What is Pisco?


Portón's smooth flavors go back centuries. Four to be exact.


Like all good things, pisco began as an act of rebellion. In 1641, the King of Spain—Philip IV—imposed heavy taxes on all wine produced in Peru. In response, his new world subjects dodged the onerous tax by distilling the year’s grape harvest. In hand-forged copper vats nearly four centuries ago, a new white spirit was born and christened pisco, a reference to the Port of Pisco from where this new spirit was exported and which means ‘bird’ in the indigenous Quechua language. To this day, Peruvians call it their native spirit.

Pisco can boast what only a handful of other spirits enjoy: a Denomination of Origin. This means, quite simply, that all pisco must be made in a specific region and under the strictest of guidelines. All piscos are made in vineyards along the south western coast of Peru and must be distilled from any of eight specific aromatic and non-aromatic grape varietals: Quebranta, Negra Corriente, Mollar, Italia, Muscat, Albilla, Torontel and Uvina.

In its distillation, pisco must be made in small batches, crafted in traditional copper pot stills and left unaged or unaltered, meaning that not even water is added to the finished product. Pisco is distilled to proof, a rarity in a world where spirit makers distill to high alcohol levels and then add water to dilute to their desired proof.

At Portón, we proudly honor the centuries of craftsmanship behind this traditional spirit.

Timeline

1560

Spaniard Francisco de Caravantes introduces European grapes to Peru with the express intent of making wine for church masses. Well, and maybe a little for himself.

1604

The vineyards in Ica, Peru thrive, producing 81 million liters of wine; substantial production takes off in several other coastal regions.

1613

The first written reference to pisco appears in the will of a vineyard owner who clearly knew what his heirs really wanted.

1600-1699

Peruvian wine takes Spain by storm, quickly outselling their Spanish competition. Threatened, the Spanish crown, in an act of protectionist pique, imposes taxes on all Peruvian wine entering Spain. Gradually, Peruvian vineyards switch to distilling pisco to avoid these taxes.

1684

Juan Facundo Caravedo Roque purchases a series of adjacent vineyards along with the distillation equipment to make pisco. He christens the property Hacienda La Caravedo.

1700

Pisco production overtakes wine production in Peru. Born as an act of rebellion, pisco explodes in popularity the whole world over.

1830

First written record of pisco exported to the U.S. Its destination: San Francisco, CA.

1849

Pisco Punch becomes a San Francisco sensation. It remains wildly popular until Prohibition.

1899

Rudyard Kipling describes pisco in his novel, “From Sea to Sea”: “I have a theory it is compounded of cherubs’ wings, the glory of a tropical dawn, the red clouds of sunset, and fragments of lost epics by dead masters.”

1916

American Victor Morris opens Morris Bar in Lima, Peru and invents the Pisco Sour.

1920

Prohibition begins in the United States. All importation of pisco ceases.

1991

Peruvian government declares pisco a national heritage, defining approved regions and distillation methods. All producers must submit their pisco to INDECOPI to verify authenticity of product and taste before sale. The law accelerates a renaissance in the quality and pride of Peruvian piscos.

2004

Johnny Schuler founds Peruvian Academy of Pisco. Its mission: to promote and protect the heritage of Peruvian pisco.

2011

Portón launches in the United States.

Meet Master Distiller: Johnny Schuler

Regarded as the foremost pisco authority, Johnny Schuler has dedicated his life to excellence in the pisco industry. As a pisco ambassador, he has traveled the world to educate spirit industry professionals and the public alike about the culture, heritage and craftsmanship of pisco. In 2011, Portón founders Bill and Brent Kallop approached Johnny to develop the finest handcrafted pisco. From here, Portón was born.

Johnny’s passion for pisco was first piqued in 1977 following an impromptu invitation to judge a pisco competition. After sipping 80 different piscos, he was astonished by the variety, robustness and complexity of flavors. From that day forward, he dedicated himself to the study of pisco. Today, he is one of its greatest advocates.

For more than 20 years, Johnny has played an integral role rallying government ministries and the private sector to regulate the pisco industry in Peru. In recognition for his work, Johnny was awarded the Medal of Honor by the Peruvian Congress. A favorite speaker at wine and spirits events, Johnny regularly judges tasting competitions, including the prestigious Concours Mondial de Bruxelles. His expertise and enthusiasm for pisco can also be seen on his popular television show, Por Las Rutas del Pisco, which is aired throughout Latin America and the U.S. A trained chef and successful restaurateur, Johnny showcases Portón in the dishes and at the bars of his restaurants in Peru, Granja Azul and Key Club.

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