- Pisco is an eau-de-vie, a liquor distilled from grapes. It’s made from the distillation and fermentation of grape musts. 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. First-time drinkers should consume in moderation.
-- About Peruvian pisco --
Peruvian pisco is distilled and fermented using traditional methods found in producing areas acknowledged and declared as such by the Peruvian national legislation. The only pisco producing areas are the coasts of the Departments of Lima, Ica, Arequipa, and Moquegua, and the valleys of Locumba, Sama and Caplina in the Department of Tacna, all of them located in Peru.
There are four categories of Peruvian pisco:
1) 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).
2) 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.
3) Mosto Verde (Green Must), distilled from partially fermented must, this must be distilled before the fermentation process has completely transformed sugars into alcohol.
4) Acholado (Half-breed), blended from the must of several varieties of grape.
The order is not established on quality, it is simply listed in that way in Peruvian publications.
Some other Peruvian specific restrictions are:
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.”
-- About Chilean pisco --
As is the case with Peru, several regulations for pisco designations have been declared:
1) Regular - 30% to 35% (60 to 70 proof) -
Regular pisco is quite bland in taste since the alcohol is mixed with water, and its odor is very sweet and woody with a slight yellowish tinge to the color.
2) Special - 35% to 40% (70 to 80 proof)
3) Reserve - 40% to 43% (80 to 86 proof) -
Special and reserve are similar in flavor and color, both are very sweet and a cloudy yellowish color. The flavor is much stronger than regular pisco and leaves an alcoholic aftertaste in the mouth, similar to bourbon.
4) Great - 43% or more (86 or more proof) -
Great pisco has a strong odor and a very pleasant dark yellow color, it is not as sweet as the other varieties, yet it carries strong woody flavor the others lack.
The yellowish to amber color in Chilean pisco is due to the wood aging process; darker colors are often a sign that they have been aged longer.
-- The grapes of pisco --
Grapes involved in the making of Peruvian pisco:
Quebranta, Common Black, Mollar, Uvina, Italia, Muscat, Albilla, Torontel.
Grapes involved in the making of Chilean pisco:
Yellow Muscat, White Early Muscat, Alexandria Muscat, Austrian Muscat, Frontignan Muscat, Hamburg Muscat, Black Muscat, Pink Muscat, Canelli Muscat, Orange Muscat, Pedro Jiménez , Torontel.
-- Pisco History --
Pisco origins date back to Spanish settlers in the sixteenth century, along the Peruvian coast. In modern times, it continues to be produced in winemaking regions of Peru and Chile. The drink is a widely consumed spirit in the nations of Bolivia, Chile and Peru, and is in a rapid state of growth worldwide (2009-2010).
Peruvian pisco output in 2007 was 4.9 million liters, with a 20-22% year over year growth rate. Source: National Commission of Pisco (CONAPISCO)