Pisco Renews Link between Peru and the United States Dating to the Nineteenth Century
By Dialogo July 19, 2010
Peruvians are raising a glass to the boom in their exports of pisco, a
distilled grape-based liquor considered a national symbol and the popularity of
which is undergoing a resurgence abroad.
Pisco, made from the fresh must of Muscatel grapes distilled in copper stills
in a process going back to the Spanish conquest, is not only part of Peru’s cultural
heritage, but also has a place in the history of the United States.
“Definitely, it’s appreciated by the rich on Park Avenue” in New York, said
John Iachetti, entertainment director at the Loews Regency Hotel on Manhattan’s East
Iachetti said that he ordered one bottle of Peruvian pisco five years ago,
and now he goes through an average of two a week.
The link between the Peruvian liquor and the United States dates to the
California gold rush in 1849, when ships sailing around Cape Horn took on supplies
at the Peruvian port of Pisco, including the local beverage.
Soon after, they started carrying chocolate made from Peruvian
Italian confectioner Domingo Ghirardelli moved his chocolate business from
Lima to San Francisco, where pisco was becoming the liquor of choice.
The legendary Bank Exchange & Billiard Room bar served Pisco Punch, a
potent mixture of pisco, simple syrup, lemon, and pineapple juice.
British writer Rudyard Kipling, who visited the city in 1889, described it as
“compounded of the shavings of cherubs’ wings, the glory of a tropical dawn, the red
clouds of sunset, and fragments of lost epics by dead masters.”
And this tie between the two countries is currently enjoying a renaissance in
the United States, after almost a century.
Peru exported around 800,000 dollars’ worth of pisco between January and May
this year, an increase of 150 percent compared to the same period last year,
according to the Andean nation’s Association of Exporters (ADEX).
Sales, in addition, have more than doubled to 1.4 million dollars since 2006
and have quadrupled in the last decade.
Part of the boom in pisco sales and in its international renown is due to
the Peruvian government, which launched a campaign at home and abroad to promote the
Every July, Peru holds tastings throughout the country. On the chosen day
– the last Sunday of the month – a colonial-era fountain in Lima’s
central plaza is filled with two thousand liters of pisco.
Passers-by can stand under one of the fountain’s spouts and try the
In addition, in 2003 the first Saturday in February was declared National
Pisco Sour Day in honor of the cocktail invented by an American bartender living in
Lima in the early twentieth century, which mixes pisco with lemon juice, egg white,
and simple syrup.
The approximately 380 Peruvian producers are expected to produce around 7.5
million liters of pisco this year, twelve percent more than in 2009, according to
the National Pisco Commission (ConaPisco).
The United States is the largest buyer of pisco, followed by Chile, which
also claims to have invented the beverage and which produces 50 million liters a
year, far more than Peru does.
Nevertheless, Peru recently overtook Chile to become the chief supplier of
pisco to the United States.
After the Bank Exchange & Billiard Room closed its doors in 1919, the
inventor of Pisco Punch died, taking the recipe with him to the grave.
In the second half of the twentieth century, when political instability
impeded Peruvian exports, Chile added pisco to its growing list of products and soon
dominated sales worldwide.
Like Mexican tequila and Japanese sake, Peruvian pisco now has a place on the
list of famous artisanal beverages, drunk in the cocktails of prestigious bars from
Manhattan to Taiwan.