“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. But after such hard work, he was thirsty. And thus could think of nothing better than to create the grape and, from its fruit, make a fine spirit. He called it PISCO. And he saw that it was good. And it became the elixir of other gods. Later, he continued to entertain himself creating the animals, plants and the rest of the world.” (text Museo del Pisco).
Pisco is one of Peru’s most iconic products. It is a brandy distilled from the fresh musts of recently fermented pisco grapes, and using traditional methods that meet the most rigorous standards. This national drink is used to prepare a variety of cocktails, including the famous Pisco Sour.
Pisco can be made from eight varietals, including the non-aromatic grapes which the Spanish originally brought over with them for wine production - Quebranta, Negra Criolla, Uvina and Mollar, and the aromatic grapes - Moscatel, Torontel, Italia and Albilla.
Each grape offers highly distinctive characteristics. However, as much as 80 percent of all pisco on the market is made solely with or includes Quebranta.
Pisco must not only be single distilled, it must also be distilled to proof, at between 38 to 48 percent ABV (alcohol by volume). That means producers can't add water after distillation, which is standard for other spirits, from whiskey to rum and vodka to gin. Strict regulations in Peru also dictate that pisco can only be distilled in a copper pot still. While it cannot be aged in wood, it must rest for a minimum of three months in a nonreactive container, such as stainless steel or glass, or traditionally, elongated clay pitchers known as botijas, or informally, as piscos.
Per law, pisco bottles cannot be labeled with an age stamp (months or years), or carry a certain vintage, but as with wine, different harvests can produce different results. Pisco is made in one of five coastal valley regions of Peru, including Ica, Lima, Arequipa, Moquegua and Tacna.
Johnny Schuler, proprietor of La Caravedo, where Pisco Port is now produced, says:
"All of those are the elements that actually make pisco completely singular in the world of spirits. That’s what drives me to say that pisco is the best spirit distilled in the world today. It has no colouring agents, it has no wood, it has no caramel, it has no preservatives, it has no additives, it's only distilled once to proof and it has no water or sugar”.
Only four brandies are made from wine - cognac, armagnac, brandy de jerez and pisco. According to Peruvian historian Lorenzo Huertas, the production of pisco started at the end of the 16th century. Francisco de Caravantes (presumably the son of the Marquis) was the first to identify the clear liquor with the town of Pisco, formerly Santa Maria Magdalena. In a document dated 1630, it says, “The valley of Pisco is still the most abundant with excellent wines in all Peru. There is one drink that competes with our Jerez (brandy) called pisco made from small grapes and it is one of the most exquisite liquors drunk in the world”.
By the time of the 19th-century American Gold Rush, Pisco had become madly popular with Californian miners and acquired a celebrity following, including the writer Rudyard Kipling, who gushed: “(Pisco is) compounded of the shavings of cherubs wings, the glory of a tropical dawn, the red clouds of sunset and the fragments of lost epics by dead masters."
Pisco Sour recipe
Preparation time: 5 minutes
15 ice cubes
6 tablespoons Quebranta pisco (or 8 if you like it strong)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons sugar syrup
1 tablespoon egg white
2 drops Peruvian Amargo Chuncho or Angostura bitters, to finish
Place the ice in a blender or cocktail shaker and pour in liquid ingredients, the egg white comes last. Blend for 10 seconds or shake for 15, then strain into a chilled stemless cocktail glass. Drop the Angostura bitters in the centre of the drink to finish.