This is a true Mother’s Day-inspired story of a very special kind.
No matter that the “official” Mother’s Day was Sunday.
While there is no doubt that that mothers are revered the world over for their un-paralleled dedicated, and unconditional love for their prodigy and extended family, this Examiner got to thinking about the very same qualities that distinguish a now world-class, award winning, natural spirit: Macchu Pisco ever since our first meeting at a food and drink event in Brooklyn.
In fact, there are presently, no less than three generations of outstanding women running this organic, all natural, internationally award-wining pisco spirits company.
While Melanie Asher, CEO, Founder, Master Distiller and Blender, and sister, Lizzie Asher, President, run the day-to-day operations of their global spirits company; it can be argued that their spirited mother is the Chief Mother Officer (CMO). And certainly their Grandmother, Amelia Rodriquez is the heart of the operation. After all, Senora Rodriquez – who will celebrate turning 100 in May — together with Melanie, worked many years developing and crafting and honing the special, family Macchu Pisco recipe.
Pisco is best known as the national drink of Peru. Today, the Asher women (there’s a TV show in here for sure) nurture their ancestral land, and the dedicated women who not only count on the jobs Macchu Pisco provides, but also the shared economic independence. “Alcohol production worldwide is clearly dominated by men,” noted Lizzie. In fact, of the more than 1,000 global brands, the number of women running a brand is less than a 100,” she added.
Surely, this is Pacha Mama/Mother Nature, and today’s working women truly, “leaning In.” As in “leaning in” to pick each grape by hand!
The company empowers local women and creates opportunity for the them and their Pro Mujeres Coprondeli Coprodeli USA nonprofit that supports the work in Peru working co-op group organization. At the same time, Macchu Pisco is helping to develop a true-networked “family.”
In fact, as Master Distiller, Melanie spends about half the year in Peru with her grandmother and the grape-picking women farmers.
The pisco itself is not unlike an Asher child. The maternal love for their elixir is apparent from the first sip…
Upon learning about the award-winning, delicious-tasting, Macchu Pisco distillery run by the female clan of talented, overachievers, one could easily believe they are descended from the Incan gods, now a Unesco World Heritage site at Machu Pisco, and the women who dedicated their lives to the Inca Sun God.
In addition, there is the adage “That behind every great man….” that is turned on its axis a bit at Macchu Pisco. One soon learns that the Asher women also share an extreme adoration and powerful love for their father who they credit with raising strong women. During the interview with Lizzie, this Examiner expressed her shared experience with her Father. It was agreed: “There’s a special tribe of women who have been raised to be strong, independent women by their fathers – who nurtured the young women’s natural affinity for business to encourage them to excel. All worshiped their dads.”
While Melanie was in Peru for harvest, this Examiner interviewed Lizzie in New York where she explained, “Dad was the original partner in Macchu Pisco – Melanie’s brainchild and her MBA project at Harvard, that she officially launched in 2006.” He inspired her, encouraged her, and put his money where his mouth was eagerly anticipating that spectacular pisco. It was with unbearable longing and loss she says he died recently… Lizzie, who followed in her sister’s footsteps first stop Duke then to Harvard Law, officially came on board after their father passed away here.
Continuing the tribute to her father, grandmother, mother – often referred to as the “Elizabeth Taylor of Peru,” and the Macchu Pisco family in Peru, Melanie and Lizzie are driven with an uncommon passion. Their artisanal, handpicked pisco is proof of their love.
Macchu Pisco is by any measure artisanal. The company produces small batches for their three branded labels.
Macchu – This is the only spirit in the world that has NO added sugar, enzymes, yeast or water, making it the ultimate all-natural spirit. The Macchu Pisco label is made from 10 pounds of Quebranta grapes per bottle, which the company says is equal to five bottles of wine for one bottle of their pisco. Macchu Pisco “rests” for one year. The taste is mild with earthy, smoky, nose.
La Diablada – winning a Gold Medal its very first year – talk about a baby beauty contest winner! Somewhat reminiscent of the grapes themselves in a traditional sense” Named for native Peruvian Indian dance of Angels and Demons” there is a constant tension or tug of war we all experience. This blend captures the subtle taste tension. It is the only vintage pisco in the world. One can’t help but think the two-year gestation before blending is more like her newborn baby!
Ñusta – Hailed as the company’s award-winning reserve, Ñusta is pure and natural sprit ideal for sipping straight; better to indulge in “Peru’s rare and finest aromatic grapes from the first grape press.” For cocktail culturists this is the showcase brand: the Ñusta narrative goes like this: “Ancestral production rituals are kept and it is bottled in a limited production of hand-made ceramic bottles (Suggested retail for this award-winning pisco: $100)
Pisco Sours (naturally), Peruvian Mule, Last Word, Pink Lady, White Negronis, Vespers, and almost too gorgeous to drink– as featured NYC’s temple of cocktail culture: Pouring Ribbons craft cocktail bar – Bizarre Love Triangle: made with Macchu Pisco, Lemon Nardini Amaro, Merlet Crème de Poire.
Distilling Macchu Pisco
Producing such stellar pisco blends and learning the art of being a vintner is nothing short of astounding. Most winemakers and distillers grow up surrounded by the vineyards or inherit the vineyards. Not so Melanie. This force of nature had to learn the business – quite literally from the ground up! And learn to release her inner blending and tasting talent – with her lifelong focused dedication. Not to mention, sales, marketing, and putting her Harvard MBA to use in the finance arena.
