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Sipping Sunshine: Visit a Pisco Distillery in Peru

Every visitor to Peru will soon be introduced to Pisco, Peru's national drink the local distilled beverage that has been tantalizing taste buds for centuries. Pisco is an unaged brandy distilled from recently fermented grape musts and juices. Comparisons can be made to Grappa since both are made from grapes. Others compare the herbal earthy flavour to tequila. Come meander with me as I visit a Pisco Distillery in the small town of Pisco, Peru.

a brightly decorated clay urn showing a vineyard and includes the words "El Catador"
The El Catador Distillery, Pisco Peru
 
 

Getting to Pisco

The little town of Pisco, about 200km south of Lima is definitely off the beaten track for most visitors. This means there are few transportation options and those wanting to visit the area will need to rent a vehicle or travel by bus.


I was travelling from Lima to Cusco using the Peru Hop coach service -- an intercity hop-on hop-off service, which I highly recommend. The coaches are modern and comfortable. Travellers can decide how long to spend at each stop. The shortest journey would take approximately 3 days or could be stretched to much longer, depending upon how long visitors choose to spend at each stop. Each bus includes a guide who can arrange accommodations and excursions on board. The Pisco distillery is one of the excursion/lunch stops between Huacachina and Arequipa, so I didn't get the chance to visit the main town.

A map of Peru with the town Pisco pinned

The Fiesta de la Vendima, or harvest festival, is the largest festival in the Ica region. During the festival, tourists from Lima fill up the hotels which more than double their prices. Be sure to reserve well in advance. The festival is held at Campo Feriado, has a small entrance fee, and is held during the first half of March. On hand are free-flowing wine and Pisco, horse shows, processions, music, dancing to the Afro-Peruvian festejo, arts, craft fairs, and cockfights. Of particular interest is the Queen of the Festival beauty pageant. The elected queen is the first to tread the grapes in a vat while a crowd of onlookers cheer. Smaller celebrations are also held at many of the bodegas. Distilleries often invite visitors to get into the fun, so if you've ever wanted to stomp grapes barefoot, this is your opportunity!

Pisco's History

The town of Pisco, founded in the late 17th century, has been influenced by indigenous cultures, Spanish colonization, and the evolution of Peruvian traditions. The name "Pisco" itself is believed to originate from the Quechua word "Pisq'u," meaning bird, reflecting the natural surroundings of the region.


The production of Pisco involves traditional methods passed down through generations, with many distilleries continuing to use centuries-old equipment. Its roots trace back to the 16th century when Spanish conquerers brought grapevines to Peru.


The Pisco Distillery Experience

In the vast landscape of Pisco distilleries, visitors have many choices. I did a little detective work to find three gems for those visitors who want to linger a little longer and see more than one distillery. The iconic La Caravedo Distillery, is the most well-known brand of Pisco. Founded in 1684, La Caravedo includes a stable complex, the padrón’s arcaded house with chapel under the shade of a 200-year-old weeping fig tree and five colonial-style bungalows available to rent. Visitors can tour the ‘techno-artisanal’ production that continues to use the ancient buildings housing the equipment to replicate the traditional process using modern equipment.

A wide shot of a large Spanish style estate house with colonnaded lower floor
image credit: La Caraavedo Distillery

Next on the list is Pisco Portón, a modern distillery that combines innovation with heritage, creating a dynamic blend that tantalizes the taste buds. With a commitment to quality and craftsmanship, Pisco Portón offers a glimpse into the future of Pisco while staying true to its roots.

 A glass and bottle of Pisco Porton
Image credit: Pisco Porton

And finally, we have Barsol Pisco, is a boutique distillery that packs a punch in terms of both flavour and authenticity. Barsol is dedicated to small-batch production and is considered it a must-visit for any Pisco enthusiast.


My visit to El Catador Distillery

Now, for my own adventure at El Catador Distillery. From the moment I set foot on their historic grounds, I was transported to a world where time seemed to slow down. The distillery area also includes a restaurant, little shops selling Pisco, wine, chocolates, “tejas” (a confectionary), and ice cream,

Looking along a row between grape vines
One of the family vineyards

We walked past the vineyards surrounding the village-like complex to the fermentation area to begin a guided tour that would explain the process of creating Pisco. First, the grapes are pressed. They begin in March by having a community stomp. After the stomping the grapes are pressed. The original press is still used today.

