs . So it was a good distraction as well.

Susan: Now. let me get this right. So you have a list of 500 and some. Did you just go, okay, these are the ones that are nearest to me. I’m going to start there. And then how long was it until you found this wonderful woman who you had that connection with?

Ian: I don’t know if we necessarily went down the list, because we do have the list. But then, there’s no addresses associated with that list. We just drove and we went to trade shows. We met people through connections. We asked a producer if they knew another producer, and we just started networking and meeting people, and we happen to land in this vineyard.

Since our first conversation until it was first bottled, I want to say it was about a year and a half a year. And keep in mind, this also includes label design, bottle purchases, closure purchases, which had a longer lead time due to covid. It was tougher to get materials back then, so it took about like a year, a year and a half, from when we met her to when we got the product out from the port in Callao.

Susan: Excuse my ignorance, but, so you meet a woman with a vineyard and was she already producing pisco and then you say, okay? I don’t know if it’s a chicken and egg thing. Were you looking for a specific flavor or did that flavor find you? And you said, oh wait, this is it. I gotta have this. So two things there. Was she making it? And then, how did the combination of factors link in and you say, go, go, go.

Ian: So she definitely was making it. Our focus was, okay, we want to highlight single vineyards,  So currently, in more of the industrialized pisco, what brands tend to do in order to accommodate demand is they buy grapes from different vineyards. Mix them all together, create pisco from that.

In our mind, it wasn’t paying tribute to the producers behind the pisco.  And the producers behind the pisco are the people in the vineyard growing the grapes, caring for the grapes day by day, harvesting the grapes, and by mixing it with all these other vineyards, it loses the sense of identity,

We wanted to keep it single vineyard specific and just bottling each bottle to contain pisco from one grape, one vineyard in one year. That’s our goal. so she had pisco resting in tanks. and I think it just talked to us. To your other question, we tried it and it was something that, at the time, in our limited experience tasting piscos, it was the flavor profile that we said, okay, we love this.

And I think this could change the perception of people of pisco because it’s a pisco that you can sip neat. It has this really nice mouth feel. It’s not something that hits you hard on the nose, and it’s a great pisco to start making people fall in love with a category. So that was our main goal.

It’s like, what pisco can we introduce? There’s such a broad range of flavors in the pisco industry, but which pisco can we introduce that will make people fall in love? And that’s what we went with. and then, yeah, the rest is history.

Susan: And Alex, did you feel the same way when you had the first sip of it?

Alex: Yeah. I mean, I think so, and I was just going to joke before that about this list we talked about with the 500 plus producers. I wish we did have that list at the very beginning. I don’t think we discovered this until a year or so ago, maybe a little bit more. We quite literally just drove and that’s part of what it is that we’re trying to do.

It’s this discovery mission. Thankfully now we have so many more contacts where we can pick up the phone, text somebody on WhatsApp, and they’ll introduce us to someone if we want an intro for the most part. Unfortunately it wasn’t that easy for us. When we did come across Janice and we had a chance to try her pisco, I think I can pretty confidently say that it was unanimous.

I mean, between the two of us immediately, that in a sense I may kick myself for saying it this way, but in a sense, we felt like it was the least pisco tasting pisco. Now what does that mean? I think there’s a misperception of the category because of the brands that do make it at a larger scale.

Who, in our opinion, just aren’t making them the way that they taste the best to the consumer. We’ll get into the sort of process side of it more, but without getting into the details, we just sort of viewed it as like, wow, this tastes the least like the most common dividend which we find out there, which also tends to be typically from a completely different region.

So the vast majority of the big producers are in a region that’s about two hours south of where we produce ours. So naturally, because it’s such a terroir driven spirit, you’re going to have different characteristics that impact the flavor profile, even though you have the exact same grape. So I think that’s part of why it tastes so different than what most people expect because it comes from an entirely different place, but then there’s some components to the process of it as well that impact it.

Susan: And so when you decided, yes, this was eureka moment, this is the least tasting pisco, we want to produce this how does that ball get rolling? I assume because it’s in the bottle that Janice said, yes, yes, let’s go for it. What is your vision and that your visions matched up, how did it get from that vision to the bottle that’s behind me?

Alex: I don’t even know where to start on this one.

Susan: Maybe the short story!

Alex: Yeah, exactly. I’ll do the short version and, Ian,  fill in any blanks that I missed here. I would say another component to this, Susan, that we want to be super forthright about is the fact that Janice and her team at Fundo La Esperanza, which is what their vineyard is called are, are the masterminds of this product.

They’ve been doing this for a long time. We found a pisco that we liked and we bottled it. So from the outset, they didn’t create something specifically for us. It was already there. Mm-hmm. . And that’s sort of the DNA of what we do. We’re finding piscos that families and independently owned producers have been making for a long time.

