Meet The Woman Who Launched America’s First Pisco Brand
FORBES | Jillian Dara
As the global pandemic shuttered bars across the country many of us tapped into our inner mixologists to fuel our weekend happy hours. With bar culture still on pause, there’s no better time to switch it up and swap out your go-to liquor. Owner and founder of Catan Pisco, Catalina Bentz, says now is the time to not only experiment with a new brand of your preferred spirit, but to try a new spirit all together. “We’re very habitual creatures,” says Bentz. “Alcohol is habitual; we don’t stop to think, how does this affect the world?”
Bentz launched Catan Pisco in July 2018 as the first American Pisco brand and first female-owned pisco brand in the history of Chile. It is with her premium pisco, distilled from 100 percent Pedro Ximénez grapes harvested from an organic and Fairtrade vineyard in Ovalle, that Bentz hopes to emphasize the significance of the spirit for the Chilean economy, just as tequila did for Mexico. “The world already knows about Chile’s wines, but what they don’t know is how far their grapes can go and that the spirit of the south is called pisco, distilled directly from grapes,” says Bentz.
A Denomination of Origin spirit, pisco can only be produced in Chile and Peru, however, in Peru, pisco can only be clear, while in Chile the spirit can be aged, allowing it to take on a darker hue. While the spirit is popular throughout South America, it’s still relatively novel to the U.S. market; an opportunity Bentz seized to bring the spirit of her Chilean culture to the country she grew up in. “I don’t remember a time we didn’t drink pisco,” says Bentz who moved with her family in 1987 at the age of three-years-old from Santiago, Chile to Long Beach, California. Today, she calls Chicago home but still remembers frequenting a small Chilean community in Los Angeles throughout childhood to savor popular Chilean staples such as empanadas and pastel de choclos; “Pisco Sours and Piscolas (pisco and Coca-Cola) were what the adults were lucky enough to drink,” says Bentz. But pisco options were limited, with Bentz recalling Capel as her family’s go-to when the stash of Pisco Mistral, which her Chilean relatives brought with them on visits, ran low. While pisco’s popularity gained gradual traction over the last decade, as brands like Capel, BarSol, Pisco Portón and Pisco Control appeared in restaurants and on craft cocktail menus across the country, Bentz recognized the reason for the lingering gap in the market; these piscos weren’t exclusively produced for the United States and the majority of U.S. consumers weren’t familiar with the spirit. It was this breakthrough that sparked the concept of Catan.
Bentz decided to produce a clear pisco, in a frosted glass bottle; “I want people to think it’s vodka,” shares Bentz who reveals that’s the exact reaction she’s received. Once she has their attention, Bentz let’s the spirit speak for itself. “Pisco has a really unique flavor; it doesn’t taste like vodka because it’s 100 percent grapes, it’s got a full body but also mixes well.” It’s for this reason, Bentz persuades that pisco is a spirit for everyone; well not all pisco, but certainly Catan. “It’s for whisky drinkers because you can sip it. It’s for vodka drinkers because you can mix it. It’s for tequila drinkers because it’s refreshing in a margarita.” Ideally, this is how Bentz envisions consumers first experience her pisco; try it neat, in a two-ingredient cocktail (she proposes her favorite: Catan and tonic), then a Pisco Sour—the most classic pisco cocktail with fresh lime juice, simple syrup, egg white, and a garnish of Angostura bitters. “Here, people drink champagne to celebrate a beautiful moment; for us and our family, it’s a Pisco Sour with fresh lime in the kitchen to start the celebration,” says Bentz who challenges the stigmatized Peruvian versus Chilean Pisco Sour debate that using lime juice constitutes a Peruvian Pisco Sour while lemon juice is used in a Chilean rendition. “There is not a ‘right way’ to make Pisco Sours, you can use both lemon or lime, but fresh lime juice adds a little more excitement in my mouth because of the acids and zest.”
Growing up, Bentz recalls feeling American, but the presence of living in a strong Latino household presented a clash in cultures; Bentz knew she wanted to be a businesswoman from the age of 12-years-old with her first venture, ‘The Friendship Club,’ an organized beach clean-up crew, but her father dissuaded. “When I told my father I wanted to study business in college, he said no; he wanted me to continue helping people,” shares Bentz who notes his profession as a physical therapist and how he has since ardently accepted her entrepreneurial pursuits. “Living in a strict, Latin dominated household, it was hard because I had to do what my dad said so I didn’t go to school for business.” Bentz ended up studying psychology in undergrad and received an MPA in Public Policy and Administration. It was a combination of these degrees along with her launch of Catan that ultimately allowed her to give back in a less conventional way—by establishing Catan Pisco, she’s brought attention to her country, reconnected her extended family, and pledges to give back through her pisco with a purpose program. “We put aside one percent of all sales for our Catan H2O initiative,” says Bentz. “We want to start putting up fountains in our local underprivileged communities [in Chicago], and eventually take this to Chile.”
Water is at the core of Catan’s purpose, as Bentz explains a grander vision to fight the privatization of water in Chile, to grant farmers more direct access and ensure longevity in the country’s widespread agricultural industry. “Now is the time for pisco, because in addition to us all needing a good drink, we all want to feel connected to something bigger than ourselves,” says Bentz. “Drinking Catan supports a minority, female, first-generation American-owned business. Drinking Catan supports every employee of our vineyard in Chile, which makes opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise exist in their local economy possible. Drinking Catan diversifies a spirits industry that is largely male dominated and owned by large conglomerates.” Bentz also advocates for conscious consumerism beyond Catan and beyond alcohol, concluding with a message to reconsider the long-term effects of our daily purchases. “We struggle as consumers because we don’t stop to think, ‘How can I purposely make a difference?’ Now is the time to really disrupt the market.” Catan Pisco is currently available in restaurants and bars throughout Illinois, California, Florida and via online retail at www.catanpisco.com.See more at FORBES