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Despite its status as a long-standing staple across the western coast of South America, pisco is just beginning to find its moment in the spotlight here in the United States.
“Pisco's lighter flavor profiles allow for great infusions with ingredients that one typically wouldn't be able to use with stronger spirits,” explains Eddie Morgado, head bartender at New York City's Loreto Italian Kitchen & Bar, who notes that much like wine, pisco has a vintage and gives each producer its own identity. “With its wide range of personalities, there's a pisco for everyone.”
Rich in history, cocktail culture, and all-around deliciousness, this South American brandy is beloved by both industry professionals and casual drinkers alike—so what exactly do we need to know about it?
First and foremost, the drink comes from Peru and Chile, though Peruvian pisco and Chilean pisco are two completely different things. Both are considered brandy, as they are crafted from distilled grape juice (wine), though that’s really where the similarities end. Peruvian pisco is produced from eight permitted grape varieties and is once distilled, whereas Chilean pisco may use up to 14 permitted grape varieties and numerous distillations. In terms of aging, Peruvian piscos are not permitted to see any oak during their resting (aging) process; in Chile, this is allowed.
Peru’s history with pisco long predates that of Chile’s, which is why many professionals agree that Peruvian pisco is the OG. However, here at Liquor.com, we tend to stick by the motto that if it’s boozy, well-made, and delicious, you can pretty much count us in. We took to the pros and gathered top-notch recs to get acquainted with this South American sipper. Check ‘em out here.
Best Overall: La Diablada Pisco
Country of Origin: Peru | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Stone fruit, Honeysuckle, Dried basil
This tasty, custom-blended pisco checks all of our boxes. The distillate is made from a private reserve of quebranta, moscatel, and italia grapes, each of which brings their own aromas, body, and flavor profiles to the final blend. Expect floral-driven flavors of stone fruit, honeysuckle, citrus peel, and dried basil to dominate the palate. This pisco is technically classified as an acholado, meaning that it is made from the first pressing of three different types of grapes.
“La Diablada is one of my favorite Piscos, as it’s great for showing off pisco's versatility,” describing the pisco as lightly fruity and floral in aroma, but a little more herbal and spice-driven in taste. “This is a great starter pisco. It can be sipped solo or enjoyed in a classic cocktail.” — Eddie Morgado, head bartender at Loreto Italian Kitchen & Bar
Best for Beginners: 1615 Puro Quebranta Pisco
Country of Origin: Peru | ABV: 42% | Tasting Notes: Yellow plums, Rose, Vanilla
This affordable, entry-level pisco is smooth, sleek, and easy to find. Its name (1615) pays homage to the first records of pisco distillation, credited to Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala. Over 22 pounds of grapes are used to create just one liter of this single varietal pisco, which is crafted entirely from the quebranta grape variety. Flavors of yellow plums, rose petals, and a touch of vanilla lead to a smooth finish.
Best Budget: Macchu Pisco
Country of Origin: Peru | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Yuzu, Lime leaf, White pepper
Distilled in Peru by Melaine Asher, this accessible bottle of pisco jumps with flavors of yuzu, white pepper, lime leaf, and pear. 10 pounds of grapes (that’s the equivalent of five bottles of wine) are used to make this pisco, which is aged for nine months prior to bottling. The wine’s short, pepper-tinged finish promises to keep your palate salivating for more—at less than $30 a pop, we’d grab two.
“It is important to pay attention to pisco’s aromas and tastes to blend it into the perfect cocktail, as sometimes it’s more aromatic, sometimes dryer, sometimes more viscous. Its endless opportunities challenge us to pair it, shake it, stir it or blend it into round, very expressive drinks.” — world-renowned Peruvian chef, Diego Muñoz
Best Splurge: BarSol Pisco Supremo Mosto Verde Italia
Country of Origin: Peru | ABV: 41% | Tasting Notes: Citrus, Asian pear, Honeysuckle
In the realm of pisco designations, ‘Mosto Verde’ designates that the must has only been partially fermented prior to distillation—in other words, the wine is still sweet, as fermentation has not finished. In turn, this means that more grapes per liter are used, and more time and effort are put in by the distiller to create these juicy, fruit-driven expressions of the distillate.
Expect flavors of ripe citrus, juicy Asian pear, honeysuckle, and a touch of pepper from BarSol’s tasty Supremo expression. Muñoz recommends exploring the world of Mosto Verdes for solo sipping after a long dinner.
Best Blend: Caravedo Acholado Pisco
Country of Origin: Peru | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Raisins, Banana, Jasmine
There’s a reason why Caravedo is the #1 exported pisco to the United States—they’re tasty, they’re affordable, and their quality is always consistent. Caravedo’s acholado is produced from an estate-grown blend of quebranta and torontel grapes, followed by nine months of resting prior to bottling. Over seven pounds of grapes are used to produce each bottle of this floral pisco, and no additional water—or any additives, for that matter—are used. The resulting distillate is fresh and vibrant, marked by flavors of raisins, orange peel, green banana, and jasmine.
“The perfect acholado blend transports you through the arid south Peruvian coast,” says Muñoz, highlighting the enthusiasm and commitment of many pisco producers throughout many different periods of history. “[Pisco has] a firmness to face the world market and blend into classic cocktails. [I love] the creativity and seriousness of its ambassadors, and the laugh and enjoyment of its victims.” Muñoz feels that this is what makes pisco the most authentic and modern-yet-traditional Peruvian spirit.
