How Is Pisco Made?
A number of regulations differentiate piscos from Chile and Peru, though there is some overlap.
In Peru: Eight types of grapes can be used to distill pisco: aromatic varieties Italia, Torontel, Moscatel and Albilla, and non-aromatic varieties Quebranta, Negra Criolla, Mollar and Uvina. These grapes are made into three main styles: pisco puro (made from one grape variety), pisco acholado (a blend of grapes, fermented grapes or distillations), and pisco mosto verde (distilled from grape must that has not fully fermented). All styles must be distilled to proof (38 to 48-percent ABV) in copper pot stills before resting for at least three months in neutral containers like glass or steel (never wood). No additional ingredients may be added.
In Chile: The regulations in Chile are more relaxed. 13 varieties are available to Chilean pisco makers: five commonly used varieties—Moscatel Rosado, Moscatel de Austria, Muscat d’Alexandrie, Pedro Jimenez and Torontel—and eight less common varieties—Moscatel Negra, Moscatel Amarilla, Moscatel Blanca, Muscat de Frontignan, Muscat Hamburg, Muscat Orange, Moscato de Canelli and Chasselas Musque Vrai. Those grapes can be distilled multiple times on a column or copper pot still, and the pisco can be distilled to a higher proof and then watered down. Chilean pisco can also be aged in wood, like the brandies of Europe.
Chasselas Musque Vrai, Moscatel Amarilla, Moscatel Blanca Temprana, Moscatel de Alejandría or Italia, Moscatel de Austria, Moscatel de Frontignan, Moscatel de Hamburgo, Moscatel Negra, Moscatel Rosada or Pastilla, Moscato de Canelli, Muscat Orange, Pedro Jiménez and Torontel.
Types of Pisco
Again, there is some overlap in styles between the two pisco-producing nations. The first four types listed here generally apply to pisco from both countries, but the last four apply only to Chile.
Puro: Pisco made from one variety of grape, technically restricted to the non-aromatic varieties, but often used to refer to aromatic and non-aromatic piscos alike.
Aromaticas: Pisco made from one variety of aromatic grapes, though often simply referred to as puro.
Acholado: Pisco made from a blend of grapes, fermented grapes or grape distillates.
Mosto verde: Pisco distilled from grape must, not fully fermented grapes, giving the resulting pisco a slightly sweet taste.
Pisco Corriente o Tradicional: Chilean pisco bottled at 30-35 percent ABV.
Pisco Especial: Chilean pisco bottled at 35-40 percent ABV.
Pisco Reservado: Chilean pisco bottled at 43 percent ABV.
Gran Pisco: Chilean pisco bottled above 43 percent ABV.
How Do I Drink Pisco Straight?
In areas like Ica, pisco is commonly consumed straight. Served as a bajativo, or digestif, it’s sipped slowly from a small lowball or shot glass.
Notable Pisco Cocktails
Pisco Punch: The drink that kicked off American obsession with pisco was popularized at San Francisco’s Bank Exchange Billiard Saloon in the 1890s (some iteration was likely previously imbibed on the steamers carrying pisco up from South America). While the original version was rumored to be made with cocaine, we think our lemony, pineapple-tinged version is pretty good even without the narcotic.
Pisco Sour: In Peru, they prefer their pisco shaken with citrus and egg white in this frothy concoction, usually decorated with bitters dashed into the foam. To make the drink legit, you’ll need real Peruvian limón and authentic Peruvian Chuncho Bitters.
Piscola: A Chilean favorite, the Piscola is mixed with pisco and Coca-Cola, with a lime garnish. Think of it as a Chilean Cuba Libre.
Pisco in Culture
- Ask someone on the streets of Lima about pisco, and they’re likely to respond with one name: Johnny Schuler. The popular restaurateur-turned-pisco distiller is the master distiller of popular brand Pisco Portón. But he has also done much to popularize high-quality, craft pisco in recent years on his weekly television show Por Las Rutas del Pisco and in his two books on the spirit, Pasión por el Pisco and Rutas y Sabores. Schuler was even awarded the Peruvian Congressional Medal of Honor in 2007 for his efforts.
- After sampling the Pisco Punch at the Bank Exchange Saloon, Rudyard Kipling immortalized the drink in From Sea to Sea, describing it as, “compounded of the shavings of cherub's wings, the glory of a tropical dawn, the red clouds of sunset and the fragments of lost epics by dead masters.”
- Both Peru and Chile claim the Pisco Sour as their national drink. Peruvians even celebrate a yearly public holiday dedicated to the drink on the first Saturday of February.