Peru vs Chile – The Pisco War

Copa America 2011

The never ending battle.  These two countries are always at odds for one thing or another.  There are historical battles, patent battles and of course the biggest of them all, the PISCO BATTLE!In honor of the Peru vs Chile game for the Copa America championship earlier this week, here at Pisco Aficionado, we will attempt to outline the battle of Peru vs Chile for the rights to call Pisco theirs!  If you didn’t know, or haven’t noticed, this is a pretty heated argument.  If you corner any Peruvian or Chilean in a bar and ask them about Pisco you will get a mouth full!  You have been warned!

It seems like the rivalry of Peru vs Chile has been going on forever.  In fact, relations between these two   countries first went sour in 1879 with the War of the Pacific so yes, it’s been quite a long time.  Things became even stickier in 1929 with the Tacna Arica Compromise in which the Peruvian territory of Arica became Chilean territory.   Ever since, whenever any political disputes comes up between Peru and Chile, these two events in history are always referenced and thus the bad blood continues to boil between these two South American power houses.

Then came the biggest war in modern times; who is the rightful owner of the Pisco Denomination of Origin!

Peru cites historical events as their most powerful arguments in an effort to prove that Pisco is rightfully theirs.  Referencing the sentiment of the War of the Pacific, Peruvians feel that once again Chileans want to take what is rightfully theirs (just like Arica) and furthermore Pisco is a strong element of Peruvian heritage that the Chileans want to usurp.

Peruviae Auriferae Regionis Typus

1.  History

The very first map of Peru by Diego Méndez, points to a port by the name of Pisco to the south of Lima.  This map is dated 1574.   Several written documents have been found that reference the Pisco area in early colonial periods.  These documents point out that Pisco was rich and abundant in grapes and thus the production of wines and piscos.

In the 17th century documents chronicle that in Peru there is a valley, a river, a port and a city all by the name of Pisco.  Peru points to this fact to further emphasize that the name PISCO originated in Peru.  A Denomination of Origin (DOC) is given to a producing region of a product by the same name.  This means that Pisco DOC, being that the first city of Pisco is documented in Peru, belongs to Peru.

2.  Etymology

But where does the word PISCO come from?  The etymology is undoubtly Peruvian.  The word comes from the Quechua word, pisqu, which means little bird.

The Botijas aka clay pitchers are also called Piscos or Pisquillos.  These were lined with beeswax and were used to store and transport pisco.

The Pisco region in Southern Peru is inundated with several varieties of birds, called pisqu, and that is where the name of the City of Pisco comes from.

3. The Greek

More proof of pisco in the 17th century was found in the will of Pedro Manuel, a Greek man, citizen of Ica.   His will dates back to 1613 and is the earliest reference to the preparation of Pisco in the Americas.  In his will he lists his properties and amongst them he mentions 30 large earthen jars containing aguardiente plus a cask containing 30 little jars of the same aguardiente.  In addition, he lists a big boiler made of copper used to make the aguardiente.  Although the will was signed in 1613, it is clear that Pedro Manuel and others were using a copper pot still in their distillation methods and making pisco.

On the other hand, the first proven existence of Chilean Pisco dates back to 1871.  It is argued that this is because Chile occupied Southern Peru in the late 1800′s.  As a result, what was a region of Peru that produced Pisco became Chilean territory and thus Chile started producing Pisco.

The Product

Let’s be honest here, I think both Peruvian and Chileans can agree that our respective products are indeed different products by the same name.  Peruvian Pisco is a pure distillate of a young wine.  Made from any of the 8 approved varietals.  Nothing is added to it and it does not age but instead rests for at least 3 months.

Chilean pisco is a distillate of legitimate wine, meaning they ferment their grape juice in it’s entirety before it enters the distillation process.  They also use different grape varietals and only have 3 approved varietals.  They indeed age their product and sometimes in oak casks.  Therefore their product acquires taste characteristics from the oak and is yellowish in tint.  Sometimes Chilean pisco is infused with different fruits.  And last but not least, they do not distill to proof and sometimes add water to correct the high alcohol content.

When visiting the Vina’s De Oro distillery in Peru, I asked which country was the largest importer of their Peruvian Pisco in the USbrand and they said Chile.  Chileans love Peruvian Pisco, except legally it can’t be called Pisco and instead it is called Aguardiente de Uva (Grape Firewater).   Everyone knows though, that they are drinking Peruvian Pisco!

So, I will leave it up to you to decide, but I think we can all tell where my loyalties lie.

SALUD my friends!


background, Chile vs Peru, history, Ica, Peru, Pisco, Pisco Sour, PromPeru