Viscous, subtle, earthy and smoothly perfumed, Pisco is Peru's national liquor. Steeped in the history of the Spanish conquistadores, Chile and Peru fight over ownership of Pisco. In both countries, colonisers discovered fertile lands for grape-growing and their Quebranta crops were so successful that they started exporting wines back to Europe. The grapes discarded in the wine-making process were made into a strong aguardiente or grape brandy. They named it Pisco, after the port town in Southern Peru where it was originally made—in turn named for the rounded earthenware pot used to store it.
These days Peru allows two types of Pisco production, the pure version still being made from the Quebranta, Mollar and Negra Corriente grapes and a more aromatic version made with different grape varieties. The famous Pisco Sour, acid yet sweet, smelling of ripe grapes, is a combining of Pisco with lime juice, sugar syrup, bitters and egg whites, which bring the signature frothiness. The best brands are Campo de Encanto or BarSol for export, and, commonly found in shops in Peru, Biondi and Portón.
By the time of the 19th-century American Gold Rush, Pisco had become madly popular with Californian miners and acquired a celebrity following, including the writer Rudyard Kipling, who gushed: "[Pisco is] compounded of the shavings of cherubs wings, the glory of a tropical dawn, the red clouds of sunset and the fragments of lost epics by dead masters."
Explore the finer points of pisco beneath the magnificent vaulted ceiling of The Lobby Bar at Cusco's Belmond Hotel Monasterio to the sounds of cool jazz. The hotel offers a wide range of the finest labels, including special infusions with Andean herbs.