A Brief History of Pisco in San Francisco

House of Pisco Punch, San Francisco

House of Pisco Punch, San Francisco circa 1893. (Roy D. Graves Pictorial Collection, The California Digital Library Online Archive)

Today, Pisco is quickly becoming one of the most popular spirits in the United States and you can order a Pisco cocktail at several bars in San Francisco. But did you know that Pisco was also all the rage during the 1848 Gold Rush in San Francisco?

Next time you see the Transamerica Pyramid on the San Francisco skyline, imagine that you are standing at the corner of Montgomery & Washington Streets in 1893 and that you just walked into the Bank Exchange Saloon. Since it was the middle of the afternoon, you would have ordered a Pisco Punch, which the barkeeper makes behind a curtain to keep the recipe a secret.

After striking up a conversation, you learn that Pisco was first distilled in Peru in the 1600’s using grapes from Spain and that during the 1848-1849 Gold Rush, San Francisco began to import Pisco from Peru. Should you return to San Francisco after 1919, you would be disappointed to learn that Prohibition had shut down the Bank Exchange Saloon and you would have to wait until the 21st century for the resurgence of Pisco in San Francisco.

Last year, a Pisco conceived in San Francisco and produced in Peru received a Gold Medal by the Peruvian National Pisco Commission, an honor that further contributes to the legacy of Pisco in San Francisco. Look forward to upcoming posts where I’ll be exploring bars for a 400 year-old spirit that is back in town.