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Pisco is a colorless or yellowish-to-amber colored brandy (a spirit produced by distilling wine) produced in winemaking regions of Chile and Peru. Pisco was developed by Spanish settlers in the 16th century out of the need to concentrate alcohol volume in order to transport it to remote locations. Although, unlike the Spanish orujo, a pomace brandy (a brandy made of distilled pomace), Pisco is made out of grape wine. In 2013, the annual production reached 100 million liters in Chile and 7,2 million liters in Peru.
The oldest use of the word pisco to denote Peruvian aguardiente dates from 1764. However, there are several, often nationalist theories about the origin of the word pisco. Pisco may have received its Quechua name from the Peruvian town of Pisco – once an important colonial port for the exportation of viticultural products – located on the coast of Peru in the valley of Pisco, by the river with the same name. Chilean linguist Rodolfo Lenz claimed that the word pisco was used all along the Pacific coast of the Americas from Arauco to Guatemala and that the word would be of Quechua origin meaning "bird".
This claim is disputed by Chilean linguist Mario Ferreccio Podesta who supports the former Real Academia Española etymology that said that pisco was originally a word for a mud container. However, the Real Academia Española actually supports the Lenz theory and underlines the Quechua origin.
Other origins for the word pisco have been explored, including a Mapudungun etymology where "pishku" has been interpreted as "something boiled in a pot," which would in this hypothesis relate to the concept of burned wine (Spanish: vino quemado).
Unlike the Spanish settlers in the viceroyalty of New Spain, where only very few vineyards were established (mostly for the production of sacramental wine), the Spanish settlers of the Viceroyalty of Peru—what is today Peru and Chile—found that their land was suitable to grow vines, and consequently developed a significant wine industry, with Peru producing wine for commerce by 1560. The industry grew sufficiently strong and threatening to the Spanish mercantilist policies that in 1595 the Spanish Crown banned the establishment of new vineyards in the Americas to protect the exports of its native wine industry; however, this order was largely ignored. As a further protectionist measure, in 1614, the Spanish Crown forbade the exportation of Peruvian wine to Panama, and in the following year applied the same ban to exports to Guatemala. Perhaps in response to these pressures, distillation of the wine into pisco began in earnest around the turn of the 17th century.
Ancient documents indicate that aguardiente made from the distillation of grape juices from the valleys of Elqui and Limarí were already being elaborated in the 16th century. It would be the first Spanish conquistadors in the north of Chile who saw that this was a way to continue their tradition of distilleries. In the north they found a dry climate with great luminosity, ideal for the cultivation of the vine. The name Pisco goes back to 1732 where we find the first documents that speak of the treasures of "pisco". The archives of the Jesuits in 1767 certify that at that time Northern Chile was already a great producer of aguardiente thanks to its dry, sunny climate. In 1889 in the Paris world expo, Chilean piscos were introduced for the first time on an international level. With the aim to creating a genuine regional product, the Chilean government obtained denomination of origin and exclusivity in the production of Pisco in 1931.
In 1687 the whole southern coast of Peru was struck by the 1687 Peru earthquake which destroyed the cities of Villa de Pisco and Ica causing the Peruvian wine-growing industry to collapse. Wine cellars in the region affected by the earthquake collapsed and mud containers broke.
While in the early 18th century Peru production of wine exceeded that of pisco, by 1764 90% of the grape beverages prepared in Peru were pisco. With the suppression of the Society of Jesus in Spanish America, Jesuit vineyards were auctioned off, and new owners typically did not have the same expertise as the Jesuits – leading to a production decline.
In the 19th century demand in industrialized Europe caused many Peruvian winegrowers to shift the land use from vineyards to lucrative cotton fields, contributing further to the decline of the wine and pisco industry. This was particularly true during the time of the American Civil War (1861–1865) when the cotton prices skyrocketed due to the Blockade of the South and its cotton fields.
According to legal documents recently found in the U.S. National Archives of San Francisco, California, it has been proven that at least until 1864, Pisco was considered in the United States a liquor native only to the Republic of Peru.
Peruvian pisco is produced only using copper pot stills rather than continuous stills – like single malt Scotch whiskies and unlike most vodkas. Unlike the Chilean variety, Peruvian pisco is never diluted after it is distilled and enters the bottle directly at its distillation strength.
A Peruvian pisco peculiarity is that the first part of the distillation (called the heads) is kept, and then mixed in with the rest of the distillate. Re-adding the 'heads' adds in more 'character' to the variety of pisco and this is the way that the Peruvians traditionally liked it.
