Pisco is a South American liquor distilled from grapes. Developed by Spanish settlers in the sixteenth century, it takes its name from the conical pottery in which it was originally aged, which was also the name of one of the sites where it was produced: Pisco, in the Viceroyalty of Peru. The first vineyards were planted in the coastal valleys in the Viceroyalty. Even though Spain imposed many restrictions on wine production and commerce, the wine-making industry developed rapidly, such as in the Corregimiento of Ica and La Serena in the Captaincy General of Chile. 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. The right to produce and promote pisco has been the matter of legal disputes between Chile and Peru, both of which hold their most iconic cocktail to be the pisco sour.
Pisco received its name from the town of Pisco, located on the coast of Peru. The origins of the word pisco can be traced to the Quechua language where the birds that inhabited the valleys of the Ica region were called pisqu . The origin of the city of Pisco is said to be from pre-Incan times when the area was ruled by people known as the Piskus. The importance of the city incremented under Spanish rule due to its proximity to the coast and its exportation of aguardiente from Ica, and in time these drinks would come to bear the name "Pisco."
In the late 1550s, the Spanish began to plant and harvest export quality grapes selected to produce wine with, while those that did not measure up were discarded or given to the farmers to do with as they pleased. It is in this context that small groups began to use these grapes to distill a brandy-like liquor from the discarded grapes, using similar techniques to those used in Spain for the production of Orujo.
The black grape taken to the Viceroyalty of Peru by the Spanish suffered due to its adaptation to soil and weather conditions, eventually stabilizing in a new variety named "Quebranta", purportedly named because the original grape was "broken" (Spanish quebrar), or tamed, for its new environment. Almost all early pisco was believed to be produced from this variety of grape. Others used any grape available at the time, however, since only the largest vineyards (and those with dedicated pisco distilleries) were able to produce exportable volume. This claim however cannot be verified, it is logical to assume that all available grapes grown in the iberian peninsula were brought to the new world.
In 1613 a will of a resident of the of Ica a town called Pisco in Viceroyalty of Peru, close to the Nazca lines - named by Pedro Manuel the Greek. In it he itemizes his worldly goods, including 30 containers of grape brandy, one barrel of the same spirit, a large copper pot and all of the utensils needed to produce pisco.
In 1641, wine imports from the Viceroyalty of Peru into Spain were banned in order to eliminate competition for any locally produced grape products, severely damaging the wine production in the colony that could be exported outside of the Americas. Local production of both wine and pisco continued for local consumption and export to other colonies.
The drink began to acquire consumers in the sailors that transported products between the colonies and Spain as well as sailors of other nationalities, who began to call it pisco, naming it after the port"Pisco." The Oxford English Dictionary. second ed. 1989. where it was thought to originate from. The drink then became a favorite of sailors and workers who visited the port of Pisco as well as other peruvian ports. It was exalted for its strong taste and ability to quickly affect the consumer. As trade from Peru to the world grew, so did the popularity of pisco, until it almost equaled wine in quantity as an export.
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, pisco was a mainstay on ocean-crossing vessels, drunk mostly by sailors, as officers usually drank whisky or other "finer" spirits. The main reasons for its heyday were the low price and high availability. This position was maintained by pisco until the onset of rum, which won over consumers with lower prices and a softer flavor.
Pisco was also very popular in San Francisco and nearby areas of California during the Gold Rush in the late nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century.
According to legal documents recently found in the U.S. National Archives of San Francisco, California in 2007, it has been proven that at least until 1864, Pisco was considered a liquor native only to the Republic of Peru.
Variants and production
During the adaptation of many vineyards to pisco production, the most widespread grape was used as raw material, namely the Muscat, with some vineyards preferring the Torontel and Pedro Jimenez varieties. As is the case with Peru, regulations for pisco designations have been enacted in Chile:
*Regular, 30% to 35% (60 to 70 proof).
*Special, 35% to 40% (70 to 80 proof).
*Reserve, 40% to 43% (80 to 86 proof).
*Great, 43% or more (86 or more proof).
No distinction between varietal mixes is made other than it is restricted to the three kinds of grapes named above.
Regular pisco is quite bland in taste since the alcohol is mixed with water, reminiscent of a weak rum, and its odor is very sweet and woody with a slight yellowish tinge to the color.
Special and reserve are very similar in flavor and color, both being very sweet and of a cloudy yellowish color. The flavor is much stronger than regular pisco and leaves an alcoholic aftertaste in the mouth, similar to bourbon.
Great pisco has a commanding 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, with the darker colors being a telltale sign that they have been aged longer. Not all Chilean pisco is tinged, and the more mass-marketed brands can be clear.
