What is Pisco?

Pisco is a type of brandy made in Chile and Peru. It has been created for generations in South America by distilling fermented grape juice into a strong liquor. Pisco is a multipurpose alcohol that can be consumed alone or as an ingredient in drinks.

With both Peru and Chile claiming to be the spirit’s birthplace, there is substantial disagreement regarding the origins of pisco. However, both nations follow laws that result in various styles of pisco.

Chilean pisco can be created from a greater variety of grapes than Peruvian pisco, which can only be made from eight distinct grape varieties. The grape variety utilized and the area where it is cultivated can both affect the flavor of pisco. While some piscos are drier and more nuanced, others are fruity and sweet.

What is Pisco?

Pisco is a type of spirit that is produced in the winemaking regions of Peru and Chile.

It is made by distilling fermented grape juice into a high-proof spirit. Pisco is a clear or yellowish-to-amber colored spirit that is produced using specific grape varietals. It has been produced exclusively in Peru and Chile for centuries. Both countries lay claim to pisco’s origins and adhere to regulations that produce distinct styles.

The production process of pisco involves a few key steps. First, the grapes are harvested and crushed to extract the juice. The juice is then fermented, and the resulting wine is distilled to create pisco.

The spirit is usually distilled only once, although some producers may distill it multiple times. The spirit is then aged or rested for a period of time before being bottled.

Pisco is generally considered to be a smooth and delicate spirit, with a proof range of 38% to 48% for Peruvian pisco and 30% to 55% for Chilean pisco. It is typically served in a small glass neat, without any mixers or ice. The glass used for serving pisco is called a copita, which is a small tulip-shaped glass that allows the drinker to appreciate the spirit’s aroma and flavor.

Pisco is produced using a variety of grape varietals, including Quebranta, Italia, Moscatel, Torontel, and Albilla. Some producers may also create a blend of more than one grape varietal, similar to a Bordeaux blend. These blends are called acholado and are a mixture of grapes or fresh musts (fruit juices), fermented musts, and finished piscos.

In Peru, pisco is classified into several categories based on the grape varietals used, the distillation process, and the region of production. These categories include puro, mosto verde, acholado, and others. Chilean pisco is classified into two categories: pisco corriente and pisco especial.

Both Peru and Chile have established D.O. (Denomination of Origin) regions that regulate the production of pisco. These regulations ensure that the spirit is produced using specific grape varietals and production methods and that it meets certain quality standards.

Overall, pisco is a unique and flavorful spirit that is enjoyed by many around the world. Its production process, use of specific grape varietals, and adherence to strict regulations make it a distinctive and high-quality spirit.

History of Pisco

Pisco is a spirit that has been produced in South America for centuries. Its origins can be traced back to the Spanish colonization of the region in the 16th century.

The spirit is made by distilling fermented grape juice into a high-proof spirit. It was developed by Spanish settlers as an alternative to orujo, a pomace brandy that was being imported from Spain. Pisco had the advantages of being produced from abundant domestically grown fruit and reducing the need for imports.

The name “pisco” is thought to come from the Quechua word “pishku,” which means “bird.” This is because the town of Pisco, in Peru’s Ica region, was named after a bird that was common in the area. It is said that the first grapevines were brought to the region by Spanish settlers in the 16th century. These settlers began producing wine, and eventually, they began distilling the wine into a spirit.

Pisco quickly became popular in Peru and Chile, where it was used in a variety of cocktails and mixed drinks. In the 18th century, the combination of pisco and lemon juice was first mentioned in Lima, Peru. This cocktail, known as the Pisco Sour, is now the national drink of Peru.

Over the years, there have been disputes between Peru and Chile over the origins and ownership of pisco. Both countries lay claim to pisco’s origins and adhere to regulations that produce distinct styles. In Peru, pisco is made from eight specific grape varietals, while in Chile, it is made from two. The two countries also have different regulations regarding the aging of the spirit.

Despite these disputes, pisco remains a popular spirit in both Peru and Chile. It is also gaining popularity in other parts of the world, including Europe and the United States. Pisco has been compared to other spirits, such as rum, brandy, and grappa, but it has a unique flavor and character that sets it apart.

Types of Pisco

Pisco can be classified into three main types: Pisco Puro, Pisco Acholado, and Pisco Mosto Verde.

Each type has its own unique characteristics and is made using different grape varieties and production methods.

Pisco Puro

Pisco Puro is made from a single grape varietal, similar to how Cabernet Sauvignon wine is made from a single grape. Because of this, Pisco Puro has a distinct flavor and aroma that is unique to the grape variety used. Some of the most common grape varieties used to make Pisco Puro include Quebranta, Negra Criolla, Uvina, Mollar, and Moscatel.