We’re creating a platform for them. The caveat I would say is that thankfully, because we’ve been doing this for a few years now, we have learned a lot about consumer preferences and expectations, and we now have the ability to influence a little bit what happens. So if we’re now on the 2020 or 2021 harvest that’s being bottled, we can talk to them because we’ve been talking to them ever since then.

Hey, we’ve been spending a lot of time in the American market and we get feedback from people in industry and consumers that they like something a little bit that’s higher proof. So let’s aim for something in the 43ish % ABV range, whereas historically, we’re in the 40% to 41% range.

Ian works a lot with consultants from different agricultural institutions and people in and around the space to come and meet with these vineyards and talk to them about improving their practices maximizing yield, things that are sustainable. We leave our fingerprints on the brand by sort of taking our feedback and how to tweak in minor senses and somewhat position the product a little bit better for our target market.

Then at the same time, we can influence the front end of it with a lot of these agriculturally driven initiatives that we have that Ian’s been spearheading.

Susan: Mm-hmm. Ian, anything to add to that?

Ian: Yeah. To that, I’d add that a lot of producers have a lot of work on their hands,  And many of these producers are a team of three, four people maximum. They’re the smaller size producers and managing production harvest, distillation, and commercialization is a ton to do. So many of these producers, of course, try to create their own brand, but due to viability, lack of time, lack of financial capabilities are not able to launch their brand in the most effective manner.

So that’s where Alex and I come in. We help on the technical side, of course, now that we know about the industry, but the beginning it was us learning from them and us committing to them to help them make their product known worldwide.  We focus on creating a product that will speak to the consumers and at the same time, pay tribute to the producers.

So if you look at the backside of the bottle, you’ll see we’re completely transparent about who made it. We even have the address, the name of the person who made it, and the DO number, which is the number that identifies the producer. So as Alex said, our end goal is to be a platform for many of these small producers who otherwise would not be readily accessible in the market.

Susan: Fabulous. And since you brought up the label, let’s talk about the branding and the marketing and all of that. We already talked about the liquid a little. We’ll talk about how it’s actually made in a sec, the pisco itself, and what grapes you use and all of that.

But that’s part of what’s on here anyway. Let’s talk about the name. All right. Suyo. Where did that come from? And how did y’all decide on it. Alex?

Alex: We went through a lot of options. We did some serious brainstorming. I want to say maybe Ian’s brother, I know Ian was the one who proposed the name to me. What I don’t recall is who proposed it to him. What we learned was that it’s a really cool double entendre.

We knew the Spanish side of it, of course, because we both speak Spanish, it means yours in Spanish in a formal sense, but at the same time, it’s a derivative of the word, which in Quechua ,which is the language that the indigenous people speak in Peru. They’re two main languages in Peru, Quechua, which is what the Incas and the indigenous people speak and Spanish now, after Spanish colonization.

But it means region in Quechua. So, because everything that we do is single origin, we felt like it was a cool nod to that concept. So, region in Quechua and yours in Spanish.

Susan: And your lovely logo, the bird?

Alex: Ian, you want to take that?

Ian: I’ll take it. The bird also has a couple of meaning. So first of all pisco or pisku in Quechua means bird. So the shape that we gave it is a nod towards the Quechua language. That thing that you see in the back of the bird is actually part of what would be a huaco which is a ceramic vessel.

That thing in the back is a spout where pre-Hispanic cultures used to carry water and other liquids inside. This particular was inspired from a huaco from the Paracas culture, which is a culture that inhabited the area, which is the epicenter of pisco production, in the Ica part. We thought it was the right way of giving a nod to the historical side of Peru, the pre-Hispanic time of Peru, while also bottling a post-Hispanic liquid.

Susan: You also have where it’s made, which is lovely. The Mala Valley, and the Quebranta grapes. Of course, there are eight grapes can be used for pisco, was this the only grape that they were making pisco out of when you visited the vineyard.

Ian: That particular vineyard, yes. But it’s important ,I think, to give a little bit of history of how pisco was initially produced. So pisco is essentially the amalgamation of the Spanish culture and the Peruvian culture. Much like many things in Peru, the Spanish brought over the grapes which, before, didn’t exist in Peru.

A couple of these grapes mutated and evolved into this grape which only exists in Peru. It was when the Spanish first started making wine and transporting it to Cusco that the wine would get spoiled because of the long journeys and the heat. So what was the solution to that?

Distilling it and making it pisco and the way they distilled it was using the traditional Alembic still that the Arabs brought into a Spanish peninsula when they conquered it for 700 years. So you see, this has influenced all the way from the Arab and the Caliphate conquest of Spain that the Spanish then brought to Peru, and then it was Peruvian by more so reasons of logistics into what we now have, which is a single distilled spirit that they used to carry into different places of Peru in its distilled form.

