What is Pisco? The Grape Brandy from Chile and Peru

Pisco is a type of grape brandy made in Peru and Chile. It is thought to have originated with the 16th Century Spanish Settlers, or Conquistadores, who created it as an alternative to the imported Spanish pomace brandy, Orujo. The Conquistadores brought cultivation of grapes and wine production to South America, so it is only natural that the distillation of their wines followed.

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There are many ideas about the origin of the word Pisco and where it takes its name from. Some say it is named after the Peruvian port town of Pisco, some say that Pisco is a word of pre-Hispanic Quechuan origin that means bird, others that is means mud container and some think it comes from the Mapudungun language where pisku means “something boiled in a pot”. Either way, Pisco production began in Peru at the turn of the seventeenth century and the earliest reference to Pisco as a Peruvian aguardiente can be traced to 1764.

Peruvian Pisco vs Chilean Pisco

Peruvian Pisco production has been through many ups and downs through the centuries including the collapse of the Peruvian wine industry after the great 1687 Peru Earthquake and the subsequent divergence to cotton farming in the 19th century as cotton prices boomed. Production of Pisco is limited to areas located on the coast of the Departments of Lima, Ica, Arequipa, Moquegua and the Locumba, Sama and Caplina valleys in the Department of Tacna.

Today the Peruvian Pisco industry is very buoyant and has found new export markets as many Pisco-based cocktails, including the famous Pisco Sour have traveled around the globe.

Peru claims the exclusive right to the use of the Pisco label name as an appellation of origin however, for many years, Chile has disputed this and Chilean Pisco is recognised in many parts of the world. Chilean Pisco is produced mainly in the Elqui Valley, a long narrow strip through the Andres.

Both types of Pisco are made from the distillation of grape must, both usually in copper pot stills.

El Gobernador Pisco Reservado 40%

El Gobernador Pisco Reservado 40%, A Chilean Pisco

Chilean Pisco

Chilean Pisco is made predominantly from Muscat grapes, although some vineyards are planted with, and use, the Torontel or Pedro Ximenez grape varieties. Those of the Elqui Valley are considered the best. There are four broad categories,

Corriente o Tradicional – bottled at 30 to 35% abv – this is the basic style, it normally has a sweetish aroma and is clear or slightly yellow-tinged

Especial – bottled at 35 to 40% abv – stronger than corriente o tradicional and normally yellowish in colour

Reservado – bottled at 40% abv – stronger than regular Pisco and normally yellowish in colour

Gran – bottled at 43% abv or more – often darker in colour and stronger than the above categories.

The colour in Pisco is from ageing the spirit in oak barrels, generally, the ones aged longest in the barrel will be the darkest. Some commercial styles are completely clear. The categories above are not defined by grape variety but production is limited to the use of Muscat, Torontel and Pedro Ximenez (Pedro Jimenez)

Macchu Pisco Peruvian Pisco.

Macchu Pisco Peruvian Pisco

Peruvian Pisco

Must be made from indigenous grapes with no other ingredients added and the best is generally considered to be from the Ica Valley. The main categories of Peruvian Pisco are,

Puro (Pure) – made from the Quebranta grape variety. Other non-aromatic varieties such as the Mollar or Common Black can also be used but the spirit must be 100% made from one grape variety

Aromaticas (Aromatic) – made from aromatic grape varieties such as Muscat or Moscatel and Albilla, Italia and Torontel. Again, production must be 100% from one grape variety

Mosto Verde (Green Must) – made from the distillation of partially fermented grape musts before all of the sugar has been transformed into alcohol. This tends to be quite grapey and perfumed in style.

Acholado – made from the the distillation of musts of different grape varieties and is blended. Tends to be sweeter in style.

In Peru the first part of the distillate (the heads) is kept and mixed in with the rest of the distillate – this gives the spirit more character. It must also be aged for three months in inert vessels (glass, stainless steel) and no additives can be added nor the alcoholic proof adjusted.

How To Drink Pisco?

It is often drunk on its own without ice or mixers but has found fame in export markets as the key ingredient in the Pisco Sour. Indeed Pisco Sour Day is celebrated in Peru on the 1st Saturday in February each year. It can also be mixed with cola to make a Piscola and is used in other cocktails such as the Pisco Punch and the Serene Libra.

What is in a Pisco Sour?

A Pisco Sour is a cocktail made with egg white, lime juice, simple syrup, and bitters. The Chilean version usually has no bitters.

8 parts Pisco
4 parts Lime Juice
3 parts Simple Sugar Syrup
1 Egg White
1 Dash Bitter

Put all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with some ice and shake hard to blend, pour into an Old Fashioned type glass and serve. Sprinkle the bitters over the frothy top of the drink.

Mango Chic Recipe – from Capel Pisco

2 ounces Pisco Capel Premium
¼ ounce grapefruit juice
½ ounce mango juice
½ ounce simple syrup
¼ ounce fresh cranberries, for garnish
3–5 blueberries, for garnish

In a mixing glass, combine pisco, grapefruit juice, mango juice and simple syrup, and stir for 15 seconds. Pour the contents into a glass tumbler filled with ice. Add the dried cranberries and blueberries for garnish.


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