by Hans Hilburg
The history of Pisco began in Peru around the XVI century. That was the time when the first grapes arrived in Peru, brought over from the Canary Islands by the Marqués Francisco de Carabantes.
According to historians of that time, the first wine production was in Cuzco at the Marcahuasi Hacienda. However, the grape producing areas grew tremendously in the Ica valleys. The favorable climatic conditions of the area were ideal for the development of the grapes.
Because of the great success in the production of wines and “aguardiente” (spirits) on Peruvian soil, they began exporting wines to Spain. It was then that the Spanish producers realized that this commerce from Peru was beginning to have a negative impact on their interests. Once the grape production on the Iberian Peninsula began to go to waste, they petitioned Phillip II to prohibit this type of import from Peru. So in 1614 the prohibition of the sale of wines and spirits to Spain was decreed.
As a reaction to the prohibition, the coastal landowners in Peru increased their production of the grape spirit known as Pisco. In this fashion, it quickly became the most popular beverage among travelers of the region.
During the XVII & XVIII centuries, the export of the Peruvian distilled grape spirit, Pisco, began to gain notoriety and prestige due to its quality, and exports grew significantly. Production in those times reached around 310,000 “botijas” (clay barrels) per year. Likewise the commentaries from the travelers of the time in respect to the qualities and bounty of the grape production of the Ica Valley grew. There is a book, edited by the German Jacob Schlüpman, where one can read about the maritime commerce of the time called “ÉL PACIFICO IBÉRICO DEL SIGLO XVII AL XIX: Intercambios, producción local y la vida cotidiana en las costas americanas” (The Iberian Pacific from the XVII to XIX centuries: Exchanges, local production and the everyday life on the American coasts).
We must mention as well, that the port of Pisco was the maritime port where the export of the distilled Peruvian spirit was carried out. Also, the spirit was stored in the famous “botijas” (clay storage jugs), crafted by a tribe of potters: The Piskos, whose earthen containers carried their same name.
Pisco in North America
We should also mention the arrival of Pisco on the California coast, specifically to the cities of San Francisco and San Diego.
According to documents of that time, the first appearance of Pisco in North America was in San Diego in 1827. But the most important mention was in San Francisco around 1839 and later in 1858 at the “Bank Exchange Saloon”, where Pisco was already being offered as one of the house spirits. The most famous cocktail at the “Bank Exchange Saloon” was “Pisco Punch”, created by the bartender Duncan Nicol (1887), better known as “Pisco John”.