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Pisco

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Pisco is a South American liquor distilled from grapes. Developed by Spanish settlers in the sixteenth century, it takes its name from the conical pottery in which it was originally aged, which was also the name of one of the sites where it was produced: Pisco, in the Viceroyalty of Peru. The first vineyards were planted in the coastal valleys in the Viceroyalty.

Left: Peruvian pisco.

In the late 1550s, the Spanish began to plant and harvest export quality grapes selected to produce wine with, while those that did not measure up were discarded or given to the farmers to do with as they pleased. It is in this context that small groups began to use these grapes to distill a brandy-like liquor from the discarded grapes, using similar techniques to those used in Spain for the production of Orujo.

The drink began to acquire consumers in the sailors that transported products between the colonies and Spain as well as sailors of other nationalities, who began to call it pisco, naming it after the port where it was thought to originate from. The drink then became a favorite of sailors and workers who visited the port of Pisco as well as other peruvian ports. It was exalted for its strong taste and ability to quickly affect the consumer. As trade from Peru to the world grew, so did the popularity of pisco, until it almost equaled wine in quantity as an export.

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, pisco was a mainstay on ocean-crossing vessels, drunk mostly by sailors, as officers usually drank whisky or other "finer" spirits. The main reasons for its heyday were the low price and high availability. This position was maintained by pisco until the onset of rum, which won over consumers with lower prices and a softer flavor.

In modern times, it continues to be produced in winemaking regions of Peru and Chile. The drink is a widely consumed spirit in the nations of Bolivia, Chile and Peru. The right to produce and promote pisco has been the matter of legal disputes between Chile and Peru, both of which hold their most iconic cocktail to be the pisco sour.

Pure Peruvian pisco is a very viscous liquid, slightly more so than vodka and comparable to Sambuca. It has an odor which is vaguely reminiscent of reeds. Its flavor is very smooth and almost non-alcoholic, which can be very deceptive, with the result that many first-time drinkers often drink to excess and can quickly become inebriated without noticing. Some people consider it "heresy" to mix pure pisco with anything else, and it is generally accepted that it should be drunk alone, even to the exclusion of ice.

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