Pisco Peruano, … 100% grape !
Pisco Peruano - Orgullo Nacional - Pasion Andina

How can we talk about Peru without talking about Pisco? More than just an alcohol, Pisco is a national pride, a central piece of the culture, history, traditions and local gastronomy.

Talking about Peru without mentioning this monument that is Pisco would be a bit like presenting Colombia without its salsa, Holland without its tulips, Switzerland without its chocolates, Ireland without its whisky, France without … its strikes!

We can already hear French people : ” What ?! But how is it possible to write that? France is the baguette, the wine, the gastronomy, the Eiffel Tower, the world cup, the revolution, the Lumieres, blah blah blah blah …”. Haaa France, we could also make an article about it.

Today, as you will have understood, the theme is nevertheless quite different: Pisco!

Pisco Peruano - Orgullo Nacional - Pasion Andina

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The Vine History

As Pisco needs grapes, it seems important to look at the origin of the vine in Latin America. Have grapes always existed in Peru ?? No.

The origin of the vine in Peru dates back to the “conquista”. At the time of colonization, the Spanish king ordered all of its ships leaving for the New World to take vine plants with them for several reasons:

  • Grapes, but above all wine, are important products of the Catholic liturgy.
  • Wine is a product highly appreciated by all Spanishs
  • Growing grapes and producing wine within the conquered lands will open new opportunity and will also be more convenient than having to import it all over the world.

Uva y conquista - Historia del Pisco Peruano

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This is how in the 16th century the black grape arrived in Peru, imported from the Canary Islands by the Marquis Francisco de Caravantes. The vines were then spread throughout the country with the aim of developing wine production. Driven by their spirit of expansion, the kings of Spain and Emperor Charles V offered two silver ingots at the time to anyone who succeeded in producing wheat, barley, oil or wine in the New World. While some colonists search gold, others set off in pursuit of a new Eldorado: wine!

In 1551, Bernabé Cobo announced in his chronicles of the New World that grapes were produced in abundance and that large extensions of vineyards were observed, mainly in Peru. He writes that, from the “Corregimiento de Ica” alone, more than a hundred ships full of grapes and wine set out each year. Furthermore, Pedro Cieza de León, mentions in 1553 in his “Crónica del Perú”, that many have already heard of the famous vineyards of San Miguel de Piura, Pacasmayo, Santa, Chincha and León de Huánuco. Finally, according to Garcilazo de la Vega the first Peruvian wine would have appeared in 1560 thanks to Pedro Lopez Cazalla, owner of the Hacienda Marcahuasi in Cusco.

If the exact date of the first Peruvian wine making remains conversable, there is nevertheless a point on which all agree in their writings: the ideal conditions that Peru and particularly the regions of Ica and Moquegua offer for the culture of the vine. Taking advantage of the proximity of the Andes mountain range, the Niño current and the Humbolt current, the Peruvian coast has a unique climate that has allowed the appearance of fertile valleys and environments favourable to the development of the vine.
The place being found, all that remained was to exploit it. Only a few decades after the arrival of the first settlers, the wine production was on …

Uva y conquista peruana - Pasion Andina

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The origins and evolution of Pisco

At the beginning of the 17th century, the wine success of the “Virreinato del Peru” is such important that Peruvian wines can be found in Panama, Guatemala and even in Spain!Worried by the emergence of a dangerous competition, Felipe II forbids in 1614 the exportation of Peruvian wines. Faced with this ban and the quantity of grapes produced each year in the Virreinato, the owners of the Peruvian “haciendas” had to find new solutions and markets : it’s the birth of Pisco!

In his work entitled “Cronologia de la produccion del vino y del pisco”, the Peruvian historian Lorenzo Huertas mentions the will of Pedro Manuel, a resident of the city of Ica, in which the man explains that he had among his possessions, in addition to a Creole slave, “thirty jars of aguardiente (brandy), plus a barrel of the said aguardiente, plus a large copper cauldron for making it, with its barrel lid”. Huertas then explains that the document dating from 1613 is one of the oldest, not only in Peru, but also in the whole America, in which mention is made of a brandy. If the year 1613 corresponds to the beginning of the 17th century, it should nevertheless be noted that it is the year in which Pedro Manuel’s will was signed. This therefore implies that all the production equipment was available before and that the origin of Pisco fixed at the beginning of the 1600s could therefore in fact go back further in time.

