Perfectly Peruvian or controversially Chilean, one to ‘open up a good appetite’.
The Pisco Sour is a short but acidic, elegantly textural cocktail that has not fallen short of debate over the years.
Deriving from the classically enthroned formula of the Whiskey Sour, it’s become the signature serve for an entire category. Put frankly, Pisco (a South American grape-brandy) wouldn't be anywhere near as well known without this drink and for most, it’s the only way they’ve ever experienced the spirit.
50 ml Pisco
20 ml Lime Juice
10 ml Sugar Syrup
10 ml Egg White
3 Dashes Angostura Bitters
Vigorously shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with cubed ice
Double strain into a chilled coupe or iced old fashioned and garnish with dashes of Angostura Bitters
TOP TIPS FOR HOW TO MAKE A PISCO SOUR:
As with many, the Pisco Sour has been tweaked and tampered with over time to adapt to the individual suit individual preferences, and that will always be a plus in our books. So, as we say with every cocktail, don’t be afraid to push the boundaries to find your perfect balance.
If you’re one to not shy away from experimentation, push the sour spectrum to the limits and go big on the lime juice! Or, if your sweet tooth isn’t ready to compromise to the extreme, playing around with the ratio and type of sugar could be your way forward. Some prefer syrup – others caster sugar. So have some fun, play around, and go for it!
Method – Many Peruvian bartenders prefer to blend the cocktail rather than our favourable shaken method. However, no matter what your go-to is, never forget about the capricious structure of egg white…
When shaken vigorously, the egg white will offer up an elegantly silky texture and more importantly it will provide that quintessential foamy head. Without it you will find garnishing to be a bit of struggle. The bitters will fail to sit on top of the froth and will sink straight through. If you don’t like egg white (or are vegan), there are chickpea derived alternatives as well as cocktail foaming bitters that do the same drink.
Bitters - We wouldn’t skip on the bitters either! The aroma of the Angostura Bitters helps to disguise the smell of the egg-white, which some seem to think is akin to a wet-dog. If you’re wanting to tap into the drink’s authenticity a bit further, opt for Peruvian Amargo Chuncho bitters, made from Amazonian barks and herbs. Which many like to pair with cinnamon to rim or dust over the drink.
PERUVIAN AND CHILEAN PISCO, THE DIFFERENCE.
Similar to other categories, there are different varieties of Pisco – this is where the debate starts…
Peruvian Pisco (Peru Quebranta) is made from non-aromatic grape variatals, which are fermented and distilled, then bottled at a minimum of 40% ABV or more. Many Peruvians favour a Pisco made from the Quebranta grape or Acholado (blend of varieties). If you’re after a more fragrant concoction, we suggest a more aromatic choice like the Italia grape.
Chilean Pisco involves fermenting Muscat aromatic grapes. It is then distilled and can be reduced with water to a lower proof of 30% ABV (each brand varies). Aged Pisco also exists. In Chile, it’s allowed to mature in wood casks, with the 180-day mature Pisco being called ‘Guarda’ and the 360-day product known as ‘Envejecido’. Premium Chilean Pisco can reach up to 40% ABV – so again, chose what suits your palate best.
AN ABRIDGED HISTORY OF THE PISCO SOUR
Before we get stuck into the cocktail’s chronology, what does Pisco mean?
Pisco is a grape distillate, grown and produced in a variety of valleys across the Peruvian coast. Similarly to Scotch or Bourbon’s geographical indication, Pisco’s Peruvian provenance has now officially been claimed by a designation of origin, in an attempt to standardise production. However right at the very core, Pisco derives from a Spanish vine brought over during the colonial era.
‘Pisco’ evolved from a caste of potters called ‘piskos’, who’s occupation was committed to the manufacture of conical pots, used to store and transport grape liquor under colonial supervision. The term pre-dates Incan culture and is also believed to be a name of Quechua origin, that comes from the word, ‘pischu’ meaning ‘bird’. More on the Latin-American spirit is found in our article: ‘What is Pisco?’
The exact origin of the Pisco Sour, like many illustrious vintage cocktails, has many claims to the original, along with a foggy debate between two nations. Both, in objection to the other’s protest. El Comercio De Iquique, a Chilean newspaper in the 1980s, accredited the original creation to Elliot Stubb in 1872. However, after more finite scrutiny, the English steward later became known for the creation of the Whiskey Sour with origins found in the US.
The 2009 document, ‘Clarifying the legends in the history of the Pisco Sour’ by Luis Guillermo Toro-lira Stahl and Michael P. Morris traced the velvety concoction back to Victor Vaughen Morris Jones (Victor Morris). 1916 was the year Morris opened Morris’ Bar at 847 Calle Boza in Lima, where legend has it the Pisco Sour was a result of running out of whiskey for Whiskey Sours. Morris adopted his ‘Gringo’ nickname and witnessed the popularity of the bar and the cocktail prosper.
The bar became renowned for the Morris’ Bar Register, which was decorated with 2,200 signatures, that show cased the establishment’s distinguished portfolio of recurring guests, including Emiliano Figueroa, former President of Chile and ambassador to Peru. Whispers of the bar’s success became more internationally recognised, due to the 1924 appearance in the South Pacific Mail reading, “Have you registered at the Morris Bar Lima?”. Ultimately catching the attention of more English-speaking visitors. The Pisco Sour soon headlined newspaper ads to attract thirsty miners to Morris’ Bar.
Like with many cocktails, bartenders from the original bar soon began to leave and spread the recipe like wildfire in nearby establishments, such as the Hotel Bolivar (1924) and the Lima Country Club (1927). Through rivalry in competition for wealthy foreign guests, which largely saw the Hotel Bolivar accredited for the spread of the Pisco Sours popularity.
The recipe we use today is a refined version and is attributed to Bruijet Burgos, a bartender at Morris’ Bar who is known to be the one to modernise the concoction with bitters and egg whites in the 1920s.
However, plot twist after plot twist we now accredit origin to earlier than 1916. Peruvian writer Raúl Escobar uploaded a scanned pamphlet published in Lima in 1903 titled ‘Nuevo Manual de Cocina a la Criolla’ (New Manual of Creole Cooking). The documented recipe records that ‘an egg, a glass of Pisco, a teaspoon of fine sugar and a squeeze of lime, will open up a good appetite’.
Ultimately this proves that firstly, the Pisco Sour is Peruvian, Bruijet was not responsible for the egg white and Morris was in fact not the father of our now beloved Latin cocktail...
As of 2007 the Pisco Sour has been declared as a Cultural Heritage of the Peru by the National Institute of Culture.