History of Pisco

March 31, 2018

Pisco is the most popular alcohol in Peru and is best enjoyed in the form of the famous Pisco Sour. The origins of Pisco can be traced back to 1532, when the Spanish Conquistadores invaded Peru. The Spanish brought special wine to be used in holy services, however their supplies were scarce. In 1553, Marquis Francisco de Caravantes imported grapes from the Spanish city of Seville. The year 1563 saw vineyards being planted in the sunlit and clear lands in the south of Peru- namely Ica. These Spanish grapes adjusted well and thrived in the rare soil. The dry air and water from the nearby valleys nourished the grapes. Those who were responsible for the production of the wine selected only the finest grapes and the rest were given to the native people and local farmers. In 1613, small communities of locals- led by Pedro Manuel- instigated using the grapes for fermentation and produced a clear brandy-like spirit that became known as ‘Fire Water’.

So, how did it get the name of Pisco? Latterly it was named after the municipality of Santa María Magdalena which had a port named ‘Pisco’. With the arrival of merchants from all over the world the spirit became very popular and demand for international distribution grew. As a result, the name Pisco was adopted for the drink to keep things simple. From this port, the product was dispensed down the coast of Peru and Chile, together with being traded through ports in the Pacific and Europe. The valleys of Ica and Pisco made up more than 85% of all wine and pisco. By 1764, pisco overtook wine completely and made up 90% of the grape production in the district.

Between the years of 1830-1870 pisco was being used in chic and trendy cocktails in the big cities of America such as New York and San Fransisco. Peru had come into a golden age of production and people were paying a high price for the spirit. Nonetheless, despite high demand things began to change. When Napoleon invaded Spain in the 19th century the glory days of pisco seemed to be over. With rising industrialization in Europe and the Civil War in America- many local producers began to substitute their pisco sewing for more profitable products. During this time Chilean production of pisco steadily rose and in 1931 the government fought to establish the rights of origin. The products from the two countries are said to be very different spirits, and of course Peru has a much longer association and history. Finally, in 1999 there was a revival of growing and producing pisco in Peru and the country’s administration sought to obtain the rights to exclusive use of the name pisco once more. At present there is still friction between the two countries as to who should own the intellectual property rights to the spirit. Both Peru and Chile consider it a vital part of their legacy and culture.

Pisco is truly a unique spirit and is considered by modern mixologists as a versatile and exciting product. In Cusco alone there are many cocktail bars dedicated to producing stand out infusions. The classic Pisco Sour, Chilcano de Pisco and Punch de Pisco can be enjoyed almost anywhere in the city from as little as 10 soles.

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