Pisco power

The 300 or so producers work within a geographically defined area and are permitted to use eight varieties of grape. Distillation is a single event and must be to proof – so no water is added. The spirit cannot be aged in wood. Essentially producers get one crack at producing a palatable spirit.

Some fail but those who seek international recognition tend to produce refined spirits and position themselves at the super-premium end of the market. 

Right now the main exports markets are US and Chile, though Spain, Colombia, Japan and Germany take a small share of the wares. In Chile, Peruvian Pisco is not classified as Pisco (and vice versa) but the popularity of Peruvian food has even found Peruvian Pisco a place behind – in Pisco terms - enemy lines. 

With the gastronomic spotlight on Peru and a classic cocktail culture looking beyond just the Pisco Punch, the likes of London and Paris are really opening up.  

“We are very happy that we have launched in London,” says Johnny Schuler of Pisco Portón, which is to be distributed by Mangrove UK. 

“We are sending our first container to France and in April we are going to sign an agreement with a distributor in Spain. In Europe they are a little behind the US. But the cocktail cities of the world – Paris, London, Moscow, Dubai, Tokyo – are starting to discover this new spirit that is much more complex than vodka and is more interesting than Tequila.”

Educating consumers

Schuler says educating consumers happens in two phases. Stage one is to seed the market with a blended Pisco and, if there is interest, then mono-varietal Pisco can be unleashed. Portón is now available in 34 states and is established enough, says Schuler, for the arrival of its first container of mono-varietal.

Macchu Pisco is another high-end Pisco on a similar trail. It is re-entering the UK in June, after seven years of absence. “Cocktail culture has picked up and now we are able to go more mainstream with Macchu Pisco,” says Melanie Asher, CEO and distiller of the family of brands.

“Pisco is becoming more democratised. Now it is growing so much in the UK it’s ahead of the US in terms of adoption.” 

The brand family – which also includes the blend La Diablada and Musta, a sipping Pisco made in the Mosto Verde style (with partially fermented grapes) – is sold to the US, France, South Korea, New Zealand and Hong Kong. 

Asher says she is seeing not only more Pisco Punch in her export markets but also Chilcanos – a traditional mix of Pisco, lime juice, ginger ale and bitters which is popular in Peru.  

Both Asher and Schuler argue that Peruvian Pisco is one of the great spirits of the world – a luxury product that is up there with Cognac but has just lacked the right exposure.  

Classic cocktail culture’s expansion will help but perhaps it is the longevity of Peru’s gastronomic trend on which the fortunes of Pisco hinge. If Peru’s cuisine goes from on-trend to entrenched, Peruvian Pisco will be on hand and in-restaurant to benefit.