High Spirited

Pisco Portón and the Master Behind It

By Kelly Villasuso

PiscoPorton34

Johnny Schuler

After an hour-long ride from Paracas, the rutted gravel road jostles us up to our destination — the mecca of pisco … Hacienda la Caravedo in the Ica Valley. The ochre-colored entry with its centuries-old gate — or portón — is opened to us, slowly revealing the oldest distillery in the Americas.

As the driver came to a stop, we were mesmerized by the smoky tones of the Andes foothills forming a backdrop to the brilliant hues of the Quebranta, Torentel, Italia, and Albilla vines immediately before us.  The juxtaposition of the breathtaking clay and wood distillery circa 1684 with the gleaming glass and steel of the high-tech distillery is awe inspiring.

Our meditation, although significant, is only momentary, though, because we are quickly approached by an imposing figure with a rich, booming voice saying “Welcome to Hacienda la Caravedo and Pisco Portón, the passion of my life!” Our greeting is from none other than Johnny Schuler, Master Distiller at Pisco Portón.

And thus began a three-hour experience with this robust, complex spirit …

The Best Spirit in the World
As we meander toward the historic distillery that operates 24/7, I told Schuler I could clearly see why he chose Hacienda la Caravedo to be the home of Pisco Portón. The setting was absolutely stunning. He enthusiastically responded, “I am a traditionalist. This is my baby. I fell in love with the history, the traditions, the authenticity the Hacienda offered us… the opportunity to create pisco just as it was done centuries ago. It was love at first sight.”

Entyrance-to-the-Pisco-Porton's-Distillery-The-Gate

The entry to the oldest distillery in the Americas is this centuries-old gate (or portón in Spanish)

Founders — and Houston natives — Bill and Brent Kallop share Schuler’s passion for preserving the heritage of Peruvian pisco while integrating cutting-edge, eco-friendly technologies, and it is apparent at every turn.  For instance, short of stomping the grapes with their feet, the men working the original distillery were doing it “old school” with the grape screw press, copper falcas (or old style stills), and gravitational pull.

As he guides us toward the “new” distillery, Schuler beams, pointing out that “the beautiful fountain [before us] is not just for aesthetics … it’s our clever way of cooling off the water from the distillation process. But it puts on quite a show, doesn’t it?” Indeed, it did!

It is this careful balance of — and respect for — old and new that Schuler feels is one of the main factors setting Pisco Portón above all others. Schuler confides, “It is my responsibility to carefully blend ‘mano and techno.’ I cannot distance myself from the original DNA of pisco … what pisco means to Perú and how it was made by our ancestors.”

As we make our way through the impressive modern distillery watching the high-tech pisco-making process in action (and tasting pisco from the stainless steel tanks along the way), Schuler asked if I would like to know the other factors that make Pisco Portón “the very best.” A rhetorical question, of course!

Old-Distillery-and-modern-distillery-in-the-back

The juxtaposition of the clay and wood distillery circa 1684 with the gleaming glass and steel of the high-tech distillery is awe inspiring.

He exuberantly confides that it comes down to honoring the importance of maceration and to being a purist. “Maceration is a step that many distillers skip over. We don’t cut corners at Pisco Portón. We need the aromatics that lie between the skin and the fruit, so we need the fruit intact. That is why we religiously macerate,” exudes Schuler. “We also do not add a thing to our pisco – no additives, no preservatives … absolutely NO wood. We even clean the bottles with pisco before filling them. That’s how maniac I am about my product.” A purist through and through.

According to our gregarious guide, “Pisco Portón is the best spirit in the world.”  According to this author, Schuler gives his Pisco Portón a run for its money as the “best spirit.” His passion for Perú and its national spirit is contagious. Clearly the Peruvian Congress agrees since it awarded him with the Medal of Honor for recognition of all that Schuler has done to promote pisco and uphold Peruvian culture and tradition.

Go for the Pisco, Stay for the Spirit
Schuler has done an excellent job evangelizing fellow drinkers to pisco in the United States, propelling this country to the number two spot on the global importer charts. He laughingly shares, “I frequently tell people ‘Stop drinking vodka and start drinking
pisco. You’ll live longer.’” Clearly, we are  “drinking the Kool-Aid” from this 70-year-old pisco preacher since U.S. sales of Pisco Portón increased 59 percent between 2012 and 2014.

piscp-pitcherIt won’t be hard to find yourself a Portón Pisco Punch or a Pisco Sour stateside. However, if the opportunity presents itself, it is well worth a visit to the Ica Valley in Perú to experience the passion and pride of Pisco Portón Master Distiller firsthand. Go for the pisco, stay for the spirit…

Schuler, a self-proclaimed autodidact, has also added on a boutique hotel, a restaurant, and a show with dancing Peruvian Paso horses at Hacienda la Caravedo.

www.piscoporton.com • tours@lacaravedo.com • Lima: +511 711 7800

 

 Portón Pisco Punch  

1 (750ml) bottle of Portón
12.75 oz. simple syrup
8.5 oz. fresh pineapple juice
8.5 oz. fresh lime juice
Directions:
Mix all ingredients in punch bowl or beverage dispenser. Serve
in rocks glasses filled with ice. Garnish with pineapple chunks, strawberries and mint.

High Spirited