A grape press with a large screw-like post that the upper portion of the press is wound down upon grapes
Grape press

The juice is then placed into clay pots to ferment. Some of fermented juice is used for wine but most is reserved for Pisco. Their first wine is a Rose, which is incredibly sweet. The second is a Bolognese, not quite as sweet as the Rosé but too sweet for my tastes.

row of upright clay urn under a rough straw roof structure
Fermentation area

A little more fermentation and then the distilling begins. The distillation is done in open vats of copper-lined concrete. Gasses are sent down these tubes into pools of water, which keeps everything at the right temperature.  There are 3 distillations. The first is not used due to lethal levels of alcohol. The second is used for Pisco, and the third is used as a disinfectant!

a square shaped pool of liquid with a large pipe
The Distilling Pools

Next, we went into the tasting room which was decorated to celebrate the Spanish caballero traditions. Each of these “guns” is a bottle of Pisco.

The tasting experience is lively with very entertaining and informative narration. Visitors will taste every drink that is produced by the distillery. I enjoyed a creamy version. I was able to purchase a bottle to bring home.

a large "cowboy-style' decorated tasting room with people seated in front of a tasting stage
The Tasting Room

Since this was our lunch stop, my group of travellers had a traditional meal in the restaurant. I admit that I have no recollection of what I ate, which can be interpreted as nothing remarkable.


Popular Pisco Drink Recipes

Now that we've donned our explorer hats and uncovered the secrets of Pisco distilleries, it's time to bring a piece of Peru home with us. What better way to do that than by mastering the art of crafting Pisco cocktails? Create a mini Pisco bar to create two classic recipes: the renowned Pisco Sour and the refreshing Pisco Chicana. I have a severe allergy to eggs and quickly realized that the Pisco Sour was not a beverage I could enjoy. Luckily, I was also introduced to the Pisco Chicana which I thoroughly enjoyed.


Pisco Sour Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz Pisco

  • 3/4 oz fresh lime juice

  • 1/2 oz simple syrup

  • 1 egg white

  • Ice

  • Angostura bitters (for garnish)

Instructions:

  1. In a shaker, combine Pisco, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, and egg white.

  2. Dry shake (without ice) vigorously for about 15 seconds to emulsify the egg white.

  3. Add ice to the shaker and shake again for another 10-15 seconds to chill the mixture.

  4. Strain the concoction into a chilled glass, and voilà!

  5. To finish, add a few drops of Angostura bitters on top for that signature touch.

The result? A frothy, citrusy delight that captures the essence of Pisco in every sip. It's like a burst of sunshine in a glass!

graphic of Pisco Sour recipe
image credit: Alexa - pixabay

Pisco Chicana Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz Pisco

  • 1 oz freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

  • 1/2 oz simple syrup

  • Soda water

  • Ice

  • Grapefruit slice (for garnish)

Instructions:

  1. In a shaker, combine Pisco, freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, and simple syrup.

  2. Shake well with ice to chill the mixture.

  3. Strain the concoction into a glass filled with ice.

  4. Top it off with soda water for a refreshing fizz.

  5. Garnish with a slice of grapefruit or lime on the rim for that extra zing.


This Pisco Chicana is the epitome of crisp and invigorating—a perfect companion for warm summer days or whenever you need a taste of Pisco paradise.

a tall glaass filled with ice and drink, garnished with a lime
Pisco Chicano

Final Thoughts

Pisco isn't just a drink; it's a story—a narrative that weaves through the cobbled streets of Pisco town, echoes in the halls of centuries-old distilleries, and resonates in the clink of glasses filled with this golden elixir. The experience of exploring Pisco has left me with a profound appreciation for the rich tapestry of Peruvian culture and the craftsmanship behind every drop of Pisco.

deccorated barrel-table with grape clusters and the words El Caatado

Have you wandered through the charming streets of Pisco, or perhaps crafted your own Pisco cocktails at home? I'd love to hear your stories, tips, and favourite Pisco moments.


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