Susan: Yeah, it’s one of the only, I think, once distilled, nothing added, natural spirits that are out there.

Ian: Exactly. Yep. It’s something that tradition kept fulfilling, in the sense that it started as the simplest spirit, which is you grab wine, you distill it once, you bottle it at what you distill it, nothing added. That’s what it is. It was perpetuated through the denomination of origin, the regulations that stipulated that this is how the spirit should be made.

It’s really, to some extent, the purest form of the spirit and the simplest form of the spirit, which is just distilled wine.  That’s why Alex and I also are so passionate about it. It encapsulates the essence of the grape and the wine.

But answering your previous question Susan, the vineyard in Fundo La Esperanza is exclusively Quebranta grapes. They decided based on a production decision because the Quebrantas are usually the most robust grapes, They’re a little bit more resistant to any  plagues and planted all the vineyard with Quebranta. They have about 14,000 Quebranta vines. They about four hectares and I believe last year they produce, if I’m not mistaken, about 5,000 liters.

So it’s still pretty small production, 5,000 liters is about 6,000 and something bottles. It’s still a very micro production. The other vineyard that we work with which I believe you have a little sample of is called Fundo Puente Viejo. They do have different types of grapes. They have Quebranta and they have Italia, and they have two more that we still haven’t bottled yet, which are Albilla and Torontel. 

Susan: All right. We’ll get to that in a sec. I’m just going to flip over the bottle. We have the other label, which again, you said you have on each label, I guess where, where it comes from as well. which is a wonderful tribute to the area.

Now the bottle itself, how among all the bottles in the world, did you decide to pick this one? Is it reminiscent of anything? Or just you thought this was the great bottle, I want to use this.

Ian: Everything I believe has a meaning. Alex, I’ll let you take this one one. If you want to explain the bottle and the shape of the label.

Alex: Yeah, sure. I would just say really quickly, because I don’t want to gloss over this point that so important to what we’re doing with our packaging is the producer information on the back of every single label. So the name of the producer, the harvest year, things like altitude, soil content, and then you can even see a map of where it’s coming from.

Every batch will be slightly different because it comes from a different vintage or from a different producer. The wine world has of course done a great job of this and agave spirits. More recently, I would say particularly mezcal, to a lesser extent tequila. This is information that consumers are becoming much more interested in.

I think it’s a bit of a shame that historically people haven’t really appreciated how important these factors are in the pisco category. In a sense, we’re trying to change the way that people think about pisco, not because of its origin, but the processes that we just talked about a little different, there being single distilled, distilled to proof.

We don’t try not to speak in definitive because the world is a huge place and we haven’t been everywhere. But in my experience, it’s the only by-law natural, all natural spirit in the entire world. There’s no other DO that requires that there’s only one bottle, I’m sorry, one ingredient in the bottle and that’s grapes.

No water, nothing else at any point. So anyway, just quick tidbit on that. But the bottle itself, to answer your question, Susan, the label, and the bottle are in a sense inspired by the same shape. There’s a clay vessel called a botija which in the early days of pisco production was used to not only rest the pisco, but then also to transport the pisco.

It’s essentially a clay vessel that’s about the size of a human or a small human that is shaped like this. It almost looks like a coffin in a sense, but much narrower. It would be narrower at the bottom and then very thick at the top. That also inspired the shape of, of the label.

The reason we like this bottle as well is because a lot of the piscos you’ll find out there tend to have the taller, skinnier bottle, so this is a little bit different. We feel like it gives it a little bit more of a voice in the crowd when compared with other piscos.

Susan: You brought something up about resting the pisco and I was wondering what that does to it. Could you drink it right when it’s distilled, how does it transform in the resting period and how long do you rest it for?

Alex: By law, the Denomination of Origin requires that you rest it for a minimum of three months. We have decided with our producers to rest for a minimum of one year. Now there are differing opinions on what the right resting period is. At some point you probably reach a point of diminishing returns.

We have a friend who rests for 10 years which is super unique and is definitely evident in the flavor profile. But our first two batches were about 20 months actually. Part of that plays into these factors that Ian was talking about, where it took us a while to bottle it because we were trying to get bottles.

So it was resting in these large, covered tanks that really just allow a little bit of oxygenisation to basically round out the flavors of the pisco. They get to meet each other a little bit better, for lack of a better term. I would say it’s really just at the discretion of every producer. Each has a different level of thinking on what resting does, but there’s a key distinction between resting and aging.

Of course, you cannot age pisco in barrels, so pisco is always going to be clear so you can rest it in neutral containers like stainless steel, glass, copper, plastic, or polyethylene is a very commonly used one because it’s less expensive to use and small producers can’t invest in such massive vessels. The key is that it has to be a neutral vessel.

