Originally developed by 16th-century Spanish settlers, pisco is South America’s answer to France’s eau-de-vie or Italy’s grappa. It is very much a game of two halves, with Peru and Chile vying for pisco supremacy via their differing forms of production. As in other parts, pisco came into being via pragmatism: With wine decidedly difficult to transport over long distances, winemakers started distilling part of their fermented product into high-proof spirit, which was a far more stable passenger.
Over time, the spirit started to make a name for itself in its own right. From passing, through necessity, into and out of the port of Pisco, it found itself a name. Historically, the wine areas of southern Peru and northern Chile dwelt within similar frameworks and had strong sociocultural ties, divided only by the Atacama Desert. Disagreement arose between these two groups, both of who laid claim to the Denomination of Origin Pisco. Channelling their champagne tendencies, Peru consider the word Pisco to be inextricably linked to the geographical location of the same name (naturally enough, in Peru), while Chile argues that the denomination is generic and should be available to both parties.
Peruvian Pisco must be made within the country’s five official DOs, using only copper pot stills, a la single malt whisky. Unlike its Chilean peer, Peruvian Pisco is never diluted after it is distilled, and no additives may be added. Chilean Pisco must be made inside the country’s two official DOs, with regulation quite high. Chilean distilleries are grouped into two categories, based on aromatic expressiveness: types utilising the Muscat grape are very fragrant, while those using Pedro Jimenez, Moscatel de Asturia and Torontel are more subtle.