Pouring myself a full glass, I quickly took a huge mouthful as a couple of Seattle's top food writers and editors gave me the curious side-eye. As my mouth began to burn, I realized I had--in fact--poured myself about five fingers of pisco, the artisanal grape brandy that McDonnell had distilled down in Peru and wasn't even on the US market yet.
Turning bright red in shame, I swallowed the mouthful of pisco as the bar around me erupted in laughter and applause.
"Yes, Ella, that's pisco," remarked McDonnell dryly.
"Everyone, meet Ella Lawrence!" laughed Michael Hebb.
I wished myself anywhere but in front of a full bar of my colleagues, but the buzz I'd gotten from swallowing about three shots of the strong brandy in one go quickly evaporated my embarrassment and I was able to focus on McDonnell and White's lessons for the afternoon.
McDonnell's Peruvian pisco is "achelado," or mixed-varietal (like a wine from the Côte-Rôtie). Red and white grapes (some of them from 90-year-old Peruvian vines) are fermented and distilled separately and then mixed and bottled--Pisco is never aged, which is why it's always clear--like water. :-/
The taste of the new world segued into a history of the Old World as White, in full Professor Cocktail mode, discoursed on bourbon and scotch--two very different whiskys that share some common background.
Because, by Tennessee law, bourbon barrels can only be used once, bourbon barrels are used all over the world: I've spotted Jack Daniels' barrels in Argentinean and Chilean wineries, ageing reds. It turns out that sherry is a big influence in the making of Jameson, because sherry barrels are used to age that Irish tipple, and some Glenmorangie is aged in barrels that have held Chateau D'Yquem Sauternes, the "PhD of a whisky thesis," quipped White as he flamed a piece of orange rind over a custom-created cocktail called the "Barrel to Barrel," featuring Nocino, Jameson, and an Oloroso sherry.