Pisco sales leapt 142 percent in January 2011 compared to the same month a year earlier, reaching sales of nearly US$168,000. The primary liquor of Chile’s national cuisine has now emerged on the international scale with major markets in Russia, Argentina and the United States among others.
This year, Chile exported nearly 37,000 liters of pisco, 95% more than in January the year earlier. Russia received the largest percentage of pisco in January, taking 38 percent, followed by the United States with 29%, Argentina with 24%, and smaller markets in Brazil, Paraguay and Australia.
Chilean pisco can be made by mixing many varieties of grape grown exclusively in the regions of Atacama and Coquimbo in North Chile. Muscat, Torontel and Pedro Jiménez make the most common mixture of grape varietals for pisco, though many others (particularly types of Muscat) are commonly grown as well.
The juice yielded by these grapes is fermented into a relatively alcoholic wine (around 14 percent), then distilled until it reaches 55 or 60 proof. The distilled product is then aged in wood barrels, the duration depending on the quality of the pisco. Barrel aging is one of the key distinguishing features between the piscos of Chile and those produced in Peru, the other major center of pisco production.
Though pisco has yet to garner the same kind of cult following in overseas markets as liquors like mescal and tequila, both of which have had recent bursts of popularity in gourmet food and drink markets like New York City, a recent study by Chile’s Ministry of Agriculture suggests that it is in a good position to enter the lime light.
A US$1.6 million project called Nuestro Pisco now works with some 2,800 farmers as well as marketing and trade associations to develop the Chilean pisco industry in new and exciting ways. January’s growth in exports suggest that innovations within the industry, and in the efforts to promote the product overseas, have not gone unnoticed.
No longer merely the vehicle for traditional pisco sours, top bars and bartenders are using the spirit in coffee cocktails, punches and, in its most refined forms, to be savored on its own.