Chile has taken further steps to have a clean and environmentally friendly production of pisco. In order to crack down on pollution, and to increase competitiveness, the National Council for Clean Production agreed with the pisco producers and pisco grape agronomists, to collaborate, signing an Agreement of Clean Production (APL). Capel, by itself invested more than US$800 million.
Many grapes were used to produce pisco, leading to a wide variation in flavor, aroma, viscosity and appearance of the liquor. This harmed attempts to export the product under a single denomination since there could be enormous differences between the contents of bottles sold as pisco. As such, a number of regulations were established and set a baseline for a product to carry the name.
Four levels of pisco were thus designated:
*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).
*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.
*'Mosto Verde (Green Must)', distilled from partially fermented must, this must be distilled before the fermentation process has completely transformed sugars into alcohol.
*'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 specific restrictions of note 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.
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, with the result that many first-time drinkers often drink to excess and can quickly become inebriated without noticing. Some people consider it "heresy" to mix pure pisco with anything else, and it is generally accepted that it should be drunk alone, even to the exclusion of ice.
Aromatic is a variety made of Italy and Muscat grapes nowadays in Peru and frequently rests in big clay recipients called botijas. According to Peruvian specifications, Chilean Pisco cannot be classified as aromatic despite the restriction of 'no additives' is obeyed, due to Chilean Pisco rests in Oak barrels and it is frequently made of a mix of more than four type of grapes that remain after the wine elaboration which is the main purpose of the Chilean spirits industry.
Green Must is generally seen in high income environments. Its grape taste is very strong, as is its fruity perfume.
In Peru Pisco Sour day is celebrated on the first Saturday of February. Years ending with zero (0) are of special significance. The theme is red and white (Peruvian flag colours). When the Peruvian National Anthem is played all Pisco Sour's must be finished as a mark of respect. Well known Peruvian Mining Engineer Victor Barua claimed that the recipe for a party that "Rocks" is for guests to consume at least three Pisco Sour's.
Acholado is gaining popularity due to its sweetness, both in odor and flavor, making it a favorite for Pisco sour, a mixed drink.
Water pollution from mining threatens grape harvests. The water intended for irrigating and cultivating the vineyards is loaded with mining residue and chemicals. Water purification is necessary for the survival of the vineyards. Air pollution must be dealt with immediately because of the threat to the health and safety of local residents and workers. The dry air of the Ica region is immobile because of the sea and the Andes mountain range. Eliminating river pollution as a result of mining is imperative. "Because of the dry arid climate, chemicals are absorbed into the local atmosphere and remain in the area".
Here can be seen the differences between both products: Peruvian pisco and the Chilean liquor:
There is a long-standing debate in Peru and Chile as to the rightful owner of the "pisco" denomination.
Both nations have established decrees, laws, regulations, treaties, etc. in order to protect their pisco product as the canonical pisco, though their efforts have been markedly opposite. On the one hand, Chile has concentrated on internal regulations, specifying from what a "pisco grape" is to what a "pisco bottle" is, in order to establish standardization among its products . This way, Chile started to trade and promote its product as Pisco. On the other hand, Peru has made the importation of Pisco from Chile illegal as well as the sale thereof. Peru has concentrated on promoting its own version by concentrating more in the artesanal and traditional production, started to focus on the international arena claiming for an Origin Denomination arguing that only Peruvian Pisco can be called Pisco and Chilean product is another type of spirit.
Peru claims proprietorship on the basis of historical arguments, mainly that pisco originated in Peru and is still made in the traditional way only in Peru, where their regulations ensure this. In Peru this topic has a high political significance, associated to the defense of the fatherland and Peruvian roots. Arguments of utilization, usurpation and bad practices from the Chilean side are frequently mentioned in the Peruvian reasoning.
1932: Supreme Resolution N 52, restricted the use of the designation "grape based brandy".
1931: Made it compulsory to serve Peruvian wines and liquors in official acts held in the Government House.
1940: Ministerial Resolution, prohibited the admission of cane brandy to the viticulture area of pisco.
1941: Supreme Resolution N 151, stipulated the restricted use of grape brandy and cognac.
1946: Supreme Resolution N 1207, defined the designations of pisco, grape based aguardiente and others.
1947: Ministerial Resolution, ratified the prohibitions regarding the use of sugar in manufacturing molasses, spirits, brandy and wine.
1950: Directors Resolution N 13, pointed out the date and terms for distillation of musts, watery wines and for washing spirits in the preparation process of grape based brandy.
1963: Sanitary Code of Foods in which "pisco" was defined as the product obtained from the distillation of fermented grape musts.
1963: Law N 14729, established a 4% tax rate upon the gross trade value of alcoholic beverages in Peru, exempting pisco. This measure was taken as a means of fostering its preparation. This law stipulated that this tax affected cane brandies, wine, spirits, beers and any kind of alcoholic beverage and similar, exempting Peruvian grape based pisco and wine.
