When Pepe Amoretti was a kid, he´d go to school, you know, like normal kids do. He´d go in the mornings, but when he´d return home, after lunch he´d help out all afternoon in his father´s workshop, building stills. It wasn´t until the evening that he got around to doing his school homework. Priorities...
That´s how Pepe learned to build stills. That´s how his father learned, and how his grandfather learned too. The still building workshop dates back to 1840, when an Italian immigrant going by the name of Vicenzo Amoretti landed around the region of Chincha and began making copper stills for the burgeoning pisco industry. Vicenzo had 5 kids, of whom one carried on with the workshop. That was Pepe´s grandfather, who himself had 5 kids too, of whom, again, one stayed with the workshop. Pepe´s father also had 5 kids, and now Pepe has continued carrying the Amoretti torch. I´m convinced that Pepe also has 5 kids, and ask him, just to be sure. He laughs and tells me he actually doesn´t have any! Fortunately, his two nephews are already helping him out. The Amoretti name shall live.
The Amoretti workshop may look somewhat rudimentary, but don´t judge a book by its cover: the Amoretti name has been around sin 1840 building stills and has built and maintained most major pisco distilleries´s stills.
Pepe tells me that this job is one of those that is best taught from master to student. This being said, he complemented his field experience with a formation at the CENATI, where he perfected his technique in welding, metals melting and forging. However, nothing trumps practice by doing. There´s no magical recipe for building the perfect copper still: Just 4 generations of knowledge transmitted patiently from father to son.
HE´ D HELP OUT ALL AFTERNOON IN HIS FATHER´S WORKSHOP, BUILDING STILLS. IT WASN´T UNTIL THE EVENING THAT HE GOT AROUND TO DOING HIS SCHOOL HOMEWORK.
As we step into the workshop where 3 artisans are busy building a new still, Pepe explains the entire process of still-making, a very time consuming and arduous task. Indeed, a single still built BY 5 men takes between 40 days (for a 300L capacity still) to 60 days (for a 1,000L capacity still) to build.
1. Purchase of the copper plate (1m x 2,5m). The copper is imported from Mexico, appreciated for its malleability.
2. After, a model onto which the copper is given its shape is built.
3. They then proceed to building the boiler. This is the part that takes longest to build, and of course the bigger the still capacity, the longer it takes.
4. It´s now time to weld the boiler (in 3 points, linking the body, bottom and cap/top) together, and seal it closed with hand-made rivets.
5. The Swan´s neck is now crafted, and welded on each of its extremities.
6. Then, the coil is assembled out of eight parts welded together
7. Following that, the hat, which will be placed on top of the boiler, is made.
8. All subparts are now assembled together.
9. Finally, they apply a hand polish by using fine sand and a mesh
Pepe is showing me how they make their own hand-made rivets that will fix the boiler´s parts together.
A SINGLE STILL BUILT BY 5 MEN TAKES BETWEEN 40 TO 60 DAYS TO BUILD, DEPENDING ON THE STILL CAPACITY
As I soak in all this information, in awe as I observe the dexterity with which the artisans shape the copper at will, Pepe tells me that the ideal size for a still is 300L-400L, more common around the region of Lunahuaná and Cañete. At such a size, we produce the best piscos, he claims. That´s because there is less liquid in the boiler, meaning the mash stays less time in the still, and less aromas are lost. I draw a satisfied smile as I hear the explanation- it just happens our still is a 400L still, hand-made by Pepe Amoretti himself, of course.
Assembly of the boiler top with the main body is under way, using hand-made rivets.
Pepe Amoretti, great-grandson of Amoretti industry founder, Vicenzo Amoretti.