Interviewed by Joel Centano
Photos by Adam Weintraub
Author, photographer, and self-proclaimed serial entrepreneur Adam Weintraub is a busy man. Along with serving as vice-chair for the Photographic Center Northwest and cofounder of Museo del Pisco (a hip watering hole in Cuzco, Arequipa, and two Lima locations that hosts mixology classes and houses an immense collection of piscos), he recently published his second tome on Peruvian culture – Pisco Patrimonio: The National Spirit of Peru. The fruit of nearly a decade of photography and research, Patrimonio chronicles the spirit’s almost 500-year arc in the country’s history. His warm, vibrant photos also provide an intimate perspective on pisco’s distillation process, historic bodegas in the Ruta del Pisco (Peru’s official growing region), and influential artisanal producers passionate about their craft. We were fortunate to catch up with him in between his recent Seattle book launch and latest Lima trip to discuss the confluence of three of his greatest passions – all, incidentally, beginning with the letter P: photography, Peru, and – you guessed it – pisco.
You note that this book was borne from “a certain patrimonial obligation.” Can you explain?
I felt a real need to share my passion with others. Pisco is a world unto itself, though it’s often understood only at a general level in Peru, and rarely consumed abroad. Pisco Patrimonio was created for a wider audience to fully appreciate this spirit – and inspired by the folks who labor over it. Good things are meant to be shared, and this seemed like the most productive way to do so – other than inviting the whole world to come to Peru and do a tasting with me!
When did you first fall in love with pisco?
During a family vacation in the Peruvian Amazon, my friend, esteemed chef Óscar Velarde (of landmark Lima restaurant La Gloria), brought an entire case of Pisco Ferreyros – one bottle for each day we’d be on the Madre de Dios River! I’m not certain I truly appreciated it in that moment – its unique qualities and why this pisco is so much better than so many others – but I was certainly brainwashed by the end of the trip. And thus began a desire to learn more – and to understand why so many of us love Scotch or cognac, but have seldom even heard of pisco.
Your mission behind Museo del Pisco?
To this day, I love discovering – and sharing – the uniqueness in each bottle of pisco and the complexity of each region or grape. The challenge to reach a broader audience is also fun. This desire led my partners and me to open Museo del Pisco (most recently in Lima’s Miraflores neighborhood), where we offer guests a tactile, immersive, and engaging tasting experience.
A few thoughts on your photographic process?
Making images isn’t only about light and composition –there’s also a relationship between photographer and model, always. In this case, the pisqueros (pisco producers) I photographed are people who share my passion. Or rather, I share theirs. I loved becoming a part of their world for the moments they were able to share it with me. And of course, a few piscos down the hatch always lightens the mood!
“In the world of pisco,” you say, “there are more producers and brands than one can try in a lifetime.” (Clearly, you’ve never imbibed with Virtuoso’s content team.) If you were pressed, though, what are a few must-tries?
For the uninitiated: Torontel grapes are wonderfully fruity and pungent. Start with Sarcay de Azpitia and Pisco Portón; both brands are excellent. For purists: Negra criolla grapes from Peru’s southern regions are super-expressive and hold worlds of layers to explore. The Cepas de Loro, Biondi, and Torre de la Gala bodegas all work these grapes very well. For the trendsetter: A cocktail! The Chilcano is the simplest, mixing an expressive pisco with key lime and ginger ale for balance.
“One of the greatest pleasures in life,” reads a memorable passage, “is drinking a good drink. And in order to drink more, it’s advisable to eat a little bit.” So, what dishes should be on the table?
Nothing beats lomo saltado, sirloin strips sautéed with soy sauce and tomatoes and served with fries. Well, maybe I take that back. Nothing (nothing!) beats a super-fresh ceviche mixed with rocoto chili peppers and red onions.
Where should travelers bend their elbows in Peru – beyond Museo del Pisco, of course? In Lima: Country Club Lima Hotel’s Bar Inglés has had a strong pisco tradition for ages. Very classy. Order the Capitán. Carnaval Bar is the new place to be. In Arequipa: Although there are a few notable restaurants (Chicha, Salamanto, and ZigZag all have great food, but stick with their wines!), the only true pisco-centric place is our Museo del Pisco. In Cuzco: Several hotels maintain a solid pisco presence, including Palacio del Inka and Belmond’s Palacio Nazarenas and Hotel Monasterio. Nazarenas even has complimentary pisco in each room. Feel free to invite me up!