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For other uses, see Pisco (disambiguation).
A promotional picture of pisco produced in Peru.
Picture of pisco produced in Chile.

Pisco is a colorless or yellowish-to-amber colored brandy (a spirit produced by distilling wine) produced in winemaking regions of Chile and Peru.[1][2] 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.[3] Although, unlike the Spanish orujo, a pomace brandy (a brandy made of distilled pomace), Pisco is made out of grape wine.[4] In 2013, the annual production reached 100 million liters in Chile and 7,2 million liters in Peru.[5][6]


The oldest use of the word pisco to denote Peruvian aguardiente dates from 1764.[7] 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[8] – located on the coast of Peru in the valley of Pisco, by the river with the same name.[9] 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".[10]

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.[10] However, the Real Academia Española actually supports the Lenz theory and underlines the Quechua origin.[10]

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).[10]


Early aguardientes in Peru and Chile[edit]

Zones of pisco production as established by Peruvian and Chilean law in red. In green the Department of Tarija, Bolivia where most singani is produced.

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.[11][12] 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.[12] 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.[12] Perhaps in response to these pressures, distillation of the wine into pisco began in earnest around the turn of the 17th century.[12]

In the 17th century production and consumption of wine and pisco was stimulated by the mining activities in Potosí by then the largest city in the New World.[12][13]

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.[citation needed] 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".[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

Recession of Peruvian pisco[edit]

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.[10] Wine cellars in the region affected by the earthquake collapsed and mud containers broke.[7]

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.[7] 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.[7]

In the late 18th century the Spanish Crown allowed the production of rum in Peru which was cheaper and of lower quality than pisco.[7]

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.[10] 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.[7]

Pisco was also popular in San Francisco and nearby areas of California during the Gold Rush in the late 1800s and early 1900s.[14]

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.[15]

Variants and production[edit]

Peruvian pisco[edit]

Main article: Peruvian Pisco
Some bottles of Peruvian pisco.

Peruvian pisco is produced only using copper pot stills rather than continuous stills[citation needed] – 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.[4]

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed] 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:[16]

  • Puro (Pure), made from a single variety of grape, mostly Quebranta, although Mollar or Common Black can be used; however, no blending between varieties is accepted ("pure" pisco should contain only one variety of grape).
  • Aromáticas (Aromatic), made from Muscat or Muscat-derived grape varieties, and also from Albilla, Italia and Torontel grape varieties; once again, the pisco should only contain one variety of grape in any production lot.
  • Mosto Verde (Green Must), distilled from partially fermented must, this must be distilled before the fermentation process has completely transformed sugars into alcohol.
  • Acholado (Multivarietal), blended from the must of several varieties of grape.

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:[citation needed]

  • Aging: Pisco must be aged for a minimum of three months in vessels of "glass, stainless steel or any other material which does not alter its physical, chemical or organic properties".
  • Additives: No additives of any kind may be added to the pisco that could alter its flavor, odor, appearance or alcoholic proof.

Pure pisco is a very viscous liquid, slightly more so than vodka and comparable to Sambuca.[citation needed] It has an odor which is vaguely reminiscent of reeds.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

Aromatic is a variety currently made of Italy and Muscat grapes in Peru and frequently rests in big clay receptacles called botijas.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

Green Must is generally seen in high income environments.[citation needed] Its grape taste is very strong, as is its fruity perfume.[citation needed]

In Peru, "Pisco Sour day" is celebrated on the first Saturday of February.[citation needed] Years ending with zero (0) are of special significance.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

Acholado is gaining popularity due to its sweetness, both in odor and flavor, making it a favorite for the Pisco sour, a mixed drink.[citation needed]

Chilean pisco[edit]

Chilean "Pisco Aviador" label from 1915
Some bottles of Chilean pisco.

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.[17]

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:[citation needed]

  • Pisco Corriente o Tradicional, 30% to 35% (60 to 70 proof).[18]
  • Pisco Especial, 35% to 40% (70 to 80 proof).[18]
  • Pisco Reservado, 40% (80 proof).[18]
  • Gran Pisco, 43% or more (86 or more proof).[18]

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed] Not all Chilean pisco is tinged, and the more mass-marketed brands can be clear.

