January 30, 2013
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.
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.
The 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.