Pisco is a brandy made in Peru and Chile from local grapes. The Spanish settled in these areas in the 1500s, and along with them they brought their love of grapes. In no time at all they not only had vineyards planted, but were also creating fortified brandies from their grapes. This brandy, to this day is still one of the most popular drinks in this region.
There are several theories as to how this ususual brandy got its name. Some believe that the word pisco comes from the Quechuan word 'pisqu', which was the name of a bird found in the Ica valley region of Peru. Others say it comes from the large pre-Colombian clay pots, called piscos, that are used to ferment the grapes. The third theory is that it was named after the town of Pisco, a port city near the Nazca lines from which pisco was shipped to Lima as well as popularized by sailors.
Pisco is made from certain grape varieties grown in designated areas of Chile and Peru. First the grapes are fermented into wine, then distilled. The liquer produced is briefly aged before being bottled. In Peru strict rules are in place governing its production. Under these rules the Pisco produced there is never diluted. Pisco produced in Chile is sometimes mixed with distilled water in order to reach a desired alcohol content.
There are four designated levels of Pisco produced in Peru:
Puro: (Pure) made from a single variety of grape, mostly Quebranta, although Common Black or Mollar can be used. No blending between varieties is allowed. This Pisco can only contain one variety of the three grapes permitted.
Mosto Verde: (Green Must) This Pisco is distilled from partially fermented must, this must be distilled before the fermentation process has completely transformed sugars into alcohol.
Aromaticas: (Aromatic). This Pisco is made from Muscat or Muscat-derived grape varieties, and also from Torontel, Italia and Albilla grape varieties. The pisco should only contain one variety of grape in any production lot.
Acholado: (Half-breed). This Pisco is blended from the must of several varieties of grape.
Peruvian Pisco must be aged for a minimum of three months in a non porous container, such as stainless steel or glass, that will not alter its physical, organic or chemical properties. No additives of any kind are allowed.
Pisco is probably most famous in Peru for its use in their national cocktail called the Pisco Sour. The drink is so big there that on the first weekend of February they celebrate National Pisco Sour Day!!
In Chile designations have been enacted which include the following classifications of their Pisco's:
The Designated growing and production areas for Pisco in Peru include the Departments of Lima, Ica (Ica, Chincha,Pisco), Arequipa, Moquegua and the Locumba, Sama and Caplina valleys in the Department of Tacna. In Chile it is limited to the areas of Atacama and Coquimbo.
The taste of Pisco depends greatly on the country in which its produced, and the type of Pisco. Pisco Puro tends to be quite dry. Pisco Acholado has a sweet odour and flavors, and delivers an immediate “kick”, which can be felt after drinking. Pisco Aromatico has an intense fruit aroma while Pisco Mosto Verde is the most complex and expensive of all Pisco's, with a sophisticated velvety palate and texture.