Susan: Yeah. That’s why I asked because I wasn’t sure if resting in stainless steel would even change the flavor at all. Now when you were deciding how long to rest, was it a matter of you like tasting every couple months going, okay, I think that it’s ready. Oh, no, no. Let’s rest a little bit more. I think that is ready. Maybe Ian, take that.

Ian: Yeah, we tend to do tasting panels for that and involve people who we trust both on the consumer side, on the production side, and we have an open conversation. These producers tend to have a couple of years of vintages in stock. We taste them straight from the tank.

We decide which one we like. If it’s not ready for bottling, then we wait a little bit more. Or we do an oxygenization round. Where we pump the pisco from one tank into another tank to aerate a little bit. And this allows for a lot of volatile, organic compounds that might be the ones that are a little sharp to evaporate and that helps round the final flavors.

Susan: Got it. So once you had the first one, it’s in the bottle. Where did you think you were going to start selling it right away? What was your marketing direction or plan for it?

Ian: Our initial plan was always the US, in light of bridging both of our countries,  So this was a project that we wanted to bring something from Peru to the world. That’s why you’ll see the label is in English. Everything is in English because we wanted to share this amazing product with everyone in the US.

Just lately I’ve started commercializing the product in Peru as well. I want to say about a little bit less than a year ago because to me it’s also important that whatever is produced in Peru can be consumed in Peru. We don’t want to be exclusively an export product. But the initial batch, yes, that went to the US because there’s a longer lead time in selling in the US because of distributors and also because of market education. We wanted to make sure that we had sufficient product to fulfill demand over there.

Susan: And when you came to the US with it did you find people open to drinking it? I mean, I know in New York, of course, very sophisticated, there’s lots of people, Ivy Mix and Lynette, who have South American focused restaurants and bars. When you went outside of that, did you find that people even knew what it was?

Alex: Yes, you immediately hit on two of our best category ambassadors with Ivy and Lynette. You’re spot on. Places like New York, California, we recently started selling in, also San Francisco and LA specifically, I would say even more so San Francisco because it has a history with pisco, which we could talk about as well.

But those are definitely the primary places that we target. We probably couldn’t have chosen a worse time to launch a brand in a new category, I hesitate to say new category, because it’s not new of course, but to most consumers it is a new category. So I’ll say a small niche category.

Distributors for instance, which is where you need to go to first in the States. It’s very challenging and every state has different rules. They are the ones who you really have to sell first, that there’s an opportunity for this, and then they of course take it on and then distribute it in their state.

They’re hesitant to take on something in the middle of the pandemic when bars and restaurants are closed. And even coming out of that, which we technically launched in the US as we were sort of past, we’re never past it, but I would say we were on the downward slope of cases of Covid.

There was still sort of that conservative mindset that why would we take on this new thing in a new category when we know we can push what has been working for us as we’re trying to climb out of this hole of the past few years. So that was definitely a challenge in and of itself. Thankfully consumers have been looking for something different. You’ve had the rise of at home mixology and people have had a chance to experiment with new things at home. So I think that gives them just an automatic, just automatically their threshold is a little bit higher for something a little bit new.

So, these forces work against each other. But I would say overall more challenges than not given the time that we did it. We haven’t really gotten as many data points in these markets that are not the coastal cocktail scene markets yet to really be able to compare. I’m actually making my first trip to the Midwest next week because we launched a few months ago in Kentucky and Indiana.

So I’ll really get my first flavor of what the reception is in those markets. Anecdotally, it seemed like it’s been pretty good. There are fewer liquor stores and fewer bars of course, per capita who focus on these things. But there definitely is opportunity there and I don’t want to over overlook those. Of course you have to be at the big names in New York and that’s really what we’ve been trying to do, less so than targeting Peruvians at Peruvian restaurants, which may seem natural.

It’s more so how can we get the consumer who has maybe not had pisco before, but very clearly has shown that they’re willing to trade up for something new, experiment with different cocktails. So it’s the high-end mixology bars that we’ve tried to set as a base of top accounts and hope is that things trickle down from there.

People see that Employees Only is carrying our product or 11 Madison Park or Overstory in New York City. These are the types of places that can really, really move the needle. So that’s where we’ve been focusing most of our time. But pisco is a product for everybody, so just going takes a little bit of while. It takes a while to educate people so that we can get there.

Susan: Absolutely. I mean, I consider myself a drinker. Should we say, I know my way around a cocktail and I remember it’s 10 years since Coya Restaurant, a specific Peruvian restaurant, opened in London, and that was the first time I had ever had a Pisco Sour or any pisco drink. And it’s only 10 years ago, it’s been around for a lot longer than that and I’ve been drinking a lot longer than that.

