Pisco, heritage of all Chileans

What is the pisco?

The pisco flows through the veins of Chile, proud guardian of a history of more than five hundred years of effort and constancy.

Born at the foot of the desert, warmed by the impassive sun and raised under the reflection of the purest skies in the world, the pisco is ambassador of the character of the inhabitants of the regions of Atacama and Coquimbo, of their patience and taste for perfection.

As a result of the roots of Chile, pisco is a proposal of new sensations. Distillate of genuine drinking wine of premium category, from 13 varieties of aromatic grapes, grown and processed in the regions of Atacama and Coquimbo. Its production consists of four main phases: growing and harvesting fishery grapes, winemaking, distilling and bottling.

The pisco can be white or transparent (young and versatile alcohol, distilled between one and three times, with a maximum of six months of rest in inactive wood or steel ponds). In contrast, the guard or aged pisco is one that has rested in active wood (raulí, oak, holm oak, etc.) for at least six months.

The Pisco Designation of Origin, dating from 1931, is the oldest in the Americas and second in the world; this regulation sets the strict quality standards for the elaboration of our pisco, which are maintained to this day.

Thanks to its high quality and versatility, this product of the hard work of more than 2,800 grape growers from the Atacama and Coquimbo regions has won important awards in the main and most prestigious international competitions.

By tradition and history, the pisco is a characteristic product of our country, heir to the historical, cultural and productive heritage of Chile.

Productive process

The preparation of the pisco consists of four major phases:

  • Growing and harvesting the pisquera grapes
  • Winemaking
  • Distillation
  • Packaging in consumer units

The Pisco Designation of Origin states that all these phases must be performed in the pisquera area.

The harvest of the pisquera grapes begins in the middle of February each year, usually with the earliest variety – the Moscatel of Austria – and concludes with those of the longest cycle – the Muscat of Alexandria and the Pedro Jiménez. The harvest shall be determined by the likely alcohol level of the grape in the cluster, which must be equal to or greater than 10.5o G.A.P.

The grapes are received in distilleries and separated from residues such as leaf and broom. The grapes are then pressed to extract their juice, which will be vinified in white at controlled temperatures. The winemaking process takes an average of 30 days, depending on the degree of technology incorporated into the process and the yeasts used for fermentation.

Once the wine is obtained, the distillation process begins in discontinuous copper stills, because this material does not provide flavor to alcohol, resists acids and conducts heat well. The still is a device used for the distillation of liquids by means of a process of evaporation by heating and subsequent condensation by cooling. It was invented by the Persian sage Al-Razi around the 10th century to produce perfumes, medicines and alcohol from fermented fruits.

The pisquero wine is poured into the still and there it is brought to the boil to separate and capture the alcohol. The alcohol obtained from this process is divided into three parts: head, heart and tail. The heart is the purest part and is the one that is collected for the manufacture of the pisco. The master distiller is the one who decides where the heart begins and ends in the distillation, so the final product will undoubtedly have the seal of the master distiller.

The heart can be distilled once, twice or even three times, depending on the purity level and organoleptic properties that are sought for the production of the pisco. The alcohol obtained at the foot of the still has an alcoholic strength that can fluctuate between approximately 60 to 73 degrees. That is why, as in the production of distillates such as whisky or vodka, the final alcoholic strength is adjusted with demineralized water.

The distillation of the wines of each season begins immediately after the wine is ready and cannot exceed the date of January 31 of the following year, to prevent it from matching the fruit of the incoming harvest. Alcohols, after distillation for the production of pisco, must have a minimum rest of 60 days, which can be done in steel ponds or in raulí fudres.

Once this alcohol is packaged, it can already be called pisco.

Types of pisco

Following the guidelines of the Pisco Designation of Origin, it is classified according to its minimum alcoholic graduation:

  • Current or traditional pisco: 30o
  • Special Pisco: 35o
  • Pisco booked: 40o
  • Large pisco: 43o

Along with this classification, there are transparent piscos, which has not gone through a rest in active wood. The so-called guards rest in hardwood barrels (usually raulí, American or French oak) for a minimum time of 180 days, while aged piscos have a rest in hardwood for a minimum time of 360 days.

These procedures will affect the color, aroma and flavor of each pisco, delivering a wide variety, both to combine in different preparations, and to enjoy with ice.

Pisquera grapes

The pisco is heir to a centuries-old tradition of distillation. In its production coexists history and modernity, always maintaining the highest standards of production quality, whether from a small boutique distillery, or a large company. These standards revolve around two important elements: the Pisco Designation of Origin and the raw materials used in its elaboration.

The Denomination of Origin Pisco gives account of the factors and characteristics that make the distillate a product intimately linked with the geographical and cultural conditions of the transverse valleys of Copiapó, Huasco, Elqui, Limarí and Choapa. In addition, the pisquera grapes, which arose thanks to the coexistence of various grape strains, which in these fertile soils were giving life to new varieties, unique and endemic.

In Chile there are about 10 thousand hectares of pisquera grapes and in most of them are grown varieties Moscatel Rosada, Alexandria and Austria, Torontel and Pedro Jiménez. There are also other varieties of pisquera grapes, less used: Moscatel Temprana, Amarilla, Canelli, Frontignan, Hamburg, Negra, Orange and Chaselas Musque Vrai.  These grapes grow at the foot of the desert, with cold nights and lots of sun, so they concentrate a high level of sugar in their grains.

To make a single bottle of pisco you need approximately 3.5 kilos of pisquera grapes, months of work, rest and dedication from almost 3,000 farmers. Thus, each bottle of pisco is the result of the efforts of thousands of small and medium-sized farmers.