Pisco Sour

January 30, 2013

DSC_1058It’s National Pisco Sour Day! Well, it is if you’re lucky enough to live in Peru.

Pisco is a delicious white spirit native to Peru and Chile. It’s a kind of brandy, really, as it is distilled from grape wine. But unlike brandies such as Cognac, it’s generally unaged (or aged for a very short time). This gives it a taste somewhat similar to grappa. It’s refreshing, exuberant and fruity. I only have one brand – Control from Chile – but I love the stuff.

A sour is a drink consisting of spirits, lemon or lime, and sugar; the Whiskey Sour being the most well-known.

So a Pisco Sour is just Pisco, lemon or lime, sugar and a bit of egg white and Angostura Bitters.

This combination was invented by an American bartender called Victor Morris, who had a bar in Peru. The Chileans, also claim that they invented the Pisco Sour, but that claim now seems false.

When I tried my first Pisco Sour a few months ago, I was quite blown away. I often try good drinks that are very nice, but this one was very nice, and different as well. A lot of the vintage recipes I try are just new combinations of familiar flavours, but the Pisco Sour was really something new.

Egg white is a very important ingredient in the Pisco Sour, and although that can put a lot of people off, it’s actually very safe, and also doesn’t really affect the taste. It’s mostly there for the texture. Texture in cocktails is an important thing that I’ve been thinking about a bit recently. Foams are good.

The biggest argument over the best Pisco Sour lies in whether to use lemons or limes. It seems that this is mostly a national difference. In Chile they use lemons (and powdered sugar), in Peru they use limes (and simple syrup). I tried both, and prefer lemon. Maybe it better suits my Chilean Pisco. So if you’re trying Pisco Sours, try both and drink what you prefer. There’s no correct answer.

Pisco Sour

1 1/2 oz Pisco

3/4 oz lemon juice

1 tsp sugar

a few drops Angostura Bitters

a small egg white

Dissolve the sugar in the lemon juice then add the egg white and Pisco. Shake well without ice to let the egg white mix properly (optionally including a couple of drops of bitters), then shake again with ice. Strain into a coupe glass. Top with a few drops of Angostura Bitters.

The egg makes a nice foamy head to the drink and the Bitters sit on top, so it’s common to use a swizzle stick or something to swirl the bitters into a pattern. If you want to get really fancy you can make a stencil and spray the bitters through a mister to create a logo or something. However you do it, the bitters add a nice aromatic touch to the drink, so they’re pretty important.

On the subject of bitters, some say that the correct bitters to use are Amargo Bitters, from Peru, but I’m not so sure about that. Angostura Bitters is more commonly used now, and may also have been the original. I’d like to try.

DSC_1112The other big Pisco drink is Pisco Punch, a potion that originated in San Fransisco and became immensely popular in the US during the 19th century. It is made with Pisco, pineapple syrup, and lemon juice. It’s good, but I like the sour better, so I’d rather split the difference, add some egg white and bitters, and make my Pisco Punch as a Pisco Sour with pineapple syrup instead of sugar. Try it – it’s good.

Happy Pisco Sour Day!

*Note for readers in Taiwan: AFAIK there are currently three brands of Pisco available in Taiwan. Control for about 900NT from Breeze, Tres Erres from Megacity City Super for about 650NT, and Mistral from Jason’s in Banqiao FE21 for about 1000NT.

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10 Responses to “Pisco Sour”

  1. putneyfarm Says:

    Nice job with the swirl of bitters…we pull this, and the pisco punch, out for friends every once in a while. Everyone is surprised that such a good drink isn’t more common…


  2. Pisco sour.. One of my favourite.. I gotta remember to drink more of it

  3. Seamus Says:

    I’m a huge fan of pisco. If I could only find more of the stuff it might be my favorite spirit.

    Pisco sours are delicious – practically the best cocktail ever. But even back before I got into cocktails I used to buy pisco if I happened to see it and drink it straight – possibly an expression of my Sendero Luminoso sympathies. The stuff I used to find in Auckland was pretty bad, but in Peru you can find a wealth of really flavorsome brands – though the good stuff is not particularly cheap.

    As for pisco cockails. . . The simple Piscola is very underrated (if it was easier to get the pisco I would drink this all day). Pisco goes nicely with passionfruit.

  4. Seamus Says:

    I just use regular coke. I find it OK. There are cane-sugar sweetened versions, but probably can’t find those anywhere in Asia.

  5. Maxim Krem Says:

    Had this cocktail for the first time last weekend. It was expertly made and might be my new favorite


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