Initially linked to vice and crime, Pisco was for a very long time subject to very restrictive measures. It is only a the end of the 18th century that production and consumption were completely legalized.

Historia del Pisco Peruano - Jesuitas - Pasion AndinaAll rights reserved

Owners of numerous “haciendas”, the Jesuits were the first to develop the mass production of Pisco. Produced in large quantities in several regions of Peru, the brandy was then exported to neighbouring countries. While the Pisco industry was experiencing a boom, a historic event was to come and mark a huge stop in the golden age of Peruvian brandy: the Jesuits blast.
The Jesuits were at the head of more than 200 haciendas throughout the territory and were accused of greed, avarice, corruption of youth people and incitement to revolt against the Spanish crown. On February 27, 1767, the king signed the decree banning the Compañia de Jesus from the kingdom of Spain and all its colonies. As the congregation owned many estates, the whole area found itself in a huge and unprecedented crisis.

In the 19th century, as Peru emerged from the country’s war of independence, the valleys of the southern coast of Peru finally seemed to recover. Indeed, different data show the important harvests of the Lunahuaná and Mamacona estates. In addition to providing a large quantity of grapes, these two valleys produce wines and piscos of excellent quality. The sector start to recover and Pisco is even reaching the United States. The Peruvian brandy will then experience a few years of boom before that a new episode in history will ruins everything: the Pacific War.

At the end of 4 years of conflict, the repercussions on the country’s economy are devastating, the wine industry is on the verge of perishing. Some producers decide to abandon the vineyard to turn to a new activity: cotton. At the beginning of the 20th century the production of Pisco is considerably lower than in previous centuries, it starts to concentrate on a few valleys still famous today: Ica, Pisco, Lunahuana, Chincha, Moquegua and Locumba.

It was at this time that a man was to come and turn history upside down: Victor V. Morris.

Historia del Pisco Sour - Victor Morris - Morris Bar - Pasion AndinaAll rights reserved

The Pisco Sour

Born in 1873 in Salt Lake City in the United States, Victor Vaughen Morris comes from a Mormon family. Working as director of the B.C Morris Floral Company and the Salt Lake Floral Company, he decided to leave America in 1903 to go to Peru. Known for his initiative and his sense of commerce, he first worked for the Cerro de Pasco Railway Company before starting his own business: the Morris Bar.

Founded in 1916 at 847 Calle Boza (now Giron de la Union), the Morris Bar quickly became a gathering place for Peruvian notables and English-speaking foreigners. On the register of the bar we can find the names of Elmer Faucett (founder of the airline company Faucett Peru), Jose Lindley (founder of the Corporacion Jose R. Lindley S.A. and the famous Inca Cola), Alfred Louis Kroeber (an archaeologist from the University of California who worked with the famous Julio C.Tello), Richard Halliburton (writer and cultural ambassador of the United States) and Emiliano Figueroa (former Chilean president and ambassador of Chile to Peru). If the bar is located in the center of Lima, it is not its privileged location that makes it famous but rather a drink in particular: Pisco Sour.

Inspired by Whiskey Sour, Morris created a new version of the cocktail in the early 1920s using the Peruvian national brandy he had known since his arrival in the country. The success was uncomparable, his establishment became the centre of attention of the aristocracy of the time and the consumption of Pisco took off again. The popularity of Pisco Sour quickly spread beyond the national borders to Europe and the United States. Some celebrities such as Hemingway or later John Wayne were fans of it and would become its best ambassadors over time.

Historia Pisco Sour - Receta Peruana - Pasion AndinaAll rights reserved

In 1929, Victor V. Morris died and the Morris Bar closed its doors. The story could have ended there but Pisco Sour will survive and will get through the years more and more importance in the history of the country.

As the bar closes, Mario Bruijet, Morris’ former Peruvian bartender, finds a new job at the prestigious Hotel Maury in downtown Lima. Some say that Bruijet will then change the recipe for Pisco by adding “amargo de angostura”, “jarabe de goma” and “egg”, creating then the “modern” recipe of Pisco Sour as we know it today. For others, for whom it is hard to believe that Pisco, sugar and lemon could have been so successful, the recipe of Morris Pisco Sour would have already incorporated these ingredients in the Morris Bar. While the exact origin of the recipe is open, one thing remains generally accepted: in the early 1930s, the Hotel Maury and Bruijet gave Pisco Sour a new life.

