(n.) Chile and Peru both lay claim to inventing this grape brandy, thought to be created some 400 years ago. There are variations, but in general, most pisco is distilled from fermented grapes in copper pot stills and bottled young; it is clear or light yellow in color with flavors that range from nearly neutral like vodka, to fruity and nutty. Best known in the United States as the base alcohol for Pisco Punch and the Pisco Sour, the spirit was very popular in Gold Rush-era San Francisco during the mid 19th century, but faded during Prohibition.
Recently, a shift towards quality distillation is helping pisco shed its rusticized image, and the liquor is gaining mainstream traction again. The best are made from first-press grape juice, while industrial versions often also use grape must, the skins, seeds and stems. Peruvian offerings face more regulation: no additives (water or sugar) are allowed, the grapes must be grown in designated areas and the pisco must be made from one or a combination of up to eight allowed grape varieties; if the pisco is made from one grape variety it may bear the label, “puro,” while others will use “acholado,” a mix, or “aromatico,” if only aromatic grape varieties are used. A new category is “mosto verde,” in which pisco is distilled from grapes that have not been fully fermented. Chilean laws are less strict and the offerings are generally less expensive; sugar and water are allowed to be added, and oak aging is permitted, which can add a caramel color and vanilla flavors.