Startup Stories of Spirits Entrepreneurs is a mini-series that gleans firsthand insight and delves into the challenges, inspiration, lessons learned, and more, from a variety of spirits entrepreneurs.
By Allison Levine, Foodable Contributor
Encanto Pisco, started in 2010, is a brand made “from the heart” by three seasoned industry friends: award-winning distiller Carlos Ruben Romero-Gamero, bar owner Duggan McDonnell, and sommelier Walter Moore. The three men first met at McDonnell’s bar, Cantina, in San Francisco and with their knowledge in various aspects of the business (distillation, cocktail creation and wholesale), they created Encanto Pisco. Moore first experienced pisco in Peru in 2009. “I had already begun to do some consulting with spirits brands, but hadn't yet experienced pisco. It was a revelation for me. I wanted to get my hands into pisco and the beautiful grapes behind it.”
Pisco, a grape brandy made in Peru (and Chile), has a long history with San Francisco. Beginning in the mid-1800s, it was the spirit that fueled the Gold Rush as it arrived on ships from South America that were bringing labor and supplies. Pisco can be made from eight designated grapes. Once the wine is made, it is distilled to make a brandy using the solera system, as with sherry, and then the blending takes place. It is Encanto Pisco’s goal to make the best handcrafted artisanal pisco. Through long-standing relationships with growers and a detailed focus on the winemaking process, distillation and blending, every step of the process is hands-on. The result is a smooth, terroir-driven product.“As a sommelier, I wanted something sippable,” says Moore. “And as a bartender, Duggan wanted something mixable. Carlos wanted something brilliant that reflected his 32 years of experience as a distiller.”
Below, we chat with Moore about the building of the brand.
Foodable: How did you know it was time to quit your day job and pursue spirits?
Walter Moore: Making the shift to founding a spirits brand was a natural progression for me. I had actually been working with spirits as part of my day job for some time, which is where I really started to get the spirits bug. My last "day job" was as a Regional Sales Manager for wine and spirits importer Winebow. At the time, Winebow was really expanding its fine spirits portfolio, so I had the opportunity to work with some great brands along with Spanish and Italian wines. A game changer for me was a trip to Scotland's Bruichladdich Distillery on Islay with a group of bartenders. This was the moment when I really connected with spirits truly having a sense of place — that the people who craft spirits are part of the true definition of terroir. And that blending spirits — like wine — is a true art. As a trained sommelier and wine educator, these concepts were second nature to me with wine, but not obvious with spirits. I was hooked.
Foodable: What’s the most challenging part of the job?
WM: Producing pisco is not easy, it's hard work. But handcrafting something you absolutely love is not a difficult challenge. As a partner and co-producer, the biggest challenge is not being able to be everywhere to personally share our story. There's such a demand for quality brands with a history and depth. Educating and storytelling is my passion and background. But when you have a quickly growing brand, it's hard to reach and connect with everyone.
Early Lessons Learned // Favorite Cocktail
The biggest lesson the team at Encanto Pisco experienced in their first year was “a truly positive one,” says Moore. They realized how supportive the spirits community is. “It's been an incredible experience and lesson for us.”
When asked which cocktail is his favorite to feature Encanto’s spirits in, Moore found it challenging to select just one. “This is kind of like being asked about your favorite child,” he says. But if he had to choose one, it would be the crowd-pleasing Pisco Punch. “The drink is beautiful with simple ingredients and an amazing history and connection to the Bay Area,” he says. It’s a San Francisco original, as it was created at San Francisco’s bygone Bank Exchange Saloon in the mid-19th century.
McDonnell, Moore and Romero, the team behind Encanto, are leading the movement to return the Pisco Punch to its rightful place as a classic cocktail with deep roots in San Francisco’s Barbary Coast history. The team released Encanto's Original Bank Exchange Pineapple Cordial, a pineapple gomme syrup that is a quintessential component of the Pineapple Punch, making Encanto the first pisco brand to craft and release a "mixer" for pisco.
- 2 oz. Campo de Encanto ‘Grand & Noble’ Pisco
- 1 oz. Pisco Punch Pineapple Gomme Cordial
- 1 oz. fresh lime juice
- .5 oz. Lillet Rouge, or your favorite red wine
- 1 dash Aromatic Bitters
Shake, fine-strain into an old cocktail goblet and express an orange peel over the glass.
Moore adds an extra touch to his Pisco Punch. “Mine has sparkling wine in it, so what's not to love?” He tops this drink with .5 ounces of bubbles, preferably Spanish Cava. There is a nice synergy in the drink as the grapes in Peru came from Spain more than 500 years ago.
Another favorite drink is the Pisco Sour. Inspired by International Pisco Sour Day, the first Saturday of February, the Encanto team created the "What's in Your Sour?” campaign. Consumers and bartenders from around the country send recipes year-round, highlighting new twists on the original cocktail. Moore says, “We're in the middle of winter citrus season — a perfect time to experiment! We decided to encourage people to try Pisco Sours and share their experiences on social media to really have some fun with it! We've seen Sours made with Cara Cara and blood oranges, Rangpur and key limes, Meyer lemons. Beautiful!”
Moore finds so much inspiration in pisco. “For me, it is my love for making good wine and the creative process behind it. I love being able to take something with so much character and put our own spin on it. It is about taking something unique from the land, making history and heralding pisco in a way that's never been done before.”
His advice for others looking to work in the spirits industry?
“Be all in. It's an industry that really demands your full passion and participation,” says Moore. “If you aren't passionate about this industry, look elsewhere. If you're truly wanting to be here, you'll find great camaraderie and support — and some of the best friends you'll ever make.”