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Some bottles of Chilean Pisco

Pisco (from Quechua: pisqu, little bird)[1] is a South American liquor distilled from grapes. Developed by Spanish settlers in the sixteenth century, it takes its name from the conical pottery in which it was originally aged, which was also the name of the city where it was produced: Pisco, in the Viceroyalty of Peru.[2]

The first vineyards were planted in the coastal valleys in the Viceroyalty of Peru. Even though Spain imposed many restrictions on wine production and commerce, the wine-making industry developed rapidly, such as in the Corregimiento of Ica and La Serena in the Captaincy General of Chile. Ica and La Serena belongs to Viceroyalty of Peru.

In modern times, it continues to be produced in winemaking regions of Peru and Chile. The drink is a widely consumed spirit in the nations of Bolivia, Chile and Peru. The right to produce and promote pisco has been the matter of legal disputes between Chile and Peru, both of which hold their most iconic cocktail to be the pisco sour.

The Trade Promotion Agreement between US and Peru received the name of "Pisco Peru". The Trade Promotion Agreement between US and Chile received the name of "Chilean pisco".



Pisco received its name from the town of Pisco, located on the coast of Peru.[3] The origins of the word pisco can be traced to the Quechua language where the birds that inhabited the valleys of the Ica region were called pisqu (or any of: pisco, pisku, phishgo, pichiu, pisccu depending on the orthography). The origin of the city of Pisco is said to be from pre-Incan times when the area was ruled by people known as the Piskus. The importance of the city incremented under Spanish rule due to its proximity to the coast and its exportation of aguardiente from Ica, and in time these drinks would come to bear the name "Pisco."



In the late 1550s, the Spanish began to plant and harvest export quality grapes selected to produce wine with, while those that did not measure up were discarded or given to the farmers to do with as they pleased. It is in this context that small groups began to use these grapes to distill a brandy-like liquor from the discarded grapes, using similar techniques to those used in Spain for the production of brandy.

The black grape taken to the Viceroyalty of Peru by the Spanish suffered due to its adaptation to soil and weather conditions, eventually stabilizing in a new variety named "Quebranta", purportedly named because the original grape was "broken" (Spanish quebrar), or tamed, for its new environment. Almost all early pisco was produced from this variety of grape. Others used any grape available at the time, however, since only the largest vineyards (and those with dedicated pisco distilleries) were able to produce exportable volume, Quebranta was the only variety exported, since it was the preferred grape for pisco production.

In 1613 a will of a resident of the of Ica —a town called Pisco in Viceroyalty of Peru, close to the Nazca lines - named by Pedro Manuel the Greek. In it he itemizes his worldly goods, including 30 containers of grape brandy, one barrel of the same spirit, a large copper pot and all of the utensils needed to produce pisco.

In 1641, wine imports from the Viceroyalty of Peru into Spain were banned, severely damaging the wine industry in the colony; only a few vineyards that had parallel wine and pisco operations survived this change. The market loss caused the huge surplus of grapes to be made into brandy. The concentration solely on pisco production, nearly eliminated wine production in Peru.

Pisco was considered a lesser beverage by the Spanish and not consumed by them unless they were poor or curious. Spaniards preferred the original liquor which is called Orujo and which they deemed to possess a better flavor. The liquor made in South America was not called Pisco for a long time, although it is reported the Spanish usually called it "aguardiente" (firewater), which was a generic name for any brandy type liquor.

The drink began to acquire consumers in the sailors that transported products between the colonies and Spain, who began to call it pisco, naming it after the port[3] where it could be bought. The drink then became a favorite of sailors and workers who visited the port of Pisco. It was exalted for its strong taste and ability to quickly affect the consumer. As trade from Peru to the world grew, so did the popularity of pisco, until it almost equaled wine in quantity as an export.

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, pisco was a mainstay on ocean-crossing vessels, drunk mostly by sailors, as officers usually drank whisky or other "finer" spirits. The main reasons for its heyday were the low price and high availability. This position was maintained by pisco until the onset of rum, which won over consumers with lower prices and a softer flavor.

Pisco was also briefly popular in San Francisco and nearby areas of California during the Gold Rush in the nineteenth century.

Pisco Peru

Some bottles of Peruvian Pisco

In the years following the re-establishment of pisco production, many grapes were used to produce pisco, leading to a wide variation in flavor, aroma, viscosity and appearance of the liquor. This harmed attempts to export the product under a single denomination since there could be enormous differences between the contents of bottles sold as pisco. As such, a number of regulations were established to counteract this situation and set a baseline for a product to carry the name.