As the reputation and popularity of Pisco Sour continued to grow throughout the 20th century, an event was to extend the legend of the Peruvian cocktail: L’Internacional de Lima.
In 1964, Lima organizes the “Internacional”, a recognized hyppic race that attracts the best horses and jockeys of the time. On the lists of registered participants, the Peruvian representative is Dardanus, a horse whose owner is Oscar Berckemeyer. Dardanus won the previous year’s Internacional de Buenos Aires and therefore has a good chance of winning again. It was then that Oscar Berckemeyer made a bet with a good friend : Antonio Bergna, the new manager of the Hotel Maury. Bergna’s proposal is the following one : if Dardanus wins, I’ll give my bar his name.

The race then takes place and to the delight of the owner, Dardanus wins. In the madness of the victory, the whole Berckemeyer team take the horse to the Maury Hotel and get him inside the bar! While the crowd is incredulous at such a spectacle, the Maury’s bartenders prepare and serve a whole bucket of Pisco Sour to the winner for what will be one of the most memorable moments in the history of the establishment. Today a picture of this unforgettable moment is still displayed inside the Maury bar.

Dardanus - Historia del Pisco Sour - Pasion AndinaAll rights reserved 

If the history of Pisco Sour is already extremely rich, it should be pointed out that it should last for many more years. In fact, since 2004 the Peruvian government has pushed the importance of Pisco Sour even further by instituting the Pisco Sour Day every first Saturday of February. An event that is extremely appreciated and shared throughout Peru but also in the entire world. One more proof that Pisco still has many beautiful days ahead …

The Origin of the Word “Pisco”

Since the beginning of this article we have been talking about Pisco in all its forms. But by the way, what does Pisco mean ? It couldn’t be more Peruvian!

Appearing on the very first maps of the South American coast in 1574, the word “Pisco” is even older. It is necessary to go back to the Inca period and to the emperor Pachacutec to find a beginning of answer. Indeed, when the Incas arrived in the region in 1450, they found a very large number of birds, a term that is pronounced “Pisku” in Quechua. Some therefore deduce that the emperor Pachacutec would be the origin of the name and that he would have named the valley and the region in this way because of the large number of birds living there.


Piskos - Historia del Pisco Peruano - Pasion Andina

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For others, the name would come from the “Piskos”, an ethnic group that lived in the region in addition to the Paracas and Nasca civilizations. The “Piskos” would have been excellent ceramists who made large, conical-shaped “clay pots” with an inner lining of beeswax in which alcoholic drinks and “chichas” were stored. Various historians explain that these containers were used during the first grape harvests of the colonial era to store grape must. By popular deviation, it is thought that these “containers” and the alcohol stored in them may have taken the name of their creators through time.

The Production of Pisco nowadays

The Pisco is a respected and protected monument, registered in the cultural heritage of the Nation since 1988. In order to preserve the reputation and the quality of its national alcohol, Peru has taken all the necessary steps to make Pisco a product of controlled appellation and origin. To all of you who read us and who dreamed of making Pisco all around the world, sorry but your dreams stop here.

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In order to obtain the “Pisco” denomination, a large number of elements must be respected throughout the production process. Here are some of them:

  • Pisco is a brandy obtained from the fermentation and distillation of grape must.
  • The production areas of Pisco are located on the Peruvian coast in the departments of Lima, Ica, Arequipa, Moquegua (valleys of Locumba, Sama, Caplina) and Tacna.
  • The alcohol level of Pisco must be between 40 and 48 degrees.
  • Only eight grape varieties may be used in the production of Pisco (Negra Criolla, Mollar, Quebranta, Uvina, Italia, Torontel, Moscatel and Albilla).
  • It is strictly forbidden to use additives during fermentation.
  • The stills used for the production must be pot stills.
  • Containers used for Pisco must be neutral drums.