Pisco Acholado

Pisco Acholado is made by blending two or more grape varieties. This allows for a more complex and nuanced flavor profile. The grape varieties used to make Pisco Acholado can vary depending on the producer, but some common varieties include Quebranta, Negra Criolla, Uvina, Mollar, and Italia.

Pisco Mosto Verde

Pisco Mosto Verde is made using partially fermented grape juice. The grapes used to make Pisco Mosto Verde are harvested earlier than those used to make other types of Pisco, which gives the juice a higher sugar content. The result is a Pisco that is slightly sweeter and more aromatic than other types.

In addition to these main types of Pisco, there are also several subcategories, including Pisco Corriente o Tradicional and Pisco Reservado. Pisco Corriente o Tradicional is the most common type of Pisco and is made using traditional production methods. Pisco Reservado, on the other hand, is aged for a minimum of one year in wooden barrels, which gives it a more complex flavor and aroma.

Finally, there are also Pisco Macerados, which are made by infusing Pisco with various fruits, herbs, or spices. The resulting flavored Piscos can be used in a variety of cocktails and mixed drinks.

Pisco Production

Pisco is a type of brandy that is distilled from fermented grape juice. The production of pisco involves several steps that are essential to its unique flavor and aroma.

First, the grapes used to make pisco are harvested and crushed to extract the juice. The juice is then fermented in stainless steel or oak tanks to convert the sugar into alcohol. The fermentation process can take a few days to several weeks, depending on the desired flavor profile.

Once the fermentation is complete, the fermented grape juice is transferred to a copper pot still. The still is heated, and the alcohol is distilled from the fermented grape juice. The copper pot still is an essential component of pisco production, as it helps to remove impurities and produce a smooth, clean-tasting spirit.

After distillation, the pisco is either aged in oak barrels or rested in stainless steel tanks. The aging process can take a few months to several years, depending on the desired flavor and aroma. The use of oak barrels in aging gives the pisco a distinct flavor and aroma that is similar to other aged spirits like whiskey.

The distiller plays an essential role in pisco production, as they are responsible for ensuring that the spirit is of the highest quality. They must carefully monitor the fermentation, distillation, and aging processes to ensure that the pisco is free from impurities and has a consistent flavor and aroma.

In summary, pisco production involves the use of grape juice, fermentation, copper pot stills, oak aging, and a skilled distiller. These elements work together to produce a unique and flavorful spirit that is enjoyed by many around the world.

Pisco Cocktails

Pisco is a versatile spirit that can be enjoyed in a variety of cocktails.

Here are some popular pisco cocktails that are worth trying:

Pisco Sour

The Pisco Sour is perhaps the most famous pisco cocktail. It is a refreshing drink that combines pisco, lime juice, simple syrup, and egg white. The egg white gives the cocktail a frothy texture and a silky mouthfeel. The drink is typically garnished with a few drops of Angostura bitters.


The Chilcano is a simple yet delicious cocktail that is popular in Peru. It consists of pisco, ginger ale, lime juice, and bitters. The ginger ale gives the cocktail a spicy kick, while the lime juice adds a tartness that balances out the sweetness of the ginger ale.

Pisco Punch

The Pisco Punch is a classic cocktail that was popular in San Francisco during the Gold Rush. It is a sweet and fruity drink that combines pisco, pineapple juice, lime juice, and simple syrup. The cocktail is typically garnished with a slice of pineapple.

Cola de Mono

Cola de Mono is a traditional Christmas drink in Chile. It is a creamy and sweet cocktail that combines pisco, milk, coffee, and spices such as cinnamon and cloves. The drink is typically served cold and garnished with a sprinkle of cinnamon.


Piscola is a simple yet popular cocktail that is enjoyed throughout Chile. It consists of pisco and cola. The drink is typically served in a tall glass with ice and a slice of lime.

Gold Rush

The Gold Rush is a modern cocktail that combines pisco, honey syrup, and lemon juice. The drink is typically served in a rocks glass with a large ice cube. The honey syrup adds a sweet and floral note to the cocktail, while the lemon juice adds a tartness that balances out the sweetness of the honey.

Pisco cocktails can be enjoyed as an aperitif or a digestif. They are typically served in a variety of glassware, depending on the cocktail. Citrus is a common ingredient in pisco cocktails, as it helps balance the sweetness of the spirit. Aguardiente, a type of South American liquor, is sometimes used in place of pisco in certain cocktails.

Please drink responsibly, be fully accountable with your alcohol consumption, and show others respect.

Written by Rocco

Rocco is a Florida State University alumnus with years of bartending and hospitality experience. From slinging hundreds of vodka sodas a night in jam-packed college bars to serving carefully crafted cocktails in upscale restaurants, there’s not much he hasn’t done behind a bar. Now, Rocco shares his knowledge and passion for all things alcohol-related here on My Bartender for bibulous readers everywhere to enjoy.

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