So thank goodness for these type of restaurants. And you guys creating stuff that people who are open to new things, new cocktails, new spirits have something else to enjoy. So, absolutely. Since you’ve brought up San Francisco and their relationship to pisco. You gotta go down that road. I gotta hear what the special relationship is.

Alex: Yeah, I was thinking of saving that one for my “If I could drink a cocktail in one place with one person.”

Susan: We’ll save it then.

Alex: Well, I’ve listened to some of your other podcasts, so maybe this will give some context on that. How about we can give the context now and then I can just give the answer later.

The history basically there, Susan, is, and then I’ll try to be brief about it, but there is a long one. Basically ships were coming from Europe or from Asia by way of Europe underneath South America and coming up in Peru to pick up supplies during the Gold Rush. And then for all of the industry that came after the Gold Rush really.

They were picking up pisco as well at the Port of Pisco and it was making its way up to San Francisco. In the late 1800s, pisco was really one of the most commonly consumed spirits in the US because there was such a strong demand for it simply in that area, because so much was coming up along the west coast.

Now, there was a bartender named Duncan Nicol who spirits nerds may be familiar with this story, but I suspect there’s a lot of people who will be listening who are not. He had a bar called The Bank Exchange and he created the Pisco Punch with Italia pisco. Now, he took the recipe for this Pisco Punch to his grave.

So nobody knows exactly what was in it. But the thinking was that it was the traditional, pisco, Italia, in this case, pineapple, well, he was using gum syrup and pineapple juice, lime juice, and I think that was all that was known that he was probably using. Then there was a secret ingredient, which again nobody knows. People have speculated it was cocaine which at the time was not uncommon.

The former Coca-Cola recipe was using cocaine – unconfirmed. But that’s what people thought. And there was actually a rule at the bar that you could not drink more than two Pisco Punches in one sitting. So you had a two per person limit. I think it was a combination of it being in such high demand and then also because, who knows, maybe there was something a little bit different about this Pisco Punch that he was trying to be safe.

But that’s the quick background. And a lot of that lore has carried on in San Francisco cocktail culture.

Susan: Gosh, I love it. That’s a great story. Now let’s get back to your pisco and pisco Number 2. Why did you decide that this was going to be Number 2, Ian?

Ian: So initially the Number 1 and Number 2, the reason for the numbering was to add another differentiator on the type of grape,  So you have Number 1 is Quebranta, Number 2 is Italia. We wanted to make a little bit easier to understand because sometimes pronouncing the names might be complicated for people who are not familiar with the grapes.

We quickly realized that it wasn’t the case and it was adding more confusion than not. So while we keep it there because it’s something that started with the brand and it now forms part of the brand, we now refer to the piscos as Suyo Quebranta or Suyo Italia, which adds a little bit more context to what it is actually from. But yes, to your question, the Number 1 and Number 2 are actually just the different grape varietals that we use.

Susan: Did you happen on your driving tour to find this producer and say, oh my God, that’s going to be Number 2?

Ian: So the reasoning for having a Quebranta and Italia, they are the two opposite ends of those flavor spectrum. On one end you have the most aromatic grape which is the Italia and the least aromatic grape which is the Quebranta. We wanted to set the bars on either sides, present consumers with the opposite ends of the spectrum, and then eventually start releasing other limited editions that fall within them.

So that was the main reasoning. And the way we landed on this one was actually we’re looking for another Quebranta that we could compare. We have another batch that just arrived in the U.S. that is a Quebranta from Puente Viejo, and it’s a vineyard that’s really, really close to the sea. So what happens is you get this exposed front that receives ocean breeze which carries with it a lot of minerals.

This creates a cooling effect on the grapes, spikes the acidity, and also adds minerals to the skin of the grapes. So you end up having a wine that’s a little bit brinier, and then this transforms into a pisco that has this perception of a mineral taste to it. It’s a drier pisco, whereas Fundo La Esperanza, being deeper into the valley, and the sun exposure being more limited, but not having this ocean breeze, you end up having grapes that are smaller, but are more concentrated in sugar.

So your pisco ends up having these notes of what I described as beach compote and we were really looking to explore the differences in one grape between different vineyards.

Then we tried the Italia and fell in love because it’s this explosion of floral and citrus notes that you tasted and you just want to keep sipping it. It’s an amazing product and we decided on the spot we need to send this and have people try it in the States.

Susan: Since you brought up sipping, let’s go into talking about it. I mean of talking about drinking it and cocktails. When you decided you’re spending your life in pisco, Did you have a specific way that you saw people enjoying this? Was it, it’s got to be a great sipping pisco first and then has to work in the cocktails and these are the cocktails that I want it to work in like your El Capitán or the Pisco Sour? What did you think for the different piscos?

