The potent brandy Pisco hails from South America.  It has a passionate following and a storied history.  Pisco is made and exported from Chile and Peru.  Both of these countries claim they are the original producers of this brandy. Only specific varieties of grapes are used to make Pisco.  They are fermented and then distilled into an aguardiente that is very potent.  Pisco is the essential ingredient for the pisco sour, a world-renown cocktail


Grape vines were brought to South America by the Spanish conquistadores to make wine for themselves and also to export.  Pisco supposedly came about as a way for using leftover grapes that weren’t desirable for use in wine making.  Technically Pisco is a brandy that is made when fermented grape juice is distilled.

Several explanations have been offered for how this brandy received its name.  One explanation states that pisco is a word derived from pisqu, a Quechuan word, which was a bird from Peru’s Ica valley region.  Or it could have gotten its name from a town called Pisco, which is a port city close to the Nazca lines.  Pisco got shipped to Lima from here and was made popular by sailors as well.  The name may also come from big pre-Columbian clay pots named piscos.  These pots are used for fermenting grapes.

In Chile, they have been producing pisco for hundreds of years.  At one time the regions all belongs to one Spanish vice royalty.  This strong dispute over whether pisco is from Peru or Chile continues to the present day.


Pisco is only made from specific grape varieties that are grown in certain designated Chile and Peru regions.  The grapes get fermented into wine before being distilled.  The liqueur that results is then aged for a brief time before being bottled.  Pisco, when made in Peru, is never diluted.  There are very specific and strict rules that govern its production in that country.  Pisco, when made in Chile, gets mixed with distilled water sometimes in order to reach an alcohol content that is desirable.

Pisco Brandy

Kinds of Pisco

Pisco comes in four different categories, and is made from seven different grape varieties. Only, non-aromatic, black grapes are used to make pisco puro.   They usually are the quebranta variety.  These grapes were the ones originally brought from Spain.  They changed supposedly and adapted to the new environment, which resulted in a taste that was unique.  Four or more aromatic and fruity varieties are used to make Pisco aromatico: torontal, albilla, italia or muscatal.   Pisco acholado is produced from a nonaromatic grape blend along with one or more varieties of aromatic grapes.  Partially fermented grapes are used to make Pisco mosto verde.  The varieties that are used the most for making pisco sours are pisco acholado and pico puro.


Pisco is used to make many different interesting cocktails.  Pisco does have quite a high alcohol content (it ranges from 60 proof to 100 proof).  However, it has a very smooth taste.  Many people enjoy drinking it straight.  First-time drinkers of Pisco are sometimes surprised by how potent it is, particularly when it’s blended in a cocktail.  One cocktail that is notoriously strong is the pisco sour.

Lima, Peru claims to have been the first to offer the pisco sour.  Victor Morris, a bartender from North America, is said to have invented the pisco sour at Morris Bar during the 1920’s.

The key ingredients, in addition to pisco, are Angostura bitters, an egg white and tart key limes.  Shaken over ice is the classic preparation.  However, it can be made frozen as well, with crushed ice in a blender.  When you pour a pisco sour into the glass, half an inch of foam at least on top should be egg white.  The bitters get sprinkled onto the foam. There are other kinds of classic pisco cocktails as well.  These include a creamy cocktail called the algarrobina, which is made from condensed milk and algarrobina syrup.   There is also the cola de mono (or monkey’s tail), which is a famous Christmas cocktail form Chile.  The chilcano is made with ginger ale and pisco.  New and trendy pisco are invented constantly.  Many use South American exotic tropical fruits.  Passion fruit juice is used to make Maracuya sours.  A tomatillo-like fruit is used to make the aguaymanto sour, which is a very popular cocktail.  Mango sours are very delicious and refreshing.