Peruvian pisco is a grape brandy or aguardiente, distilled from fresh grape must in stills that do not rectify the final product. Thus the pisco obtained from the distilling process features is transparent or slightly yellowish, with an alcohol content that runs at around 42°.
Pisscu means seagull in Quechua, the Inca language. It was also the name of a fertile valley often visited by condors and settled by descendants of the ancient Paracas culture. Here the local potters, also called piscos, crafted the large clay jars used to ferment chicha and other alcoholic beverages.
When the Spanish Conquerors arrived in the sixteenth century, they found this part of the south coast featured the ideal conditions to plant Mediterranean grape varieties, and were able to plant them here thanks to the skill and knowledge of the ancient Peruvians who invented a system of irrigating the arid coastal desert. When the Spaniards started distilling, they baptized the grape brandy "pisco", as well as the port from where it was shipped, as can be seen from maps dating back to the late sixteenth century. Pisco exports reached their height between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Pisco varieties are defined by flavor and not their aroma. There are four types, according to the ingredient used for their preparation: pisco puro (made from non-aromatic grapes); pisco aromático (aromatic); pisco acholado (distilled from several different grape varieties); and pisco mosto verde (distilled from grape must that has yet to fully ferment).
Peruvian writings dating back to the nineteenth century state that drinkers who ordered pisco would "tomar las once", in a reference to the 11 letters used to spell the word aguardiente. Peruvian writer Ricardo Palma (1833-1919) writing in his Tradiciones described pisco as "alborotador quitapesares..." (a rousing pick-me-up).