Four levels of pisco were thus designated:[4]

  • Pure, made from a single variety of grape, mostly Quebranta, although Mollar or Common Black can be used; however, no blending between varieties is accepted ("pure" pisco should contain only one variety of grape).
  • Aromatic, made from Muscat or Muscat-derived grape varieties, and also from Albilla, Italia and Torontel grape varieties; once again, the pisco should only contain one variety of grape in any production lot.
  • Mosto Verde (Green Must), distilled from partially fermented must, this must be distilled before the fermentation process has completely transformed sugars into alcohol.
  • Acholado (Half-breed), blended from the must of several varieties of grape.

The order is not established on quality, it is simply listed in that way in Peruvian publications.

Some other specific restrictions of note are:

  • Aging: pisco must be aged for a minimum of three months in vessels of "glass, stainless steel or any other material which does not alter its physical, chemical or organic properties".
  • Additives: no additives of any kind may be added to the pisco that could alter its flavor, odor, appearance or alcoholic proof.

Pure pisco is a very viscous liquid, slightly more so than vodka and comparable to sambuca in its consistency. It has an odor which is vaguely reminiscent of reeds. Some people consider it "heresy" to mix pure pisco with anything else, and it is generally accepted that it should be drunk alone, even to the exclusion of ice.

Aromatic pisco can be found in regions such as Ica.

Pisco (and wine) is often stored in traditional clay vessels called 'tirajas'[5]. At some tasting houses in the Ica region, pisco is served using a long, hollow, bamboo stick, which is dipped into the tirajas' narrow necks.

An employee at the Bodega Lazo tasting house in Ica serves up pisco from traditional tirajas (clay jars)

Green Must is generally seen in high income environments. Its grape taste is very strong, as is its fruity perfume.

Acholado is gaining popularity due to its sweetness, both in odor and flavor, making it a favorite for Pisco sour, a mixed drink. The acholado variety is also preferred due to its "kick", which can be felt immediately after drinking.

After the harvest comes the 'pisa' or crushing, where the must or juice is extracted. Traditionally the crushing was done by the vineyard’s workers to the rhythm of local music and chants of the region. Today the stomping is done symbolically at a ceremony at the opening of the harvest festivities, by local beauties and elected at the beginning of the 'Fiesta de la Vendimia' or Harvest celebration. In Perú the most important of these celebration is held in the department of Ica, 320km to the south of Lima.[6]

Ecological aspects

Water pollution from mining threatens grape harvests. The water intended for irrigating and cultivating the vineyards is loaded with mining residue and chemicals. Water purification is necessary for the survival of the vineyards. Air pollution must be dealt with immediately because of the threat to the health and safety of local residents and workers. The dry air of the Ica region is immobile because of the sea and the Andes mountain range. Eliminating river pollution as a result of mining is imperative. "Because of the dry arid climate, chemicals are absorbed into the local atmosphere and remain in the area".[7]



Chilean pisco

File:Pisco El Aviador (1915).jpg
Chilean "Pisco Aviador" label from 1915

During the adaptation of many vineyards to pisco production, the most widespread grape was used as raw material, namely the Muscat, with some vineyards preferring the Torontel and Pedro Jiménez varieties. As is the case with Peru, regulations for pisco designations have been enacted in Chile:

  • Regular, 30% to 35% (60 to 70 proof).
  • Special, 35% to 40% (70 to 80 proof).
  • Reserve, 40% to 43% (80 to 86 proof).
  • Great, 43% or more (86 or more proof).

No distinction between varietal mixes is made other than it is restricted to the three kinds of grapes named above.

Regular pisco is quite bland in taste, reminiscent of a weak rum, and its odor is very sweet and woody with a slight yellowish tinge to the color.

Special and reserve are very similar in flavor and color, both being very sweet and of a cloudy yellowish color. The flavor is much stronger than regular pisco and leaves an alcoholic aftertaste in the mouth, similar to bourbon.

Great pisco has a commanding odor and a very pleasant dark yellow color, it is not as sweet as the other varieties, yet it carries strong woody flavor the others lack.

The yellowish to amber color in Chilean pisco is due to the wood aging process, with the darker colors being a telltale sign that they have been aged longer. Not all Chilean pisco is tinged, and the more mass-marketed brands can be clear.

Ecological aspects

Chile has taken further steps to have a clean and environmentally friendly production of pisco. In order to crack down on pollution, and to increase competitiveness, the National Council for Clean Production agreed with the pisco producers and pisco grape agronomists, to collaborate, signing an Agreement of Clean Production (APL). Capel, by itself invested more than US$800 million.[8]


Here can be seen the differences between both products: Chilean Pisco and Peruvian Pisco.

