Pisco Country

El pisco es peruano! And don't try to tell the locals any different. This clear brandy that takes its name from the port town of Pisco is Peru's national drink and a source of unrelenting patriotic pride. It would take a brave and foolish man to raise the suggestion that pisco was invented in Spain, or worse still, in neighboring Chile. Yes, when in Peru, the only thing you need to know is that el pisco es 100% peruano.

Fiery and potent, pisco is hands-down the most popular liquor in Peru, and is drunk on just about every social occasion. Invited to someone's house for dinner? Chances are you'll be welcomed with a pisco sour, a tart cocktail made from pisco, lime juice, egg white, sugar, and bitters. Heading to a party? You're sure to see at least a couple of people drinking Peru libres—a Peruvian take on the classic Cuba libre, using pisco instead of rum and mixing it with Coca-Cola. Of course, the real way to drink pisco is a lo macho—strong and straight up. It will certainly put hair on your chest.

Pisco is derived from grapes, like wine, but is technically an aguardiente, or brandy. Through a special distillation process involving a serpentine copper pipe, the fermented grapes are vaporized and then chilled to produce a clear liquor. In Peru there are multiple variations of pisco: the single-grape pisco puro; a blend of grapes, such as quebranta mixed with torontel and muscatel, called pisco acholado; pisco aromatico, made from straight aromatic grapes; and pisco mosto verde, in which the green musts are distilled during the fermentation process.

Legend has it that pisco got its name from sailors who tired of asking for "aguardiente de Pisco" and shortened the term to pisco. (The name meant "place of many birds" in the language of the indigenous people, and it still refers to the port city as well as a nearby river.)

Today Peru produces more than 7.5 million liters annually, 40% of which is exported to the United States. In 1988 the liquor was designated a national patrimony, and each year Peruvians celebrate the Pisco Festival in March as well as the National Day of the Pisco Sour on the first Saturday of every February.

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