Many types of grapes were used to produce pisco, leading to a wide variation in flavor, aroma, viscosity and appearance of the liquor.[clarification needed] This harmed attempts to export the product under a single denomination since there could be enormous differences between the contents of bottles sold as pisco. As such, a number of regulations were established and set a baseline for a product to carry the name.
Four levels of pisco were thus designated:
The order is not established based on quality; it is simply listed in this way in Peruvian regulation publications.
Some other specific restrictions of note are:
Pure pisco is a very viscous liquid, slightly more so than vodka and comparable to Sambuca. It has an odor which is vaguely reminiscent of reeds. Its flavor is very smooth and almost non-alcoholic, which can be very deceptive, with the result that many first-time drinkers often drink to excess and can quickly become inebriated without noticing. Some people consider it "heresy" to mix pure pisco with anything else, and it is generally accepted that it should be drunk alone, even to the exclusion of ice.
Aromatic is a variety currently made of Italy and Muscat grapes in Peru and frequently rests in big clay receptacles called botijas. According to Peruvian specifications, Chilean pisco cannot be classified as aromatic despite the restriction of 'no additives' is obeyed, because Chilean pisco is aged in oak barrels and it is frequently made of a mix of more than four types of grapes that remain after the wine elaboration which is the main purpose of the Chilean spirits industry.
In Peru, "Pisco Sour day" is celebrated on the first Saturday of February. Years ending with zero (0) are of special significance. The theme is red and white (the Peruvian flag colours). When the Peruvian National Anthem is played, all Pisco Sours must be finished as a mark of respect.
Chilean pisco is produced in the Elqui Valley, a long narrow region through the Andes, by the ABA firm. It is produced there with a "boutique" type of distillate made by the Aguirre family. The ABA brand of Chilean pisco is produced with double distillation in copper pot type stills.
During the adaptation of many vineyards to pisco production, the most widespread grape was used as raw material, namely the Muscat, with some vineyards preferring the Torontel and Pedro Jiménez varieties. As is the case with Peru, regulations for pisco designations have been enacted in Chile, including the following classifications:
No distinction between varietal mixes is made other than that it is restricted to the three kinds of grapes named above.[clarification needed]
The Regular pisco variation is quite bland in taste since the alcohol is mixed with water, reminiscent of a weak rum, and its odor is very sweet and woody with a slight yellowish tinge to the color.
The Special and Reserve variations are very similar in flavor and color, both being very sweet and of a cloudy yellowish color. The flavor is much stronger than regular pisco and leaves an alcoholic aftertaste in the mouth, similar to bourbon.
The Great pisco has a commanding odor and a dark yellow color, it is not as sweet as the other varieties, yet it carries a strong woody flavor the others lack.
The yellowish to amber color in Chilean pisco is due to the wood aging process, with the darker colors being a sign that they have been aged longer. Not all Chilean pisco is tinged, and the more mass-marketed brands can be clear.
Chile has taken steps to have a clean and environmentally friendly production of pisco. In order to crack down on pollution, and to increase competitiveness, the National Council for Clean Production agreed with the pisco producers and pisco grape agronomists, to collaborate, signing an Agreement of Clean Production (APL). Capel, by itself invested more than CL$ 800 million.
Peru claims the exclusive right to the use of the "Pisco" label name as an appellation of origin. However, various large-market countries (e.g., the United States, France, Italy, Mexico, Canada, Australia, etc.) allow products of Chile to be identified as "Pisco".
Peru considers that the word "pisco" as applied to liquor has a close relationship with the geographical area where it is produced (as the case of champagne in France and Spain can only produce under the name of cava), and therefore, should be used only by the liquor produced in Peru.
Peru also claims that pisco was developed in its territory and bases its claims in many historical and etymological sources:
On the other hand, Chile considers that the term is generic, (a trade name, as in the case of wine or whiskey) and may be used by the two countries. Chile argues that the “pisco" is a term used for a type of alcoholic beverage made from grapes. Also, Chile does not deny that such a product was developed and manufactured first in Peru, but argues that this name was used to designate the grape brandy produced in both countries by various factors: Container, Port of export, etc. Furthermore, Chile bases its claim in the existence of a geographical wine-producing areas in two regions of Chile that are bounded legally to use the term "pisco": Atacama and Coquimbo.
Some of the most popular cocktails with pisco include:
Some examples of mixed drinks with pisco include:
In Chile the per capita consumption of pisco is of 3 litres per year of which 18% is on average so-called premium piscos. However, in Peru, the annual per capita consumption was reported as being only 0.5 litres as of 2008, but growing – at the expense of decreasing market shares for rum and whisky (although whisky remains the most popular spirit in Peru).
The top importer of Peruvian Pisco is the US with an estimated import value of US$2 million in 2012. Chile is the second highest importer, with an estimated import value of US$449,000.
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