Perhaps no city’s cocktail history is as closely associated with one drink as San Francisco’s is with Pisco Punch:
2 oz. pisco
2/3 oz. pineapple gum syrup3/4 oz. lemon juice
Shake with ice and double strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Several bars and saloons in the area began serving pisco, among them a venerable establishment called the Bank Exchange Saloon. The last owner of the bar, an Irish immigrant named Duncan Nicol, developed the Pisco Punch recipe most associated with San Francisco today. The potent cocktail called for pisco, lemon juice, distilled water, and pineapple gum syrup. The cocktail was so potent that Harold Ross, founder of The New Yorker magazine, wrote that it:
"used to taste like lemonade but had a kick like vodka, or worse."
The drink was extremely popular, and the recipe was closely held by Nicol until the Volstead Act and his death shortly thereafter. Between Prohibition and the death of Nicol, Pisco Punch faded into obscurity as quickly as it had sky-rocketed to prominence. The recipe that he took to the grave included the famed pineapple gum syrup, which was difficult to re-create and hard to come by commercially. These factors combined to bury Pisco Punch in history, only to re-emerge decades later when the California Historical Society unearthed the prized Duncan Nicol recipe in 1973.
Thus began Pisco Punch’s long journey back to prominence in American cocktail discourse. Today, premium brands such as Pisco Porton are making inroads into the U.S. market, igniting again the pisco fever that swept the Bay area during the Gold Rush.
With elite bars sprouting up in cities across the country, and premium bar ingredients becoming increasingly available to the home consumer, Pisco Punch is ripe to reclaim its place as a true staple cocktail in America.