What is pisco?
Pisco is a brandy made from young, just-fermented wine in Peru and Chile, using grape varietals such as Quebranta, Moscatel and Torontel, depending on the country of origin. In fact, geography is key when it comes to this spirit. A pisco from Peru is a very different creature from one made in Chile (the countries hotly contest who first invented pisco), with important differences between how they are made.
Piscos from Peru must be made in one of five coastal regions, from eight different grape varieties. The spirit can be distilled only once, and cannot be diluted or aged in wood, only steel or glass containers for a minimum of three months (unlike spirits such as cognac, rum and whisky, which gain their flavour profiles from ageing in wooden barrels). Peruvian piscos come in three varieties: puro, made from one grape varietal; acholado, made from a blend of grapes; and mosto verde, which is made from partially fermented grape juice, resulting in a sweeter, more aromatic end result.
Pisco can be made in just two regions of Chile, and 13 grape varietals are permitted. Chilean producers can have a little more influence on their final product – their piscos can undergo multiple distillations and be diluted, as well as barrel-aged. Chilean piscos are typically categorised by proof.
How to enjoy pisco
Because of the variety in how it’s made and what grapes are used, the range of flavour profiles in pisco is diverse, running the gamut from floral and fruity to herbaceous, earthy, spicy and funky. Accordingly, this makes it a versatile spirit to play around with when it comes to cocktails. Many of us are familiar with a pisco sour – made with lime juice, egg white, simple syrup and bitters – but you can also try a chilcano, pisco with ginger ale and lime juice, and it also makes a rather lovely martini, particularly if you use a 2:1 ratio of pisco to semi-dry white vermouth.
Best piscos to try…
This Peruvian acholado is made with a blend of Italia, Quebranta, Torontel and Moscatel grapes. It’s delicately complex, with floral and herbaceous notes, grape fruitiness and a spicy edge.
A Chilean pisco from wine producer Miguel Torres and made with Moscatel grapes. Expect intensely aromatic floral and limey citrus aromas, with green grape, peach and banana notes on the palate.
Another Chilean pisco made with Moscatel, this has been aged for six years in oak. The end result has inviting vanilla and honey notes, peachy stone fruit and a hint of grassiness. A silky, smooth mouthfeel would make this a nice digestif after dinner.
Another Waqar pisco, we loved the fresh, perfumed fruitiness of this spirit, with summery strawberry, pear and grape notes, alongside a hint of melon.