Ian: So first and foremost, it needs to be something that you can sip alone. Right. So much like mezcal, much like tequila that have positioned themselves, particularly mezcal, as a product that you can sip alone, we want it to be something that you can enjoy, because that’s the real beauty of pisco, is that you’re tasting the flavor, the flavor of a distilled grape from a single vineyard in a single year.

So you’re internalizing the flavor of that grape and to best appreciate it you need to sip it neat. However, we do realize that many people find it hard to sip a 40% something spirit neat. We do think that cocktails are an entry point into discovering pisco which cocktail.

That’s a difficult question to answer because it depends on many people tastes and preferences, but we prefer or enjoy cocktails that don’t mask the flavor of the pisco.  So I think two of the best cocktails to enjoy a pisco in is Pisco Tonic because the tonic actually elevates a lot of the pisco flavors, and a Chilcano, which is ginger ale and pisco.

Another cocktail, El Capitán, is also a great one because it’s basically vermouth and pisco. So you get the sensation and you get the flavors of the pisco through those three cocktails and I think they’re great entry points into getting to know the spirit.

Susan: Because the pisco is so specific to the grape, do you tend to advise making a certain cocktail with having one specific pisco made with one specific grape to go better with tonic than ginger ale? Does it get that specific and nerdy?

Ian: Again, it’s taste and preference. It’s difficult. No, the standard, what I would do is the Quebranta, the non-aromatic grapes have usually less aroma, stronger body. So those hold up better in cocktails that might have more overpowering flavors, tropical juices, citrusy more on the sugar sugary side.

So for those I’d use a Quebranta. The Italia – the most beautiful thing about the aromatic grapes is the bouquet. It’s the aroma. So you want to use it in cocktails that don’t mask that aroma. Right? So that’s when I go into the highballs, Chilcano, Pisco Tonic and try to preserve the citrusy aromas that you get through the aromatic grapes.

Susan: It’s funny. I heard you Alex, say something, hold on. I know, I can’t remember if you said something about Peru or pisco was hiding behind the Pisco Sour.

Alex: Yeah. You notice we haven’t talked about it yet!

Susan: Yes, exactly. We have to unpack that. So, I have not heard the word Pisco Sour said here today, except by me.

Alex: Yeah, I mean, look, here’s my hot take for the day. Stop hiding pisco behind your Pisco Sour. If you haven’t tried it before, we understand and appreciate the power that Pisco Sours have as a gateway cocktail. It’s delicious. But it tends to turn some people away. Sometimes because it has the egg white, but more importantly to me is, it masks the flavor of a lot of different piscos because once you start adding lime juice, simple syrup, egg white.

There’s just so many components that you don’t really get to appreciate the nuances of not only one grape variety to another, but then also the batch to batch distinctiveness that we like to talk about.

So while I like a Pisco Sour, I will never lead with that. I will never, ever lead with that because there’s so much opportunity out there. We like to keep it simple. I like to recommend things to people that they can make at home. So to be more prescriptive, even maybe more than Ian was being, our Italia is a really good substitute for a gin.

So Pisco Tonic, like he said, nailed it. I would throw it in a Negroni, three ingredients. That’s it. Keep it simple. There’s so many opportunities, but I always encourage people to keep it simple.

Susan: I think we’ve run right into what I always ask, which are the top tips for the home bartender. I think you’ve  answered that already, but if you have any others, do tell, say, Ian, did you have any?

Ian: I’d say I’m a big fan of using fresh ingredients. So there’s a beauty in using freshly squeezed lime juice, freshly squeezed pineapple juice, and there’s no substitute that comes in a can that makes that reaches that level of flavor. So I’d say definitely fresh fruit juices and citrus peels are your friend. Any cocktail you can elevate by just expressing a citrus peel over the top just brings out the aromas, makes things much more pleasant.

Susan: And you, Alex?

Alex: Yeah, I mean, I’ll stick with my keep it simple. Do not overcomplicate it. Don’t overthink it. It’s easy to watch these shows on TV and say, oh, I want to make this. Really, these people who make these are professionals. They’re essentially chefs in a sense. If you want to do that’s great, but you can make some really, really amazing cocktails at home by keeping it simple.

And don’t underestimate the value of bitters. Take a Gin and Tonic. You want to take it to the next level, give it a couple dashes of bitters that’s going to change the complexity of the drink a little bit and it’s so easy. Just keep a little thing of Angostura bitters.

Susan: Great, great. Now. The other specific question I ask is if you could be anywhere drinking anything, where would that be and what would you drink? I know we touched on it, Alex, but first we’re going to have Ian, and then we’ll finish with you.

Ian: I’m feeling a beach mood right now, it’s warm outside, so I just want to get out to the beach. So I think I’d go to this place north of Peru. It’s called Máncora, which is a beautiful beach with the rocks protruding into the coastline and I used to go there throughout my childhood. So it brings up these great memories. And what I’d be drinking, I think I’d need to go with something refreshing. So I’d probably go for Chilcano while looking at the waves in Máncora.