Definition Liquor obtained exclusively from the distillation of recently fermented "pisco grapes", using methods which maintain the traditional principles of quality established in recognized production areas. ...is reserved to liquor produced and bottled, in consumable quantities, in Regions III and IV, elaborated by the distillation of genuine wine, originating from specified varietals, grown in said regions.
Grapes Non Aromatic: Quebranta, Common Black, Mollar, Uvina

Aromatic: Italia, Muscat, Albilla, Torontel.

Yellow Muscat, White Early Muscat, Alexandria Muscat, Austrian Muscat, Frontignan Muscat, Hamburg Muscat, Black Muscat, Pink Muscat, Canelli Muscat, Orange Muscat, Pedro Jiménez , Torontel.
Production The fermentation process can be done with partial or total maceration of the grape, strictly controlling the temperature and decomposition of sugars. The grape juice is fermented into wine containing 14% alcohol (28 proof).
The fermented product is distilled in copper or stainless steel vessels to the desired alcoholic proof. No product may be added to alter the alcoholic proof, odor, flavor or color of the liquid. The fermented product is distilled in copper vessels until an alcoholic proof of 55° to 60° is reached. Rectifiers must be added if the alcoholic proof is less than that specified.
The pisco must be aged a minimum of three months in glass, stainless steel or other materials which do not alter the physical, chemical or organic properties before bottling. The crude liquor is aged in wood for a short time, usually not more than a few months. Higher quality brands may be aged in oak barrels for a longer time.
The pisco must be bottled directly after aging, without alteration or adding any product which could alter the odor, flavor or appearance. The liquor from different distilleries is mixed, diluted with demineralized water in order to lower the alcoholic proof to the desired level, filtered and bottled.
Alcohol Content
38° to 48° (76 to 96 proof)
30° to 50° (60 to 100 proof)
Designated Pisco Areas Departments of Lima, Ica (Ica, Chincha, Pisco), Arequipa, Moquegua and the Locumba, Sama and Caplina valleys in the Department of Tacna. Atacama, Coquimbo.


There is a long-standing debate in Peru and Chile as to the rightful owner of the "pisco" denomination.

Both nations have established decrees, laws, regulations, treaties, etc. in order to protect their pisco product as the canonical pisco, though their efforts have been markedly opposite. On the one hand, Chile has concentrated on internal regulations, specifying from what a "pisco grape" is to what a "pisco bottle" is, in order to establish standardization among its products[citation needed]. This way, Chile started to trade and promote its product as Pisco. On the other hand, Peru has concentrated more in the artesanal and traditional production, started to focus on the international arena claiming for an Origin Denomination arguing that only Peruvian Pisco can be called Pisco and Chilean product is another type of spirit.


Peru claims proprietorship on the basis of historical arguments, mainly that pisco originated in Peru and is still made in the traditional way only in Peru, where their regulations ensure this. In Peru this topic has a high political significance, associated to the defense of the fatherland and Peruvian roots. Arguments of utilization, usurpation and bad practices from the Chilean side are frequently mentioned in the Peruvian reasoning.

National actions

International actions


Chile has proposed to Peru that the countries join forces to market pisco internationally. Chilean Foreign Minister, Alejandro Foxley has declared that "What's best for Peru and Chile is to share the denomination and even to jointly market the product in international markets, but they (Peru) still maintain their position as a competitor and are disputing the trade name."[9]

The traditional Chilean policy regarding pisco is that this term is a common appellation of Chile and Peru and, consequently, both countries have the right to use it to identify its spirits. This policy has been reflected in every free trade agreement signed by Chile, where the door has always been left open for a similar recognition of Peru's geographical indication. In sum, Chile does not oppose to the recognition of the appellation "Pisco" to Peru, provided that these recognitions do not prejudice Chilean rights over this term.

The Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) provides in Articles 22 and 23 for the coexistence of homonymous appellations for wines and spirits, but the Lisbon Agreement does not provide for the coexistence or the prevalence of pre-existing rights. At the same time, in the nineties, the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV) declared that "Pisco" was a common appellation of Chile and Peru, and called on both countries to work together in order to improve its international furtherance and commercialisation, and to avoid unfair uses of this appellation by third countries.

National actions

International actions


Some of the most popular[citation needed] cocktails with pisco include:

Mixed drinks

Some of the most popular[citation needed] mixed drinks with pisco include:

See also


External links



de:Pisco (Getränk)

es:Pisco (licor) fr:Pisco nl:Pisco (drank) ja:ピスコ nn:Pisco pt:Pisco (licor) fi:Pisco (juoma) sv:Pisco tr:Pisco (içki)

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