The Elqui Valley is not only known for its mystical splendors and skies, but also because it is in this area where one of the most distinctive liquors of Chile is produced, Pisco.
Elqui Valley: The Pisco Tradition
From La Serena to the east, approaching the valley, you can not help but notice the number of vineyards in the area, emphasizing the deep green color in the arid mountains. This landscape can be seen, not only on the way to Vicuña, but continuing from the village into the Elqui Valley and down into the Valley of Rio Claro, passing through the small towns on the way. This view is really interesting because the contrast caused by the mountain and the hillsides, where you can see the grape plantations, is incredible. These vineyards have to be well exploited, not only for production, but also for the thousands of tourists who want to know about the production and preparation of pisco. This is how the different pisco factories have opened their doors to tourism.
But what exactly is pisco?
Pisco is an alcoholic beverage from the brandy family, belonging to a variety of grape liquor. It is produced only in the Third Region of Atacama and the Fourth Region of Coquimbo. The history of this drink dates back to the first grapes brought to the, then, Kingdom of Chile between 1541 and 1554. According to the French scientist, Claudio Gay, the first plantations were found in the city of La Serena in 1548, harvesting the first grapes in 1551.
The soil characteristics, temperature and waters of the Elqui River made easy the development of the wine industry in the area. These environmental conditions result in the production of grapes with a lot of sugar from which we get excellent liquor. La Serena had become strong in the elaboration of wines and liquors from early times. These alcoholic drinks, which were consumed by the elite and common people, were distributed through the so-called "grocery shops”. By 1678, La Serena had 1,000 inhabitants.
The word pisco, during the eighteenth and nineteenth century, was used in the Chilean colonial society to refer to a liquor whose flavors, alcohol content and production techniques required special grapes, different distillates produced from Aconcagua to the south. The origin of the word dates back to the production of grape liquor, which was produced in the Valley of Ica since 1613 and was being exported from the port of Pisco. Due to its expansion throughout the area, it gave name to all similar liquors.
It is important to mention that until 1798, the Elqui Valley was an area belonging to the Kingdom of Chile, which depended on the Viceroyalty of Peru. Until 1810 and 1821, the Elqui Valley and Ica, respectively, were possessions of the Spanish Empire, ruled by colonial authorities.
The production area of the Chilean pisco, was defined by the Decree No.181,on May 16, 1931, including the provinces of Atacama and Coquimbo, equivalent to the current regions of Atacama and Coquimbo. In this area, known as Norte Chico, the intermediate depression is replaced by transverse valleys, going from the mountains to the sea, watered by the following rivers: Copiapó, Huasco, Elqui, and Limarí Choapa. With temperature contrasts and warm and dry weather, the area is ideal for the cultivation of muscat grapes, the main grape used to produce Chilean pisco.
In Chile, pisco is considered a strong liquor. It is usually mixed with a Cola softdrink,(Coca-Cola or Pepsi-Cola). This drink is called “Piscola”, very popular in the country. It can also be combined with other drinks, such as ginger-ale, lemon lime, and sometimes orange juice and other fruit juices.
Characteristics of the Chilean Pisco
Raw Material: The elaboration of pisco grapes with an alcohol potential level less than 10.50 º is not permitted.
Distillation: The product resulting from the process of distillation of the wine to produce alcohol for pisco, can not have an alcohol content higher than 73 ° Gay-Lussac.
Content: The pisco should have a volatile acid content not exceeding 1.5 grams per liter and a minimum of impurities of 3 grams per liter at 100°Gay-Lussac to 20°C and its sugar content can not exceed 5 grams per liter.
Variety of Chilean Pisco
Current or traditional Pisco: 30° - 33°.
Special Pisco: 35°.
Reserved Pisco: 40° - 43°.
Excellent Pisco: 46°.