Susan: Sounds divine. Alex?

Alex: Man, I was looking out my window here in Boston and seeing snow and thinking about changing my answer. But  I’ll stay where I was and say it would be a lot of fun to have the Pisco Punch at Bank Exchange in San Francisco with Duncan Nicol himself. And then on the other side maybe Rudyard Kipling, who you may not have seen this, but he’s made some, some fun comments about the Pisco Punch in some of his books.

He was a big fan of the Pisco Punch, tried it. I don’t know if he tried it in San Francisco at this point or elsewhere, but there’s some quote where he says, it’s compounded of the wings of cherubs and a couple other things in his poetic way. So I would like to be sitting next to both of them sharing a Pisco Punch.

Susan: Oh, I love that. I’ll definitely find the poem or I’ll try and find the poem and put it on my site, but oh, that’s great. Thank you so much for spending all this time with me. It’s been such an education and it was great to learn all about Suyo and I wish you all the best. And Number 1, when are we going to be able to find it in the uk?

Alex: Oh man. We would love to, maybe we can connect offline about this. We’ve been having some conversations with folks about this but haven’t seemed to find the right path for us. But we would love to be available there as soon as possible.

Susan: So anyone is going to New York, go get it. If you can find it in New York and California and all those places. I want to see it in every state and we’ll see it in the UK soon. And again, thank you guys so much for spending so much time with me. It was great.

THE TASTING

Susan: Oh, I love that. And I’ll definitely find the poem, or I’ll try and find the poem and put it on my site. That’s great. Now I want to do the tasting.

Susan: Which one do you want to start with?

Alex: Well, I would recommend we start with the Quebranta, which is going to be the big bottle that you have with the blue font on the label. And this comes from the non-aromatic category. As I think we touched on a little bit earlier, there are two, there’s the non-aromatic and then there’s aromatic, which we’ll get to next.

I often recommend if you have it available to drink out of a brandy sniffer, that’s great, but a wine glass is great too. I happen to have a wine glass that’s similar shape as a brandy sniffer, but there’s no wrong way to taste it.

There’s a really fun crossover and I see some conversion with wine drinkers who might be a little bit nervous to cross over into the spirits world. In the past, haven’t had great experiences with spirits.

Yes, it’s a high ABV spirit, going to be 40+, but what we do have is a distilled wine. So I think that story really helps with a lot of crossover and it’s part of why we like doing tastings with wine glasses. It’s helpful when speaking with sommelier who, oftentimes, are really influential in beverage programs. But as I said, there’s no wrong way to taste it glass-wise.

Ian: So I can get started with this one, Alex. The first thing you want to notice is that it’s a completely transparent liquid. So if you ever try a pisco that’s tainted or yellowish, something happened along the way that shouldn’t have happened.

So all pisco should be completely clear and you should get the legs similar to the wine legs.

You should get it with a pisco that shows a lot of the viscosity of the product. Next up, if you swirl a little bit just to wake it up, you don’t want to smell it like wine that you put your nose into it, because you’ll get hit by the aromas. It’s just a general kind of sniff over at the top.

Don’t inhale too much because there is 40% alcohol in it. Then after that, just take a sip. There’s this tradition in Peru that they say that you should give kisses to the pisco. So you should drink it by giving kisses, not whole gulps. We like doing that because you consume small amounts and taste it more, but at the end of the day, it’s however you prefer to taste it.

We’re big advocates of: here is the spirit, we’re going to present the spirit to you, but whatever you prefer and however you prefer to drink it, that’s the right approach.

Susan: I love the idea of the little kisses!

Alex: Yeah, there’s certain level of sometimes pretentious and unapproachable nature to this whole process that sometimes rubs us the wrong way. So we hate to be super prescriptive about these things because everyone has their own way of tasting things. So, while, yes, there are ways that we think work best for us, we want people to add their own flare to it as well.

Susan: Absolutely! So I have coated my mouth the first time, as I know with any spirit’s all about the second taste.

Alex: That’s right. This one comes from our first vineyard that we talked about Fundo La Esperanza, which is  a little bit more inland and tucked between the Andes Mountains in a valley.

I don’t recall how much of this we covered in the podcast, but it’s going to get less sunlight than, for instance, the second one, Fundo Puente Viejo, and much less of the ocean breeze that’s coming off the Pacific Ocean, whereas the second one is basically on a plane with Andes on the backside of it. So it gets a lot of this cool ocean air that our first one does not.

Those are some of the things that are really influential and what you’re tasting and are even more highlighted if you were to try, unfortunately we don’t have it with us right now because we just imported it, our second batch of Quebranta.

