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Pisco Threads Roots Deep in San Francisco

Pisco, the national liquor of Peru claims a fascinating history. Yet it is not only a history of events inside the country leading to this beverage that is gaining more and more acclaim around the world. It is also a history that involves other countries from early years.

Before California became part of the United States, for example, Pisco was already found there. As early as 1839 there is record of a cargo of Pisco arriving by ship from Peru to the small town of Yerba Buena, which became San Francisco.

Pisco and other things Peruvian were part of life of this outpost of the Spanish world. Spain has moved forcefully into the Pacific beginning in the sixteenth century, as it organized trade and government between the Americas and the Philippines. Shipping routes went from Veracruz, in Mexico to Manila and back, often by way of California even before there was much settlement. From Veracruz there were other shipping routes down the coast of the Pacific to Panama and on to the ports of Peru. For the time, these Pacific channels that carried large sailing ships were a major highway, not unlike the trunk interstate highway I 80 that connects San Francisco to the Atlantic Coast of the US and all points in between.

With the settlement of Anglo Americans in Yerba Buena, and then the discovery of gold in the early1850s peoples of pisco (Peruvians and Chileans) were among the first to make there way there to do commerce and to work the mines. Naturally, there favorite alcohol came to.

They were not the only ones who drank pisco. There are records of its being sold in an Anglo bar as early as 1853, and it probably was available much earlier and not just in bars or saloons.


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By the end of the nineteenth century a drink called pisco punch, tasting of citrus and yet having the kick of a wild stallion, had taken the city by storm. Famous visitors, such as Samuel Clemmens (Mark Twain) registered it in their work.

Today the city is rediscovering Pisco. Its liquor stores carry only a limited variety of piscos, although its Peruvian restaurants and its Pisco Bar offer many types, brands, and styles of this Peruvian brandy with the wonderful flavor and punch. Pisco has a long history in California.


“Pisco Punch”, Wikipedia, (accessed, January 10, 2015).

Guillermo Toro-Lira, A History of Pisco in San Francisco, A Scrapbook of Firsthand Accounts (Create Space, 2010).

Kelsey Brain, “The Transnational Networks of Cultural Commodities: Peruvian Food in San Francisco”, Association of Pacific Coast Geographers’ Yearbook, 76: 82-101, 2014.

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