By Lauren BarraganAmidst the gorgeous and tranquil backdrop of the Elqui Valley’s hills and clear blue skies rests a little town that lies untouched by modern time. Pisco Elqui draws visitors to it by way of many things, but the greatest of these would probably be pisco. It should come as no shock that given the name of the town, there would be an abundance of pisco to explore, as this is in fact the region of Chile where most pisco is made.
It is here in Pisco Elqui where you can tour a number of pisco distilleries, including the coporate giant Capel. But I ask: why spend your precious time in McDonald’s when you could sit down at abuelita’s kitchen table? While some may prefer the comfort of visiting a label they know, I would much prefer to see a piece of history, one that is low-key and still remains small enough to maintain control over the quality of their product. Los Nichos is just that place.If you have the chance to get to Pisco Elqui, you must visit Los Nichos. It is a quaint pisco distillery that has been there for 135 years to date, making it the oldest still-up-and-running pisco distillery in all of Chile. And with a title like that, you would be surprised at how intimate it manages to be. Taking a tour and tasting here feels reminiscent of being in a family members’ modest and warm home, tasting small batched home made goods. Los Nichos was the home of 3R, which has become the signature acronym for Rigoberto Rodriguez Rodriguez, who founded the distillery in 1879. The beautiful pisco house is most acclaimed, and also named for it’s ‘nichos’, or catacombs, which you can tour underground. As you tour the grounds, they lead you underneath the pisco making magic, into a dark and musty tunnel that smells like history all around you. Here you can see playful murals of ‘los borachos’ that has almost a day of the dead feel to it. If you’re lucky enough to have a playful tour guide, they may encourage you to climb into the nichos, which literally are hollowed out tombs in the wall of the cave, that look like an antique version of the morgue’s body holding areas you’d find in a CSI episode. They’re eerie and yet somehow, surrounded by old bottles of pisco covered in Charlotte’s webs, somehow seem playful in a dark Tim Burton-esque sort of way. It’s here in these underground caves that guides will tell you stories of 3R’s love for pisco and bad behavior. He was known for throwing lavish underground parties for his male friends (as women weren’t allowed in the caves then) and staying down there drunk as a skunk for days at a time until he was the last man standing. At times, hearing the stories almost feels like a dare, tempting you to crack open one of the archaic bottles and show em’ what you’re made of! Los Nichos is not to be missed if you manage to be in the area. In the great debate of Chilean pisco vs. Peruvian pisco, this is the kind of place that makes you throw your competitive cares to the wind and just enjoy all the playfulness and fun that pisco is supposed to be. You can find more information about Los Nichos and their tours on their website. Happy pisco tasting!