Pisco: Peru’s Most Famous Beverage

Fishing in northern Peru culinary tourAny trip to Peru, and certainly a culinary vacation there, will include at least one sighting of the famed grape brandy Pisco. During our culinary tour “Taste of Peru,” a Sommelier actually teaches travelers about Peru’s national drink and how to use it in various cocktails.

Pisco is, quite simply, a type of brandy made from fermented grapes. It is produced in both Peru and Chile, and there are still arguments about who can lay claim to its origins, as it hails from the age of the Spanish conquistadores, who cultivated grapes throughout the areas now known as Peru and Chile. Legend has it that Pisco was invented as a way to use leftover grapes that were unsuitable for wine making.

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A Pisco Sour in Peru Pisco (and we will be talking purely about Peruvian Pisco) is one of South America’s most famous types of “aguardiente,” a word taken to mean spirits and loosely translated as ‘firewater.’ Highly alcoholic, it can only be made from certain grape varieties, and it is subject to strict laws governing its distillation and aging in order to be called Pisco. That being said, different types of Pisco can vary enormously in terms of flavors, viscosity, and even alcohol content. One way to help chose a bottle of Pisco is by understanding the four categories under which it is bottled.
Pouring a classic pisco sour during a Peru cooking vacation.

Types of Pisco

Pisco puro: made from a single variety of grape, usually black, nonaromatic grapes of the quebranta variety
Pisco aromático: made from one of four aromatic grape varieties (muscatél, italia, abilla, or torontél), and, like Pisco puro, made from only one variety, never blended
Pisco acholado: made from a blend of aromatic and non-aromatic grapes
Pisco mosto verde: made from partially fermented grapes whose fermentation has been halted before the sugar has all been turned into alcohol (resulting in a sweeter aguardiente)

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How is one to drink this potent potable? Purists would say to sip it like a fine brandy, without even the addition of ice. But it has been used to create a variety of famous cocktails such as Pisco Punch and the world-famous Pisco Sour.

Pisco Sour cocktail in PeruRecipe for a classic Pisco sour

  • 2 oz. Pisco puro or Pisco acholado
  • 1 oz freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 to 1 oz. simple syrup
  • 1 fresh egg white
  • Angostura bitters

Mix the first 4 ingredients with ice in a shaker, and shake vigorously for several minutes. Strain into a highball glass (the foam from the egg whites should be thick on top). Sprinkle a few drops of bitters on top of the foam.

Learn how to pair a pisco sour with Peruvian cuisine.

Tasty Peruvian ceviche on a cooking vacation in Peru.However you choose to have your Pisco, tread lightly, as it is deceptively smooth but intensely alcoholic! Check out our website for more on our Taste of Peru culinary vacation or any of our Peru cooking tours.

By Peg Kern

Learn about other classic spirits from our culinary vacations including Spanish sherry and Mexican tequila.

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