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Three Key Differences Between Pisco and Whiskey

One of the most famous and well-loved Peruvian cocktails is the Pisco Sour. Refreshing citrus drink with a good kick of bitters and spirit. The leading spirit behind this drink is Pisco. And there's a variety of Pisco Sour that's usually just below the menu, the Whiskey Sour.

Both drinks are incredible, but why is Whiskey able to have a similar result with its cocktail version? Is it better or worse than Pisco, or maybe it doesn't matter? To answer these questions, let's determine the significant difference between Peru's famous Pisco and Whiskey.

Pisco is a Type of Brandy, not Whiskey

The most technical difference between Pisco from any whiskey is, well, it's a kind of brandy. Brandy is a type of liquor made from fermenting and distilling any fruit, while Whiskey's from using grains. Think of Pisco as wine while Whiskey is beer, with extra steps. 

Brandies are pretty specific to their origins and processes. Peruvian Pisco uses Muscat or Italia grapes explicitly grown in these five regions: Lima, Ica, Arequipa, Moquegua, and Tacna. Thus, no one else outside of Peru and Chile can produce Pisco.    

The Distillation and Aging Process

Pisco and Whiskey generally have a similar start in the process of making these spirits. Both use copper stills to remove unpleasant sulfur-based compounds and prevent bacterial growth. Both are fermented in specialized containers until a mature date, which can be determined by the alcohol percentage formed in the liquid. But it's in the later processes where these two spirits differ.

Pisco is aged in containers made of glass or unreactive material, while Whiskey uses oak barrels as the spirit doesn't mature in glass containers. The usual oak or some special wood barrels are used for aging Whiskey to add flavor to the end product.

Additionally, Peruvian Pisco doesn't undergo dilution (addition of water to reduce concentration) and is directly bottled right after distillation, unlike its Chilean counterpart.

Pisco is Sweeter Than Whiskey

Because Pisco is made from grapes and its specific process, it's relatively sweeter than Whiskey. Naturally, Pisco tastes like grapes with a bit of citrus or vanilla notes. Pisco has no earthy or wood smell, a feature common to Whiskey because it's aged in oak barrels. 

If you try to concentrate on their tastes, Pisco and Whiskey are opposites of the same coin. One is fruity, while the other flavors of grain. Pisco has a citrus and playful profile, while Whiskey is earthy and smoothly scented with wood. They both give that relaxing taste of good spirits in different blends.


So the verdict is that Pisco is not the same as Whiskey, or neither is a substitute for the other. Pisco offers a different taste profile to Whiskey straight up or in cocktails. Pisco sour provides a different mood than Whiskey sour. Pisco sour is perfect for those nights you want to dance to exciting music, while Whiskey sour is fantastic in a relaxing ambiance. If you ask which is better, I love both.

Try both of these spirits and their cocktails. See what kind of mood pisco brings you and share it with your friends and family.