1964: Supreme Resolution N 519-H, established the use of visible signs that make it easy for payment of taxes on the sale of alcoholic beverages.
1988: Resolution No. 179, issued by the National Institute of Culture where the word "pisco" was declared National Cultural Heritage.
1990: Supreme Decree N 023-90, stipulated that denominations of origin should be recognized by ITINTEC, thus including the above-mentioned principle in Peruvian law.
1990: Directors Resolution N 072087-DIPI, issued by the Industrial Property Bureau, stated that the designation of "pisco" has a Peruvian origin and refers to products resulting from the distillation of wines derived from the fermentation of fresh grapes in the coastline of the Lima, Ica, Arequipa, and Moquegua departments, and the valleys of Locumba, Sama and Caplina in the Tacna Department.
1991: Supreme Decree N 001-91-ICTI/IND, officially recognized "pisco" as a denomination of Peruvian origin for products obtained by distillation of wine derived from the fermentation of fresh grapes in the coastline of Lima, Ica, Arequipa, Moquegua and the valleys of Locumba, Sama and Caplina in the department of Tacna.
1995: Law N 26426, regulated the production and commercialization of national alcoholic beverages.
2001: Supreme Resolution N 247-2001-Itinci, established the Multisectorial Committee in charge of preparing a regulatory proposal corresponding to the creation of Ruling Councils and the Ruling Council of the Denomination of Origin Pisco.
Bolivia: Resolution N OPIB/D.O/01/98 from the Intellectual Property Bureau of Bolivia dated January 5, 1998.
Ecuador: Resolution N 0962384 of the Industrial Property National Bureau, published in January 15, 1998.
Colombia: Resolution No. 01529 of the Superintendence of Industry and Commerce of Colombia dated February 1, 1999.
Venezuela: Resolution N 0345 of the Autonomous Service of Intellectual Property published in the Bulletin of Industrial Property of Venezuela dated May 8, 1998.
Panama: Decree N 1628 of the General Bureau of Registry of Intellectual Property of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry by which Resolution No. 8871 No. 8871 dated July 27, 1999 is issued.
Guatemala: Final Resolutions of files 2801-97 and 2802-97 of the Registry of Intellectual Property dated June 12, 1998.
Nicaragua: Resolution No. 2911435 of the Ministry of Promotion, Industry and Commerce dated September 1, 1999.
Costa Rica: Registry No 114662 of the Registry of Intellectual Property of the Ministry of Justice and Grace dated July 2. 1999.
Cuba: Agreement entered between the Government of the Republic of Peru and the Republic of Cuba regarding the mutual recognition of protection of their denominations of origin dated October 10, 2000.
World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)received an application for international registration of an appellation of origin "pisco" like a beverage of Peruvian origin . Such recognition applies to all states signing the Lisbon Treaty, but the member States have the right, within a period of one year from the date of receipt by that country of the notification, to issue a refusal of protection in relation to the appellation of origin in question (see further at Lisbon System for the International Registration of Appellations of Origin (WIPO)) Officially accepted by France, Italy, Mexico, Costa Rica, Portugal, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Bulgaria. Application remained unanswered by rest of members of the Lisbon System, those being Burkina Faso, North Korea, Cuba, Iran, Haiti, Serbia and Montenegro, Congo, Algeria, Gabon, Georgia, Nicaragua, Tunisia, Israel, Togo and Moldavia. From the 26 member states of the WIPO, nine refused the Peruvian claim, and the rest haven't replied to Lima's request. The WIPO, nevertheless, has not recognized the denomination "Pisco" as Peruvian or Chilean, because such recognition is not part of its attributes.
Chile has proposed to Peru that the countries join forces to market pisco internationally. Chilean Foreign Minister, Alejandro Foxley has declared that ''"What's best for Peru and Chile is to share the denomination and even to jointly market the product in international markets, but they (Peru) still maintain their position as a competitor and are disputing the trade name."''
The traditional Chilean policy regarding pisco is that this term is a common appellation of Chile and Peru and, consequently, both countries have the right to use it to identify its spirits. This policy has been reflected in every free trade agreement signed by Chile, where the door has always been left open for a similar recognition of Peru's geographical indication. In sum, Chile does not oppose to the recognition of the appellation "Pisco" to Peru, provided that these recognitions do not prejudice Chilean rights over this term.
The Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) provides in Articles 22 and 23 for the coexistence of homonymous appellations for wines and spirits, but the Lisbon Agreement does not provide for the coexistence or the prevalence of pre-existing rights. At the same time, in the nineties, the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV) declared that "Pisco" was a common appellation of Chile and Peru, and called on both countries to work together in order to improve its international furtherance and commercialisation, and to avoid unfair uses of this appellation by third countries.
