I first came across it one sunny March day in Lima, Peru over a three-hour lunch at a famous restaurant. One sip and I was intrigued, two sips and I was hooked, a few more sips and I was very ‘happy’! I was on a two-week trip with Crooked Trails, a Seattle-based non-profit that offers the best* cultural exchange trips to Peru, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Thailand and other countries. One of the first things we did on this trip was check out a local market and then head to a restaurant for a pisco sour demo before a multi-course meal. I mean, how many trips start with an introduction to the national cocktail!
A few weeks ago, my friend Hemangi made Pisco Sours as aperitifs for a dinner party. She had brought back some Pisco from a recent trip to Peru. The Pisco sours were fabulous and set the mood for a fun evening. Ever since then, I’ve had Pisco Sours on my mind again. Sadly, the Pisco Sour is not a drink that you come across at bars and restaurants all that often in the US. And even when you do, they don’t quite taste right. They are however, not all that hard to make as long as you have good quality Pisco. Pisco is a fermented grape brandy produced in Peru and Chile. While there is an ongoing dispute about which country owns the appellation, Pisco enjoys almost national drink status on both countries. The dispute comes from the fact that Pisco was produced in Peru when the Spanish ruled what is now both Peru and Chile. The origin of the name Pisco is also a point of contention. Disputes aside, it is commonly accepted that the best pisco comes from Peru while most of the pisco exported to other countries is from Chile.
There are three types of Pisco – puro, acholado, and mosto. Pisco puro is made from a single grape varietal. Quebranto and Italia are two examples. Ocucaje Puro made from Quebranto is said to be the best choice for Pisco Sour. Acholado is made from 2 or more varietals. BarSol and Don Cesar are good brands. To make Pisco mosto, the brandy is distilled before the grape juice has fully fermented leaving some residual sugar. Pisco mosto is typically the most expensive of the three.
The Pisco Sour drink itself is a variation of the Whiskey Sour. Here is how I learned to make a Pisco Sour which is a classic recipe. The ingredient quantities listed are per drink. Use the same ratio of ingredients to make a full pitcher.
You’ll notice in the pictures that we forgot to blend the ice! If you add ice in at the end, your drink will taste different as the ice melts. Yes, there is raw egg in this drink. Please use fresh eggs or use pasteurized egg white that comes in a carton.
- 2 ice cubes
- 3 Oz Pisco puro or acholado
- 1 Oz simple syrup (see notes at bottom)
- 1 Oz freshly squeezed lime juice
- white of 1 egg (1Oz or 2 tablespoons)
- 2 drops Angostura bitters
Blend together all ingredients except the bitters. Pour into a glass and add the angostura bitters before serving.
If you have a cocktail shaker with strainer, shake all ingredients together except the ice and bitters first. Shake well as that’s what creates the silky foam. Then shake again with the ice cubes to chill. Strain into a glass and then add the bitters.
Pouring the cocktail into chilled glasses will earn you bartender points!
It can be difficult to find Pisco. If your state liquor board or store does not carry it, here are a couple of online sources.
Making a simple syrup is easy and much better than adding granulated or powdered sugar. Just mix 1 part sugar to 1 part boiling water, mix well and allow to cool. I’d recommend using turbinado or demerara sugar for better flavor. Demerara sugar is especially a healthier choice than white sugar.
Many recipes call for 1.5 Oz lime juice. While the 3:1:1 ratio is traditional, I personally prefer more lime juice.
In Peru, local bitters are used. To my knowledge, they are not available in the US. Angostura bitters work great though.
Have you made Pisco Sours? What ratio do you use? What is your take on the Pisco debate?
*After that trip to Peru, I was impressed with the Crooked Trails mission and served on their board. My opinion is biased!