You may have heard of Pisco Punch, the first known pisco cocktail, or the Pisco Sour, which comes from Lima and is the national drink of Peru. But what exactly is pisco?
Pisco is a type of brandy that comes from winemaking regions in Peru and Chile. It’s made by distilling grape wine into a high-proof spirit, a process developed by 16th century Spanish settlers in South America. Peruvian pisco is highly regulated – it has to be made in one of the country’s five official Denomination of Origin departments, can only use eight varieties of grapes, and unlike Chilean pisco, is never diluted. Peruvian pisco isn’t aged in barrels, but is instead distilled once in a copper pot still and “rested” for at least three months in a steel or glass container. All of this is done so the spirit’s flavor is derived totally from the super sweet grapes.
Peruvian and Chilean pisco each come in four different types and are all produced differently. Chile’s pisco is split into four categories based on the ABV, which ranges from 30 percent to as much as 86 percent. Chilean pisco is also distilled more than once, and can be made with 14 different kinds of grapes. Chilean pisco is typically less aromatic than Peruvian and often has citrusy notes. Certain piscos might have an aftertaste of vanilla or sweet anise and because Chilean pisco isn’t as strictly regulated, there’s a little more wiggle room for the pisco makers to control how the final product tastes.
Peruvian pisco is either Pure, made from a single kind of grape; Aromatic, made from Muscat; Green Must, distilled from partially fermented must; or Multivarietal, blended from several varieties of grapes. Each of these Peruvian piscos has a unique flavor, ranging from fruity to funky to floral. Typically, this pisco will smell like wine and has a very smooth feel – it may still burn your throat like any other hard liquor but this one has a flavor that recalls wine mixed with other tart, fruity elements. The aftertaste is usually quite sweet.
The South American spirit has become increasingly popular in the United States – it’s the second largest importer of Peruvian pisco thanks to a growing number of Peruvian restaurants and curious mixologists. Pisco originally made its way to the US via San Francisco, where Pisco Punch was invented, during the 1848 Gold Rush.
So what does pisco taste like? It’s kind of like a hybrid of brandy and grappa – drink it from a pisco glass so you can experience the aroma and flavor of the liquor. Pisco generally has a floral, tropical flavor and can be drank on its own or mixed into a cocktail – see below!