1873 National decree, which opened a register to track national producers and trademarks for pisco.
1916 - 1954: Chilean pisco was exempted from all taxes imposed on alcoholic beverages.
1931: Law Decree 181 defined pisco as distilled wine brandy produced in Regions III & IV
1936: Law Decree 5.798 changed the name of "La Union" to "Pisco Elqui" to associate it with pisco production.
1954 - 1974: Chilean pisco was taxed at 50% the rate for all alcoholic beverages.
1974: Law Decree 826 established a 40% tax on local alcoholic beverages and a 90% tax on all imported alcoholic beverages.
1977; Law Decree 2.057 reduced the tax on pisco to 25% and to 30% for all other alcoholic beverages.
1983: Tax on non-pisco alcoholic beverages was increased to 50%
1984: Tax on whisky increased to 55%, all other alcoholic beverages except pisco lowered to 30%, pisco remained at 25%
1985: Law Decree 18.455 established "pisco" as reserved to firewater produced and bottled, in consumable quantities, in Regions III and IV, elaborated by the distillation of genuine wine, originating from specified varietals, grown in said regions.
1986: Supreme Decree 78 established allowed additives, grape varieties and zones for production of firewater to be named "pisco". It also designated the different varieties of pisco according to alcoholic proof. This also established that the 'only' difference between the varieties is the alcohol content.
1997: Law Decree 19.534 established pisco tax at 25%, whisky at 70% and all other alcoholic beverages at 30%, imported alcoholic beverages add a 50% tax.
1998: Created a de facto monopoly by fusing the two largest pisco manufacturers, whose combined market share was 98%.
1996: trade agreement with Canada regarding recognition "Chilean pisco" as a geographical indication of Chile. In 2001, the Ministry of Industry "proposes that the following geographical indications be entered on the list of geographical indications kept pursuant to subsection: Chilean Pisco (A spirituous liquor originating from distilled grape juice.)The land comprising the valleys of the Third and Fourth Regions of Chile stretching from Parallel 32 to the North approximately to Parallel 27 South, being more specifically the valleys of the rivers Elqui, Limari, Huasco, Copiapo and Choapa.
1998: trade agreement with Mexico regarding recognition "Pisco" as a designation of origin of Chile, without prejudice to denominating any product from Peru as "pisco". Art. 15-23 of the Agreement.
2002: association agreement with European Union introduced text regarding recognition "Pisco" as a product of Chile, without prejudice to denominating any product from Peru as "Pisco". In 2006 EU protected Chilean recognition only for importing this product from Chile.
2003: trade agreements with U.S. regarding recognition "Chilean pisco" as a distinctive product.
2003: trade agreements with Korea regarding recognition "Pisco" as a designation of origin of Chile, without prejudice to denominating any product from Peru as "pisco".
2005: P-4 agreement with New Zealand, Singapore and Brunei regarding recognition "pisco" as a designation of origin of Chile. And "Chilean Pisco" as a product of Chile
2005: trade agreements with People's Republic of China regarding recognition "Chilean pisco" as a geographical indication of Chile.
2007: strategic economic agreements with Japan regarding recognition "Chilean pisco" as a geographical indication of Chile.
2008: Australia - Chile Free Trade Agreement, regarding recognition of "Chilean pisco" as a product manufactured exclusively in Chile
Some of the most popular cocktails with pisco include:
Pisco Sour, "national cocktail" in Peru. Prepared with egg white, lemon juice, simple syrup, and bitters
La Serena Sour, similar to Pisco Sour, but made with Chilean Papaya juice and sugar.
Algarrobina, Peruvian Pisco with Algarrobina syrup, cinnamon, egg yolk, and cream.
Some examples of mixed drinks with pisco include:
Chilcano de Pisco, a peruvian cocktail made with Pisco, lemon juice, and ginger ale.
Piscola, also called "national cocktail" in Chile ( or ) a cocktail prepared mixing Coca-Cola and Chilean Pisco.
Tiger tail: a variant from Piscola. First serve the Coca-Cola, then place a fabric napkin on the top of the glass and serve slowly the Chilean Pisco through it.
Peru Libre, a cocktail prepared by mixing Peruvian Pisco with Coke. Also known as "Sol y Sombra" (Sun and Shadow).
Serena Libre, a cocktail prepared by mixing Chilean Pisco with papaya juice.
Pisco Sorpresa, a cocktail originated in East London, inspired by the Latin American classic. Involves shaking Gin, Cointreau, Triple Sec, Bacardi and Pisco, adding raspberry juice, pouring in to a cocktail glass and finishing off with a dash of soda, grenadine and a squeeze of lemon.
List of piscos
Defense of the Peruvian denomination of origin, Embassy of Peru (.pdf)