sour is the national cocktail of Peru. Since the Spanish colonial
Viceroyalty of Peru extended into what is now Peru, Chile, and Bolivia, this
famous drink is also common in these countries, and served virtually any time
people get together between tea time and dinner time. Since its sweet-tart,
cold, and refreshing, you might even find it served as an aperitif before a late weekend lunch.
Its made from pisco, lemon
(or lime) juice, and a sweetener.
The origin of the Pisco Sour is as obscure
as that of the Margarita. We can be sure
that it had to have been invented sometime in the 1930's, about the time when
it became acceptable for women to drink alcoholic beverages in public. (Flavored
sweet cocktails were invented to make distilled spirits more palatable to women
and to expand the consumption of spirits by younger men and women.)
As it happens, the very first cocktails invented
were probably "sours" or
"sidecars," which were simple combinations: two parts strong, one part
sour, and one part sweet. My guess is that the Limeys (British sailors who
consumed limes to prevent
scurvy) poured some gin (or rum, depending on availability) into their lime
juice (or vice versa) to consume both their lime and rum rations at the same
time. Later (perhaps a
couple of hundred years ago), genteel society added sugar syrup or sweet
liqueur, and the sidecar was born.
So it was only natural that someone, probably a European traveler, found out
that the sweetened juice of the tangy-tart thorny
common in southern Peru and northern Chile complemented and softened
the potent flavor
of the pisco, and the Pisco Sour was born.
The Pisco Sour differs from the classic sidecar formula by using three parts pisco
instead of two, and syrup instead of a sweet liqueur. Thus, it's more potent than
practically any other cocktail except a Martini.
In the home, Pisco Sour is made by the pitcher, and every host (or hostess) prides
himself on his technique and recipe and will expect appropriate accolades from his guests
after the first sip. If the party is large, shortcuts may be taken and the resulting drop
in quality will be noticeable. The most common offense is the overuse of ice, followed by
the use of sugar in its granulated (or powdered) form, which never really dissolves.
A bartender Pisco Sour will usually be superior
to the party pitcher. Good bartenders use freshly squeezed juice and a prepared
simple (or flavored) syrup instead of sugar. He will also add a splash of a
complementary liquor (such as vodka or whisky), which will not be detected but
will increase the flavor complexity. Then he will shake the mixture with ice
(and a little egg white to produce a foamy head) and strain. Finally, he'll
serve in a glass whose rim is coated with powdered sugar, add a dash of angostura
bitters, and garnish with a slice of limón. This is the classic Peruvian
In Chile, where pisco sours are also consumed traditionally, a
lo peruano refers to the style (recipe), not necessarily the origin
of the pisco. Another requirement for the
Peruvian recipe is the limón de pica,
a true lime (not the hybrid that we call limes), while Chileans are apt to
substitute the larger and
less costly lemon. Most Chileans agree that the best Pisco Sours
while a minority consider the foam, bitters, frosted glass, and garnish as
The classic recipe is 3 parts pisco to 1 part
lemon and sweetener to taste. Since a 700ml bottle of pisco is about three
cups, youll need a cup of
lemon juice to make the classic 1-quart pitcher of Pisco Sour. The tricky
part is determining how much
sweetness is needed to balance the acidity of the lemon juice and the strength
of the pisco. If you use strictly lemons instead of limes, the drink will
be much too sour, and
will have to be adjusted with additional sweetener.
I have heard that some expatriate Chileans
have made passable Pisco Sours with frozen limeade and/or lemonade and even
margarita mixes. I have also seen party hosts throw peeled lemons and limes
into a blender with ice cubes, sugar and pisco. The mixture is then pulverized
(seeds, pulp, and all) and served. This is what I call the frat-party Pisco
Sour. Amazingly, the guests drink it with relish. Enough said.
Serious sour drinkers are aware of a wonderful
new product from Peru called "Barman Pisco Sour Mix," a packet of
powdered ingredients which is blended with water, pisco (or any liquor) and
ice to produce eight small glasses of incredibly good sour. The result is nearly
indistiguishable from a bartender peruano, and when speed and convenience
are factored, surpass the classic, right down to the foaming head. This product
is a sensation in Peru and Chile, but is to my knowledge not yet available in
the U.S. I use Barman quite often, when time doesn't allow scratch preparation
(which is most of the time), but I always add the juice of a fresh lime or lemon
just to lend some legitimacy.
Various techniques are used to prepare a pitcher
of Pisco Sour. The most common is putting the pisco and lemon juice in a blender
with about a half cup of granulated (or powdered) sugar and blending briefly
to dissolve, then adding ice and blending some more. (Sugar will not dissolve
in cold liquid.) Overblending will bruise the the pisco and produce a slightly
metallic aftertase. Some recipes call for powdered sugar or confectioners
sugar because they seem to dissolve better. However, confectioners sugar
contains cornstarch, and should never be used.
Rather than sweetening with sugar, try a simple
syrup, which can be found in any liquor store. Or make it yourself, boiling
two parts sugar to one part distilled water. (Boil carefully, reducing the water
but not allowing the syrup to crystallize or scorch.) You can also experiment
with a good commercial citrus-flavored syrup, such as the excellent Italian-style
DaVinci lemon syrup or lime syrup. Never use corn syrup.
Mix all the ingredients at room temperature.
If you must use a blender, "flash-blend" (pulse lightly). Then taste,
adjust, and chill well. The colder the sour, the better the taste.
No ice and minimum blending means better pisco sour. Serve from a crystal-clear
pitcher into crystal-clear stemware (such as a sour glass or squall glass).
The color is important.
After youve gained confidence making the classic pisco sour, try adding a touch
of good triple sec (citrus liqueur), such as Grand Marnier (a sweet orange-flavored
cognac), Cointreau (an orange liqueur), Curaçao (an orange liqueur), Limoncello
(an Italian lemon liqueur), or Controy (a Mexican replica of Cointreau).
These are the same
triple secs that are used in making a top-shelf Margarita. In the right amount
(be careful with the Grand Marnier), a tiny bit (no more than one ounce per
pitcher) of one or a
combination of these liqueurs will will intensify the flavor of the Pisco
Sour without changing it. And a few drops of angostura bitters will also
Another good variation is the classic sidecar recipe, using two parts pisco, one part
lime (or lemon) juice, and one part triple sec, omitting the sugar.
If you use any of the common commercial substitutes for premium ingredients in Pisco Sours and Margaritas, don't expect any compliments
from your guests. The result will taste like a pre-mixed happy hour concoction. These
substitutes usually contain artificial colorings and flavorings and corn syrup.
*Bartender recipe (serves 1)*
2 oz Pisco
sugar or simple syrup
egg white (optional)
Moisten the rim of a stemmed glass with lime and dip into powdered sugar.
Shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and strain into glass. Add a drip of angostura
and garnish with a small lime wedge.
If too sour, add a little more sugar or simple syrup.
If too strong, it's just right.