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Photo by the author.

Pisco Is Finally Getting the Documentary It Deserves

Natalie B. Compton

In <i>Pisco Punch: A Cocktail Comeback Story</i>, the cocktail’s origin is beautifully detailed—and we learn that Pisco Punch may have once been made with cocaine.

Photo by the author.

Few drinks offer such a deep a historical connection to a city than the Pisco Punch to San Francisco. Although its popularity has ebbed and flowed since it hit the city in the 1870s, the cocktail is still as San Franciscan as the cable car. In the new documentary film Pisco Punch: A Cocktail Comeback Story, the cocktail's origin is beautifully detailed, giving pisco the overdue spotlight it deserves.

It all started with a podcast. Alan Kropf, Anchor Distilling Company's executive director of education, hosts The Educational Drinking Show, a podcast recorded in his 70s-inspired man cave media studio at the Anchor offices in San Francisco. On his show, Kropf interviews different spirits industry insiders from bartenders to master distillers and everything in between.

While interviewing BarSol pisco founder Diego Loret de Mola for the podcast, Kropf had an epiphany. "I was like, 'Man, this sounds a lot like a movie, and I want to make a movie. Let's make a movie,'" he said. "It's a great story that needs to be told."

Kropf took the idea to his bosses at Anchor and was given funding for the film. The more difficult task was figuring out what to do next.

"The hardest part was figuring out the story. It's kind of the Ben-Hur of beverage documentaries," Kropf said. "How do you tell a 200-year story in 70 minutes and touch on all of these different things?"

The film crew was assembled and embarked on a two-year effort to paint a portrait of pisco, Peru, and the titular punch. Kropf, serving as the film's director, and the team went to Peru five times, and not always with a clear plan of action.

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Vineyards for pisco production. Photo still from "Pisco Punch: A Cocktail Comeback Story."
piscopunchstill_women-cusco-market Women at Cusco market. Photo still from "Pisco Punch: A Cocktail Comeback Story."

"It was tough because we didn't know what we were shooting, and we didn't want to do just another beverage documentary," Kropf said. "There's education, but then there's the human element, the human condition, the human spirit. We didn't know how to tell that."

They figured it out along the way, and ended up weaving an informative and emotional work of art. The documentary, which is broken down into chapters, features interviews with top names in the bar world, government officials, chefs, pisco enthusiasts, and historians. We learn that Pisco Punch may have been originally made with cocaine.

"They definitely think that some sort of perhaps psychoactive substance might have been in there," Kropf said.

The story is more than an introduction to pisco or the cocktail; it tells the heartbreaking tale of Peru's violently turbulent political strife that began with the 1968 coup. Firsthand accounts shed light on the personal loss experienced by Peruvians during that time, including the devastation of the pisco business.

Peru recovered, and its influence has been growing on the global stage since the 90s. "We are at the beginning of the next wave, which is going to be tremendous, but we've come a long way in 16 years," Diego Loret de Mola said. "I think that every market is getting to know Peru again. Peruvian gastronomy is driving the opportunity to get to know Peru."

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A cocaine-less Pisco Punch at Devil's Acre in San Francisco. Photo by the author.

You can get to know Peru yourself when Pisco Punch: A Cocktail Comeback Story is released on iTunes in 2017.