Pisco, a drink that shapes Peru’s national identity
July 6, 2016
The aguardiente made from grapes has been produced on Peru’s southern coast since shortly after the Conquest.
It’s known as the key ingredient in Pisco sour but also features in another classic Peruvian cocktail, the chilcano.
Most visitors to Peru have heard of Pisco sour, the cocktail made from sweetened Pisco — a kind of Peruvian brandy — egg white and lemon juice, served with a dash of Angostura bitters. How many, however, know the story behind Pisco, Peru’s national drink? When the Spaniards arrived in the Andes in the 15th Century, they quickly realized that the land along what is today Peru’s southern coast was well suited to growing grapes, and therefore producing what for them was an essential part of their diet; wine.
The white wine produced around the city that is now known as Pisco however was too fine for its own good. Wary of the competitive threat to Spanish vineyards from the new colony, Felipe II passed a law in 1614 that banned wine production in the New World. In the Viceroyalty of Peru, the locals decided to sidestep that prohibition by ramping up the alcoholic content of their wine until it became an aguardiente. Pisco was born.
Today Pisco is produced in various regions along the Southern Peruvian coast, but also in northern Chile. It’s a question of fierce debate and national pride in both countries whose Pisco is the best, but there’s no disputing that Peru produces much more and the eponymous city of Pisco, where Pisco originated and which gave its name to the drink, is here. There are also few Chileans who take the debate to heart in the way many Peruvians do.
Today, Pisco is typically but not exclusively made from the quebranta grape. The drink is transparent, and the finest piscos are extremely smooth on the palate. Although Pisco sour is best known internationally, the Pisco cocktail that is most consumed within Peru is the chilcano. This is a mix of Pisco with ginger ale, served in a long glass with ice, usually with a slice of lemon and sometimes a dash of Angostura bitters. It’s lighter than Pisco Sour and particularly refreshing during the summer. You should try one.
To try some of Peru’s best piscos or go on a pisco-tasting tour as part of your unique, individually tailored itinerary, contact the Peru Empire Company at email@example.com or on +51-1-700-5100 or, if you are in the US, 347-713-7030/34.