Pisco isn’t your typical brandy—at least not for those who are more familiar with European-style brandies. Like its cousins, Cognac and Armagnac, pisco is distilled from grapes. But unlike those oaky offerings, it’s not aged in wood (in fact, regulations forbid it). Instead, the spirit, which can be made only in Chile and Peru, must age or “rest” for at least three months in glass, stainless steel or other materials that don’t alter its chemical makeup, and must also remain additive-free. The resulting spirit is grassy, vegetal and earthy with a pale straw color.
Though pisco was popular with American bartenders in the late-1800s, it fell out of favor during the 20th century. It’s only recently started showing up in U.S. liquor stores and cocktail bars once again. And we couldn’t be more excited. Not only does the abundance of pisco inspire the return of classics cocktails like the Pisco Punch and Pisco Sour, but it also opens the door for new innovations.
Whether you’re in the mood for a pitcher of Pisco Punch or simply want to expand your spirit knowledge, here are five pisco brands available around the U.S. worthy of a spot on your home bar.
With flavors of citrus and spice, Pisco Portón wonderfully complements a bitters-topped Pisco Sour. It’s made near the coast of Peru at Hacienda La Caravedo, which claims to be the oldest distillery in the Americas, in operation since 1684. At $40, the stately bottle will look impressive on any bar.
Barsol is the pisco you’re most likely to find in bars around the country. The brand produces four cocktail-worthy expressions (Primero Quebranta, Selecto Italia, Selecto Acholado and Supremo Mosto Verde Italia) at Bodega San Isidro in Ica, Peru. While all of Barsol’s bottlings hover around the more affordable $25 range, we like the Primero Quebranta best for its balanced flavor and versatility.
Unlike many other piscos out there, this delicate bottling, which sells for about $40, leans hard on its floral notes and is meant for sipping, rather than mixing. That said, it’s also a terrific substitution for gin in cocktails like Gimlets and Negronis.
Campo de Encanto’s Grand and Noble Pisco is an acholado, or a blended pisco, made from five different grape varieties (moscatel, quebranta, mollar, italia and torontel). It has a rich and fruity flavor with a crisp finish, making it perfect for sipping or mixing into classic pisco cocktails. A bottle of it goes for about $38, a fair price considering the bevy of delicious concoctions it will help create.
The only Chilean pisco on this list, Control C hails from the Limarí Valley in north-central Chile. It’s made primarily from Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel grapes, and has a slight spice on the nose, but a sweet and citrusy flavor. Though it makes a great cocktail—top it with Coke for a Piscola, a popular Chilean drink—this $25 pisco is also incredible neat or on the rocks.
According to their website, Macchu Pisco is “Peru’s best high.” Regardless of whether or not that’s totally accurate, Macchu Pisco is one of our favorite piscos to use behind the bar. Founded by sisters Melanie and Lizzie Asher, Macchu Pisco is one of the only pisco distilleries in Peru run by women. Made from 100-percent Quebranta grapes, this pisco is rested for a year before being bottled. Light and ethereal, Macchu Pisco has notes of lawn clippings, hay, clay, wet stone and Cotton Candy grapes.
While this delectable bottling from the 1615 brand (named for the year pisco production began in Peru) is made from 100-percent Quebranta grapes like others on this list, it is the only Mosto Verde style of pisco. To make a Mosto Verde pisco, the fermentation process is interrupted before all of the natural sugars are converted to alcohol, and the wine (more of a boozy, effervescent juice than dry white wine) is distilled with sugar still present. This process yields a juicy, vivacious pisco that is almost velvety on the palate. With an abundance of bright, fresh white grape flavor, and a crisp minerality, this is the type of pisco you want to sip straight and savor.
Named for a constellation known as the Kappa Crucis, this Chilean pisco (the second on this list) is made from Muscat grapes. Distilled twice and blended with spring water from the Andes Mountains, this pisco is so clean and pure tasting that it rivals the best vodkas. Remarkably smooth, Kappa has subtle notes of orange blossom, jasmine, candied lemon peel and wet stone. This pisco is extremely quaffable and would be phenomenal in simple cocktails like a Pisco Soda or a Martini.