Chile vs Peru: It’s Time for a Pisco Showdown

Both Chile and Peru lay claim to this iconic South American spirit, and each makes a strong case. But what are the real differences between Chilean and Peruvian pisco? We take a look at the grapes and techniques behind each.
Pisco being poured from a bamboo stick Ica, Ica Region, Peru / Getty

A handful of Chilean piscos—including a number of autumn-worthy offerings—are making their way to the United States, challenging Peru’s traditional stronghold in pisco sours and other drinks.

The grape-based spirit is distilled in both countries, but with slightly different methods. In general, Peruvian pisco is made in a more traditional style—no wood aging, no water added—while Chile utilizes more modern techniques. Here’s a brief overview of some differences between the two.

Chile

GRAPES: Muscat, Pedro Jimenez and/or Torontel
AGING: Aging in wooden barrels is permitted. Aged Chilean piscos have golden colors, with vanilla and maple syrup aromas and flavors, similar to lighter versions of Cognac.
BOTTLING: Water may be added to bring the Pisco down to 40% abv, although some are bottled at higher proofs.
BRANDS TO TRY: Kappa, Capel

Although the piscola (pisco mixed with cola) is a popular tipple in Chile, David Wondrich, cocktail historian and author of Imbibe! From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash (Perigee Trade, 2007), has created the Santiago Sour, topped with a float of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon.

Santiago Sour

Recipe courtesy David Wondrich, cocktail historian and author

  • 1½ ounces Chilean pisco
  • ¾ ounce simple syrup
  • ½ ounce fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ ounce fresh orange juice
  • ½ ounce Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, for float

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine the pisco, simple syrup and juices. Shake vigorously and strain into a martini glass. Hold a spoon over the glass, rounded side up, and gently pour the Cabernet Sauvignon over the spoon so it floats on top of the drink.

Peru

GRAPES: Quebranta, Torontel, Moscatel, Italia, Albilla, Uvina and Negro Corriente.
AGING: Aging in wood isn’t allowed. Instead, Peruvian pisco is aged for a minimum of three months in vessels made of copper, glass, stainless steel or clay.
BOTTLING: No additives allowed, even water. Peruvian pisco must be bottled at the proof at which it comes off the still.
BRANDS TO TRY: Tacama, Pisco Portón

The pisco sour—that frothy concoction of fragrant pisco, egg white and citrus, topped with a colorful dash or two of bitters—is Peru’s best-known cocktail. But it’s far from the only one.

Portonero

Recipe courtesy Pisco Portón

  • 2 ounces Pisco Portón
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon simple syrup
  • 1 slice fresh ginger
  • 1 dash Angostura Bitters
  • ½ ounce ginger ale
  • Lime wedge, for garnish

Pour the pisco, lime juice, simple syrup, ginger and bitters into a tall glass filled with ice. Top with the ginger ale. Stir the ingredients together and garnish with a lime wedge.

Published on September 25, 2012
Topics: Cocktail Trends, Spirits Trends



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