“Every year, Melanie tweaks the blend,” explains Lizzie. “She has a gift.” When asked about her vision, she replied, “She wanted to create a pisco to herald her family and the Peruvian national drink, made from Peruvian grapes – from eight different grapes, and came up with a masterful blend.
Enjoying her grandmother’s pisco growing up every Sunday at family dinners where pitchers of pisco flowed and shared, Melanie wondered why there is no pisco in the United States, or the world for that matter.
She asked herself, how do we create pisco for the export market – how do we create a pisco good enough for cosmopolitan, drink enthusiasts the world-over could enjoy?
The challenges were many as one might expect. Curiously, there had been no pisco in the US market since Prohibition, when it was very popular; it was a favorite drink of the 49er gold miners in the late 1800’s, in fact. Macchu Pisco was the first to hit the US market post Prohibition. It’s a drink worth waiting for when it’s this good.
Re-igniting a national drink that’s been off the cocktail scene for so long is like climbing up those mountains in Machu Picchu! “People ask, is it a wine? Is it like gin or vodka?”
It’s really its own alcohol category. Or as Rudyard Kipling said, “I have a theory (pisco) is compounded of the shavings of cherub’s wings” as quoted on the Macchu Pisco web site. Ahhh, one can hear the angels singing. Or in the case of Macchu Pisco, the angel half of their noble La DiaBlada.
Traditionally, pisco is made from Quebranta grapes. Grape growing in Peru goes back to the Spaniards, not surprisingly. They planted their beloved grapes in all that terracing they couldn’t help but notice the Peruvians engineered as part civics and part agriculture, while taking the high altitude into account. The Spanish chose the Pisco Valley to plant. Those eight grape varietals make up the “old vines” Macchu Pisco uses today.
Moreover, the Ashers understandably pride themselves on using only fresh grapes in their pisco. This is a distinction and a contrast to a practice pursued by other pisco makers from South America who use a musk –a resuscitated harvested grape leftover from say, wine making – a residue of the wine process. This afterthought repurposing is evident in the second-class taste.
Not so with Macchu Pisco, which uses only freshly harvested grapes. “Our process is field to wine production to distillation.” Said Lizzie. Moreover, Peruvian law forbids this practice, priding themselves on the purity of their pisco.
Longstanding laws require the pisco be made in stainless steel or plastic barrels for a minimum of three months before it’s bottled. La DiaBlada goes years beyond, resting for two years! There is no aging in pisco production; rather there is a “rest” period when it cannot be touched. (Isn’t this a perspective we all should adhere to? No aging/just resting!)
Didn’t get enough of Lucy stomping those grapes? Fans will be happy to know Macchu Pisco says, “Pressing by foot is a tradition,” they maintain. Why? Because their piscos “are a result of a luxurious first, single grape pressing.” The company dispenses with the pressings detritus: seeds, stems, and peels, which they say, “gives the spirit an acidity taste. “ First is best and Macchu Pisco uses the first extract from the grape. It’s good to be number one… So, one can more readily understand that the art of pisco distillation is a complex system.
As part of Melanie’s vision she wanted to create a balanced, blended pisco, using stately, premium grapes capturing their aromatics and bouquet.
The company uses seven pisco grape varieties grown in Peru:
Aromatic Grapes: Moscatel, Italia, Torontel, Albilla
Non-Aromatic Grapes: Quebranta, Negra Corriente and Mollar
Noting Macchu Pisco is a micro company, Lizzie says they are careful how they grow and expand, careful to maintain the craft and family experience and quality. They work toward growing the pisco category.
Expanding the pisco portfolio will benefit the local community in Peru, too.
“We can’t afford to fail — they count on us,” said Lizzie.
Recently, the Peruvian government has become an enthusiastic partner, helping to promote the success of Macchu Pisco and also naming Melanie “Business Woman of the Year.”
All the hard work, the family contribution and the support of local workers wouldn’t be anything without the great taste.
Bottom line is this is spirit is fantastic – on its own or blended in cocktails. It’s still all about the taste. Macchu Piscos are crisp, fresh and nuanced.
The award-winning pisco converts who migrate very fast to pisco enthusiasts, primarily sophisticated urban/city citizens. Londoners of course have an affinity for all things Peru – especially the Paddington Bear who hails from “Darkest Peru” and was discovered intoxicated at Paddington Station in London. (surely not from pisco!)
How do you take your pisco, this Examiner asked Lizzie? Answer: “La DiaBlada on a lovely summer day mixed with a bit of grape juice; in winter in a Negroni – or a martini with vermouth & and an olive.”
Oh, and if you see stars when drinking Macchu Pisco – it’s not a surprise. The company’s worldwide representative, Elizabeth Puell, “took” a bottle of Macchu Pisco up in “space” with astronaut Buzz Aldrin!
When asked what success looks like, Lizzie responded, “Success looks like growing pisco as a category.” Further, “Continuing our belief and confidence that our pisco is such a delicious and superlative drink that restaurants and bars will have Macchu Pisco branded pisco bottles as a cocktail staple to offer to their customers.”
Macchu Pisco is available at: Astor wines, Dunlop, or order it from Macchu Pisco website Order page