Pisco is an unaged grape brandy from Peru (or, whisper it, Chile). Like Cognac or Armagnac from France, pisco is essentially distilled wine. It's clear because, unlike those French brandies, it's only left to rest in inert vessels rather than aged in oak.

Spirits only pick up colour by spending time in wood (or if artificial colours are added). Every spirit is clear when it first comes off a still, even whisky and rum. 

Barsol pisco bottles

How strong is pisco?

As well as never touching a barrel, Peruvian pisco must also have no water added before bottling. This means it's distilled only once, to 40ish percent alcohol – whereas most spirits, from Cognac to Scotch whisky, are distilled twice up to roughly 70 percent alcohol and later watered down to bottling strength.

In addition, pisco from Peru must be naturally fermented, meaning the yeast comes from the grape skins or the surrounding air. Adding commercial yeast strains is banned.

It's the only spirit in the world where you literally have one ingredient: grapes.


Peru and its lanky neighbour to the south, Chile, both claim pisco as their national drink. There's a port town called Pisco in southern Peru. But there's also a town called Pisco Elqui in Chile (although the settlement had the name La Unión until being re-Christened in 1936).

All that can be said for sure is that the drink has been produced in this rough part of the world for more than 400 years.