I love doing side by sides between that one and the one you just tried because it perfectly highlights the differences between the two vineyards that have the exact same grape but are growing at 10 kilometers apart: one being right off the ocean, the other one being a little bit more inland.

Susan: Mm-hmm. So again, remind me, what was it about this that you were like, oh yeah, this is it.

Ian: One, that it’s a, very in Spanish, you call it untuoso, I guess in English it’s velvety in the mouth.  It’s something that you feel when swirling around your mouth and it remains in the palette for long. Compared to a lot of the Quebrantas, it’s very, very smooth.

It also has this sweet note that is not exceedingly sweet, to me, as I mentioned before, it reminds me of some kind of peach compote. It’s like if I were eating a compote dessert. It’s something like that. I just instantly brought back memories from desserts my mom would make or, or something like that, but just fit in my brain and it just touched my heart and I was like, this is amazing.

Susan: Yeah, for 46%, you don’t just taste the alcohol. It’s just so bright I feel in the mouth. And I definitely am not a professional taster, nor do I purport to be one. I probably would fail that class in the WSET 3 if I had to take it. I do feel exactly what you say, the velvet quality, the finish is still there.

Even though I sipped it ages ago, it still has that little zing of fruit in my mouth. Definitely. And this you say is the least aromatic grape?

Ian: Yeah, exactly. This is the least.

Alex: I’ll be a little bit more direct on a comment too about when we were looking for the right pisco for us. Oftentimes there are stronger senses of acetone in some of the piscos that are made at the commercial, more sort of industrialized level. So oftentimes people who have tried it once or twice think that’s kind of the classic pisco flavor profile.

We believe that’s simply incorrect. So that something that we, when we first tried this, we’re like, no, this is different, this is different.

Susan: Yes. All right. Let’s head to Number 2. I’m just going to wash out my glass a little off with some water. Now, this is the most fragrant.

Alex: Yes.

Susan: I can’t wait,

Alex: So this is going to be a direct descendant of  the Muscat of Alexandria family.

Susan: One of my favorite grapes and wines of all time.

Alex: So I think you’ll pick up on some of that just when you give its first whiff.

Susan: I’m definitely a demi sec girl, everyone is always sec, sec, sec. Oh my goodness. You can smell it immediately. You smell that delicious grape.

Alex: So similar deal. You should see legs on this. You want some viscosity in your pisco.

Susan: I went right in. I went right in and had a sip already!

Alex: I don’t know if you can really see it on camera, but you should see some of those legs around the edges there.

Susan: Oh, absolutely. And it seems they’re much more drippy, thicker, a little I’m sorry if I’m not saying the right word, but…

Alex: We’re still trying to figure out the words too, so that’s okay. And similarly, I would approach this at an angle. So because it is a high proof spirit and it doesn’t just hit you in the face.

Susan: Yes. What’s nice about the aroma is that you smell that delicious grape, but it’s not overpowering. It’s not as if it’s some heavy duty Moscato wine that you’re about to drink. It’s quite subtle.

Ian: That’s what we were going for. There’s a lot of Italias that are overpowering. So you smell it and it sometimes feels like you’re smelling perfume. Right. That to me, the subtlety in this one is what made me like it so much. You can appreciate the flavors, all the different aromas, but it’s not overpowering and you want to keep drinking it.

And that to me is the key, creating a product that you want to keep drinking. It’s not a product that you drink a little sip and you’re done. Right. I think we achieved that through this Italia.

Susan: I think with tonic, adding that slight bitterness to it, oh, this is going to be my drink. I can’t even just say the summer, but I think forever.  Because I’m definitely a clear spirit girl. I really love grappa and eau-de-vies and that kind of thing.

I have to admit you’ve totally opened my mind to having this as a sipping drink, as having something after dinner. A glass of pisco, especially using this grape, the Italia grape. Definitely I’m having another sip.

Alex: That’s where it needs to be. I think really sipping has to be the first positioning of it. So people really appreciate the complexity and the differences between the different grape varieties before we start getting into that cocktail culture, which of course is very important. But sipping is how we really want to change people’s perspective on pisco.

Susan: I’m really surprised by the 46% because sometimes I with some grappas and things, you just are like blown out of the room with the taste of the alcohol, which sometimes is not a bad thing, but this is very subtle, very delicious.

Thank you so much for spending all this time with me. It’s been such an education and it was great to learn all about Suyo Pisco and I wish you all the best. When are we going to be able to find it in the UK?

Alex: We would love to be available there as soon as possible.

Susan: So anyone is going to New York, go get it. If you can find it in New York and California and all those places. I want to see it in every state and we’ll see it in the UK soon. Thank you, guys, so much for spending so much time with me. It was great.

Ian: Thank you, Susan. It was a pleasure.

Alex: Thanks for having us.

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