Best for Cocktails / Pisco Sours: Santiago Queirolo Quebranta Grape Pisco
Country of Origin: Peru | ABV: 42% | Tasting Notes: Grapes, Grilled nuts, Earth, Musk
For pisco lovers looking for a bottle on the musky, earthier side of things, this bottling from Santiago Queirolo is just the ticket. Crafted entirely from quebranta, this ‘puro’ (single varietal) pisco shows flavors of green grapes, grilled nuts, and musky undertones on the palate. We’ve found that the herbaceous and slightly green / nutty notes add a more savory side to our pisco sour creations. Be sure to taste a splash solo to really see what this unique bottle’s all about.
“What Pisco can bring to cocktails can be very dependent on the pisco you are using,” explains Morgado. He likes the difference between barrel-aged Chilean piscos and Peruvian piscos to that of mezcal and tequila. “Although related, they are very much different. I believe it best to let the pisco be the star of the cocktail by using flavors that match the pisco itself.”
Best Sipping: Waqar Pisco
Country of Origin: Chile | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Fig, Floral, Fresh, Fruity
This premium Chilean pisco is produced by the Camposano family, now represented by their fifth-generation distiller. Waqar is produced from hand-picked pink muscat and muscat of Alexandria grapes, harvested at the base of the Andes mountains. This bright and aromatic pisco jumps with flavors of juicy melon, canned pears, white flower blossoms, and a touch of sweet spice. Fair warning—you’ll probably be reaching for a second (or third) pour.
“Chilean Pisco can be clear or brown due to oak aging, and it is a higher-proof spirit with a delicate bouquet of aromatics and a hint of sweetness on the palate,” says Christophe Desplas, director of ProChile Nueva York. Desplas notes that most of the piscos from Chile clock in between 40% and 55% ABV. “Chilean Pisco is very diverse, so you can find different styles with different tasting layers. You can find [aged] Chilean piscos with very complex identities, or you can go for a clear pisco which will [have] much more fruity notes,” he says.
“Waqar was the first really great Chilean pisco that I tasted. The aromas are like sitting in a garden in spring. It was love at first sight, starting with the label!” — Veronica Cousiño, director of exports and marketing at Chile’s Cousiño Macul winery
Best Aged: Heron by Waqar Pisco Anejado
Country of Origin: Chile | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Stone fruit, Honey, Sugared nuts
Looking to wow the pisco lover in your life? This textured, tasty, and undeniably complex aged bottle is the way to go. Produced in honor of French importer La Maison du Whisky’s 60th anniversary, this six year-aged pisco oozes with flavors of candied stone fruit, honey, sugared nuts, and citrus zest. Extended wood-aging adds a sweet, vanilla-laced note to the pisco’s long-lasting finish. In the realm of aged pisco, this stuff is cream of the crop.
“Although sometimes hard to come by, everyone must try an aged Pisco,” says Morgado, highlighting Heron by Waqar as a great example. “It stays true to classic pisco staples with its light fruity notes, but depth and complexity are added with its aging process. It’s a great Pisco to enjoy neat or with a large ice cube.”
Muñoz recommends seeking out distillers that don’t cut corners and always respect the product’s quality above all else. Morgado notes that pisco can be best enjoyed chilled or neat to get a real sense of the flavors, though there is never anything wrong with a classic Pisco Sour. “If you are having it neat or chilled, an aged Chilean pisco is usually the way to go,” he says.
What is Pisco made from?
Pisco is made from distilled wine, which classifies it as a South American style of brandy.
How is Pisco made?
Pisco is produced from distilled wine or fermented fruit juice, ultimately rendering it a style of brandy. However, unlike other famous brandies (cognac, armagnac, etc.) oak barrels are not permitted in the “resting” (aging) process of pisco. Peruvian pisco may be produced from eight different grape varieties, including quebranta, uvina, mollar, negra criolla, moscatel, italia, albilla, and torontel. (Nearly ⅘ of all Peruvian pisco on the market is made with quebranta.) Peruvian pisco must also be produced from a single distillation. Note: Chilean pisco permits the use of 14 different grape varieties, oak barrels may be used, and more than one distillation is permitted.
What's the best way to drink Pisco?
High-quality pisco is best enjoyed solo (think of it as a South American sipping brandy), though you can never go wrong with a Pisco Sour or a Chilean Piscola!
How long does Pisco last after opening?
As with most base liquors (gin, rum, vodka, etc.), pisco is extremely stable and will last for a long time. If unopened, the bottles will last forever. Once opened, pisco’s flavors will diminish over time, but they won’t ever truly go bad.
At what temperature should Pisco be stored?
Like all liquors, pisco does not need to be refrigerated once opened, so long as the bottles do not exceed room temperature (around 75 degrees Fahrenheit).
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Vicki Denig is a wine, spirits, and travel journalist who splits her time between New York and Paris. Her work regularly appears in major industry publications. She is the content creator and social media manager for a list of prestigious clients, including Sopexa, Paris Wine Company, Becky Wasserman, Volcanic Selections, Le Du’s Wines, Windmill Wine & Spirits and Corkbuzz. She is a Certified Specialist of Wine.