As mestizo as Peru – this is Pisco. Created from the fusion of vines brought from Europe, the fertility of the lands of the southern coast of Peru and the production techniques adapted to our setting by our ancestors, Pisco is Peruvian pride distilled into a drink.
To understand its fascinating origin it is necessary to go back several centuries, because although the Spaniards brought the raw material to our lands, it was the work, ingenuity and dedication of the Peruvians that paved the way for the creation of this wonderful brandy.
From the Canary Islands to Peru
Much has been written about the origin of Pisco, its birth in Ica and the meticulous work that goes into its production.
It all began in 1532 with the arrival of the Spaniards, who unloaded grapes, figs, olive oil and dates at our ports. Three years later, with the conquest already complete, construction of many churches began that would need wine to give mass. When wine started to become scarce, the conquered territory began to be used for vineyards.
Most historians agree that the first grapes were brought by the Marquis Francisco de Caravantes in 1553, and that they came from the Canary Islands. But there is no consensus on the place where distilled grape liquor was first produced in Peru.
In 1572, Álvaro De Ponce founded the village of Santa María Magdalena, in the valley of Pisco. Over the years, its name would be shortened to Pisco, and it would become world famous for being the birthplace of our flagship drink.
But how did this liquor start being distilled? When the grapes arrived in Peru, the winemaking process began. However, its quality was so good that the Spaniards decided to sell it. The success of Peruvian wine in Spain was such that merchants living in Spain began to complain because their sales had decreased dramatically. An export restriction was negotiated through Philip II and was accepted in 1613. Faced with this, coastal producers intensified the production of Pisco, a drink that was starting to become popular.
One of the first references was made by Pedro de León Portocarrero, who, already settled in Spain (1616), made many notes after his arrival in Peru (1609), in which he mentions grapes and wine, as well as the quality of the wine. One of these comments was: "they make a lot of brandy in Peru and its very good".
According to the Ayacucho chronicler Guamán Poma de Ayala, it is in Lanchas where the first productions of this distilled drink took place. There, in the valley of Pisco, in the 16th century lived a Jesuit community that cultivated and harvested the first grapes. In one of his publications from 1615, entitled Nueva crónica y buen gobierno (‘New Chronicle and Good Government’), Poma de Ayala mentioned that the Jesuits had begun growing grapes to make the first distilled drinks, which they sold and exported through the port of Pisco.
Another important document that corroborates that it was in Ica where the first distillations of this drink were carried out is the will of Pedro Manuel "the Greek". Dated April 30, 1613, in it this man from Ica states among his acquisitions "thirty burnay jars full of brandy, plus a barrel full of brandy, equivalent to thirty 'botixuelas' (big bottles) of said brandy. Plus a large copper cauldron to extract brandy, with its lid. Two pultaya containers, one with a spout and the other smaller and in better condition". This document is part of the research carried out by the national historian Lorenzo Huertas, and is considered one of the oldest pieces of information found in Peru about Pisco.
In his book Cronología de la producción del vino y del pisco (‘Chronology of Wine and Pisco Production’), Huertas tells of an important fact: in a public deed dated December 11, 1633, Alonso García de Zepeda from Ica appears as the owner of the Quillohay vineyard, as well as a "wooden wine press and a large pan to make brandy". Both facts are reliable proof that it was in Ica where Pisco was first produced.
There are many different versions of the origin of the name of this distilled liquor. For the great majority, it owes its name to the place where it was originally cultivated, "Pisco". This word has a definite Peruvian origin.
To understand the relationship that this grape liquor has with Ica, it is necessary to mention Father Bernabé Cobo, who in Historia del Nuevo Mundo (‘History of the New World’) talks about his experience living in Pisco, back in 1625: "all the uses of this plant, specifically of the fruit, the very good raisins that are made from the mollar grape, syrup, brandy, vinegar and especially a great imitation of wine".
Francisco de Caravantes also left proof that this brandy was strongly related to Pisco; he did this in a document from 1630 in which he states: "the valley of Pisco is still the most abundant with excellent wines in Peru. From there, there's one that competes with our sherry, the so-called 'Pisco brandy', which owing to the fact that it is extracted from the small grape, is one of the most exquisite liqueurs drunk in the world".
Moreover, in a study by Johann Takob Von Tschudi from 1838 to 1842, which he called Testimonio del Perú (‘Testimony of Peru’), it is argued that: "The small town of Pisco" had reached a certain importance due to "the export of its liquor" and its "grapes of excellent quality, which are very juicy and very sweet".
Before the arrival of the Spaniards, the inhabitants of our lands spoke several languages, among them Quechua. Pisco comes from the Quechua "pisccu", which in English means "bird", and was already in the records of the chroniclers and priests who arrived with the first conquerors.
In that sense, the linguist and prestigious professor from Ica, César Ángeles Caballero, establishes up to four meanings for the word "pisco", all of them intimately linked to the present-day Pisco valley, located on the south coast of Peru.
For his part, the historian Huertas claims that the name comes from "piskos", clay jars in which this brandy was stored after being distilled from the grape.
Did you know?
- The city of Pisco was given this name due to the wide variety of birds found in the south of Peru.
- The flavor of Pisco is characterized by the Pisco grapes, which are divided into two groups.
Non-Aromatic: Quebranta, Mollar, Negra Criolla and Uvina.
Aromatic: Italy, Moscatel, Torontel and Albilla.
- There are three types of Pisco.
Pure: obtained from a single distillation of fresh must which is completely fermented and comes exclusively from a single variety of Pisco grape.
Green Must: obtained from a single distillation of fresh must from incompletely fermented Pisco grapes.
Pisco Acholado: obtained from the mixture of Pisco grapes, as well as of fresh musts from Pisco grapes which are completely fermented or incompletely fermented. This can also be achieved by combining pure Piscos with each other or green musts with each other.