Ecological aspects of the production[edit]

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.[19]

Appellation of origin controversy[edit]

Peru claims the exclusive right to the use of the "Pisco" label name as an appellation of origin.[20] However, various large-market countries (e.g., the United States,[2] France,[21][22] Italy,[21][23] Mexico,[21][24] Canada,[25][26] Australia,[27] 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.[28]


Some of the most popular cocktails with pisco include:

Mixed drinks[edit]

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.[34] 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).[35]

The top importer of Peruvian Pisco is the US with an estimated import value of US$2 million in 2012.[citation needed] Chile is the second highest importer, with an estimated import value of US$449,000.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pisco definition in Concise Oxford Dictionary.
  2. ^ a b "SICE - Free Trade Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of Chile". Sice.oas.org. Retrieved 2012-03-26. 
  3. ^ Nuñez, Daisuke. "Diferencias entre la Grapa Italiana, el Pisco peruano y el Aguardiente Chileno". http://es.scribd.com/doc/137201126/Diferencias-Entre-La-Grapa-Italiana-Aguardiente-Chileno-y-Pisco Retrieved on September 23, 2014.
  4. ^ a b Blazes, Marian. "Pisco, Famous Liqueur from Peru and Chile". About Food. About.com. Retrieved September 23, 2014. 
  5. ^ http://www.americaeconomia.com/analisis-opinion/chile-el-consumo-de-pisco-la-caza-del-ron Chile: el consumo de pisco a la caza del ron
  6. ^ http://elcomercio.pe/economia/peru/produccion-y-exportacion-pisco-peruano-crecera-5-2014-noticia-1706257 Producción y exportación de pisco peruano crecerá 5% en 2014
  7. ^ a b c d e f "La vid y el vino en América del Sur: el desplazamiento de los polos vitivinícolas (siglos XVI al XX)". Scielo.cl. 1990-01-06. doi:10.4067/S0718-23762004000200005. Retrieved 2012-03-26. 
  8. ^ Concise Oxford Dictionary, 12th edition, 2012.
  9. ^ "Pisco." The Oxford English Dictionary. second ed. 1989.
  10. ^ a b c d e f "Real Academia Española, Diccionario usual.". RAE.es. Retrieved 2013-08-03. 
  11. ^ Rice, Prudence M. 1996. The Archaeology of Wine: The Wine and Brandy Haciendas of Moquegua, Peru. Journal of Field Archaeology
  12. ^ a b c d e "Historia de la producción de vinos y piscos en el Perú". Scielo.cl. 1990-01-06. doi:10.4067/S0718-23762004000200004. Retrieved 2012-03-26. 
  13. ^ Potosí, Encyclopedia Britannica
  14. ^ Toro-Lira, G., History of Pisco in San Francisco: A scrapbook of first-hand accounts, CreateSpace, Sep. 29, 2010.
  15. ^ "The U.S. vs. 200 Jars of Pisco: Peruvian Exporting Tradition of Pisco, Boletín de Lima, Vol XXX, No 152, 2008". Piscopunch.com. Retrieved 2012-03-26. 
  16. ^ Norma Téchnica Peruana NTP 211.006 (in Spanish), Comisión de Reglamentos Técnicos y Comerciales - INDECOPI, 7th edition, Nov. 2, 2006.
  17. ^ ABA - Pisco - Chilean Pisco, The Drink Shop commercial website advertisement for Chilean Pisco.[unreliable source?]
  18. ^ a b c d [1], Chilean Government, Nov. 24, 2012 (in Spanish).
  19. ^ Economía y Negocios Online (in Spanish).
  20. ^ Main Specifications of the Technical File for 'Pisco', European Commission document 2011/C 141/16, 12 May 2011.
  21. ^ a b c Appelation 865: Pisco, WIPO
  22. ^ France refusal of protection of Pisco appellation (appellation registration no. 865), submitted to WIPO by France, 7 July 2006 (in French)
  23. ^ Italy refusal of protection of Pisco appellation (appellation registration no. 865), submitted to WIPO by Italy, 7 July 2006 (in French)
  24. ^ Mexico negation of protection of Pisco appellation (appellation registration no. 865), submitted to WIPO by Mexico 19 June and 24 October 2006 (in Spanish and French)
  25. ^ Roffe, P., Bilateral Agreements and a TRIPS-plus World: The Chile–USA Free Trade Agreement, Quaker International Affaires Programme, Ottawa.
  26. ^ Canadian Gazette Part I, Vol. 136, No. 32 (pages 2422 and 2423), Aug. 10, 2002.
  27. ^ "Australia-Chile Free Trade Agreement, Article 3.12: Treatment of Certain Spirits". Dfat.gov.au. 2011-01-13. Retrieved 2012-03-26. 
  28. ^ Farah, Miguel. "Días feriados en Chile: Anexos - Listado de leyes y otras normas relevantes". www.feriadoschilenos.cl. Retrieved 20 December 2012. 
  29. ^ Meehan, Jim (2010). History of Pisco in San Francisco. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ISBN 1452873011. 
  30. ^ Garbee, J., A summer twist on pisco sour, caipirinha cocktails, Los Angeles Times, May 21, 2008.
  31. ^ "Pisco Flip". Viviza, LLC. Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  32. ^ "Cupid's Cup". Viviza, LLC. Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  33. ^ "Tampisco Bay". Viviza, LLC. Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  34. ^ Chile - Mercado de Pisco, Latin American Markets (in Spanish).
  35. ^ Consumo per cápita de pisco es de 0.5 litros al año, afirma Viña Ocucaje, Andina, Feb. 25, 2008 (in Spanish).

External links[edit]