Pisco Peruano - Uva Peruana - Pasion AndinaAll rights reserved

Here is a little more information below that you can use when choosing a bottle of the famous national alcohol:

1) “Negra Criolla” Grape
Offers characterful, fairly robust, astringent piscos. Its aromas are often reminiscent of fruit such as apple, olive or citrus.

2) “Mollar” grape
It produces piscos with a good structure in the mouth, but with less strength and astringency. Its aromas can remind one of aromatic herbs and fruits such as apple, banana, pear and nuts.

3) Quebranta grape
The last of the “pisqueros” grapes that give the piscos a strong character and a marked structure in the mouth. Its aromas are generally reminiscent of fresh herbs and dried fruit such as almonds or pecans, or ripe fruit such as banana, apple, mango or lucuma. Until a few years ago, only pisco from this variety was called “pure”.

4) Uvina grape
It is a variety that can only be grown in the districts of Lunahuaná, Pacarán and Zúñiga. It offers piscos of medium structure and body. Its aromas are generally reminiscent of fresh herbs and olives. Oranges and citrus fruits in general.

5) Torontel Grape
It produces a very fine and smooth pisco in the mouth. Its aromas are quite expressive and remind us of flowers such as lavender, cloves, tropical fruits, citrus fruits and spices such as cinnamon.

6) Moscatel grape
From this variety one generally produces a more delicate and subtle pisco in the mouth. Its aromas are reminiscent of citrus fruits as well as fruits such as plums, bananas and flowers.

7) Albilla Grape
From this grape variety we obtain a light pisco in the mouth. Its aromas are fresh and reminiscent of dried and fresh fruits such as peaches, pears as well as white flowers, aromatic herbs, citrus fruits and honey.

8) Grape Italia
Piscos made from this variety are generally very pleasant in the mouth, with a pleasant sensation of softness on the mouth. Its aromas are reminiscent of fresh and ripe citrus fruits such as grapes, mango and pineapple, as well as dried fruit and flowers. This grape variety opens the doors to the Muscat family, which includes Torontel, Albilla and Muscat itself. These grapes are generally referred to aromatic grapes and in fact produce very expressive piscos.

Tipos de Piscos Peruanos - Pasion AndinaAll rights reserved

If you go to a Pisco shop, the first thing you will see on the bottle is oftently not the name of one of these varieties but rather the expressions “Pisco Puro”, “Pisco Acholado”, “Pisco Mosto Verde”. What is that ?!
While you were just managing to retain the characteristics of the grapes previously mentioned, you are now being told about puro, acholado and mosto verde. What the hell is that again?! Don’t panic, we’ll explain everything.

If Pisco can be produced with 8 varieties of grapes there are then 3 different types: Pisco Puro, Pisco Acholado and Mosto Verde.

Pisco Puro is the one that is made using only one of the “pisqueros” grape varieties to make the final product.

Pisco Acholado, on the other hand, is a combination of at least two of the eight authorised grape varieties. The mixture may be made between several grape musts at the beginning of production but also between two already finished piscos of different grape varieties. There are thousands of Pisco Acholado because there are no regulations defining the grapes to be blended or their proportions. Each winemaker therefore looks for the most appropriate combination of grapes to produce new tastes, new sensations, new experiences.

Finally, Pisco Mosto Verde refers to a fruit that has not reached maturity (“fruit that is still green”) and refers to a Pisco that has been distilled before the fermentation of the grape has been completed. The grape must is usually distilled with a sweetness that, although it is not passed on to the pisco, helps to enhance its aromas and flavours. This elaboration process is much more complex than the normal pisco, but the results in terms of quality deserve it. In general, Pisco Mosto Verde is very soft, smooth and fine, with the typical aromas of the grape variety from which it is made.

Pisco Sour - Pasion AndinaAll rights reserved

8 grape varieties, 3 types of Pisco, hundreds of producers, an international cocktail … Pisco is a world in itself. And if we tell you that Chilcano, Capitan, Machu Picchu, Peru Libre, Pisco Punch are as many Pisco cocktails served all over the world, and that there are many recipes for Pisco risotto, Pisco pasta, Pisco shrimp, … ?!

You will have understood it, the History of Pisco is more than actual and Peruvian brandy is now everywhere … except in Chile of course !

Sources :

Pisco Peruano



El Pisco: Historia y orígenes (I)


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Alexandre Hadjimanolis


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