If you’ve ever tried pisco, chances are it was in a frothy Pisco Sour or a pineapple-infused Pisco Punch. The South American brandy is a staple in these classic drinks. Despite this, pisco is still somewhat obscure around much of the US—but that wasn’t always the case.
In the mid-16th century, Spanish colonizers brought European grapevines to South America to meet a growing demand for wine grapes. As a result, vineyards quickly spread throughout the region. By the early 17th century, Spaniards and natives had begun distilling the extra wine produced from these vines. Thus aguardiente, a spirit with somewhere around 29% ABV, was born.
Eventually, that aguardiente evolved into one of the continent’s most prized drinks: pisco. The spirit was first imported to the West Coast of the United States in the mid-1800s. It was here where its use in the Pisco Sour solidified its popularity. But, as with many other spirits at the time, the onset of Prohibition effectively eliminated the spirit Stateside. It wasn’t until recent years that pisco made any sort of meaningful return to American bars and liquor stores.
Today, pisco is made within seven protected regions in South America—five in Peru and two in Chile. Though the spirit is still relatively mysterious to the layman, its presence in the US market and interest among bartenders continues to grow. Ready to familiarize yourself with this centuries-old brandy? Our guide to this unsung spirit includes five must try pisco bottles.
One of the brands you’re more likely to find adorning liquor store shelves is Barsol Pisco. Founded in 2002, it’s made in Peru’s Ica Valley at the site of a historic bodega which dates back to the 1800s. This particular bottling is an acholado, meaning a blend of multiple grape varietals. More specifically, it’s made by blending the distillates of three different kinds of grapes: quebranta, italia and torontel. Barsol’s Acholado achieves a citrusy, floral spirit which works particularly well in cocktails.
In 2006, sisters Melanie and Lizzie Asher left the Maryland-based company they started together to return to Peru to launch Macchu Pisco. Made entirely from quebranta grapes, each bottle requires a whopping 10 pounds of fruit. The brand’s flagship spirit is distilled in copper pot stills and then allowed to rest for a year before bottling. Though it’s easy to detect fruity and floral notes, it also exhibits interesting and unusual peppery notes. A hint of baking spice is the final touch.
With a label that draws you in from the start, this must try pisco is as delicious as it is eye catching. Grand and Noble is an acholado pisco that’s made with five grape varietals. As is required for all Peruvian pisco, it goes through a process of only a single distillation. The result is highly flavorful—so much so that you may find yourself sipping it neat. While it also exhibits many of the fruity and floral notes common in pisco, it has a remarkable balance between each element of flavor.
While La Diablada’s base offering is a blended, acholado-style pisco, the line also features a variety of single varietal spirits, known as puro. This particular bottling is made from the aromatic moscatel grape only. Pro-tip: Peruvian pisco also is categorized as aromatic or non-aromatic depending on the grape used. Oscillating between sweet, savory and herbaceous, sip this pisco on its own or mix it into a Pisco Sour for a remarkably delicious cocktail.
Named for the brilliant Kappa Crucis star cluster, this Chilean pisco got its start in an unusual way. After expanding its wine business into Chile in 1994, the House of Marnier Lapostolle—which is famously known for making Grand Marnier—eventually launched Kappa Pisco. It’s made using two kinds of grapes: pink muscat and muscat of Alexandria grapes that are grown in Chile’s Elqui Valley. With an amalgam of flavors ranging from stone fruit to zesty and floral notes, this is a must try pisco for any home bar.