One of the great pleasures about travel is you just never know when you are going to stumble over “the next great discovery” in your life. This country in South America has a touch of mysticism about it and indeed delivered for me at least two of those great discoveries, including this great cocktail, Pisco Sour.
Welcome to Peru. Home to Machu Picchu, which left me deeply touched as to its significance and the sheer, spiritual power surrounding it, but that story is for another day. Today we are talking about the second great discovery, that of the Pisco Sour!
The national drink of Peru, the Pisco Sour is now my favorite cocktail. Not unlike a margarita but far superior in my view. Long considered the culinary capital of the South American continent, Peruvians are justifiably proud of their national drink. It’s also the national drink of Chile and there is robust discussion as to whose Pisco Sour is better and who discovered it.
The liquor, Pisco, is combined with simple syrup, fresh lime juice and fresh egg white, shaken in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice, popped in a glass and topped with 2 drops of Angostura bitters. The result is a rich, creamy drink that just leaves you wanting more. They make the perfect sundowner or pre-dinner drink or two.
Pisco Sour is the Great Undiscovered Cocktail
In a world always looking for the next big thing, it is a giant surprise to me Pisco still remains “undiscovered”. Trust me it deserves your attention. In my opinion the Pisco Sour is the best cocktail I have ever tasted, be it Peruvian or Chilean.
Almost every drinking establishment in Peru has this mighty drink on happy hour leading up to dinner time. A drink will set you back about $2-$3 during this time.Unlike in this recipe, in Peru and Chile, this drink is traditionally made with Pica lemons. Small round lemons. However we have never been able to find pica lemons outside South America, so limes seem to be the generally accepted substitute. It still makes a fine drink. But what is Pisco?
Pisco is distilled grape juice. (You may recall from Italian Wine, Grappa and Tiramisu: Unwinding in Veneto, that Italian Grappa is made from distilled grape waste.) Like wine, and grappa, it can be made from different varieties of grapes, each exhibiting different characteristics. It may also be blended from a combination of grape varieties. There are essentially 3 different styles:
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- Pisco Puro is made from one type of grape and can be aromatic (there is a wide variety) or non-aromatic, the Pisco used for making Pisco Sours.
- Pisco Mosto Verde made from grape juices that have not been totally distilled. Requires more grapes and has a subtle, full body taste.
- Pisco Acholado is a combination of aromatic Pisco (for structure) and non-aromatic Pisco (for the palate). High secrecy guards the exact proportions used by the distillers.
A Visit to the Museo Del Pisco
If you are lucky enough to visit Peru, you will have the opportunity to visit the Museo Del Pisco in either Cusco or Arequipa. We visited the Cusco establishment and it was a fun evening.
At the museum you can learn how to make the ubiquitous Pisco Sour through classes. There are also Pisco tasting flights, there is a staggering range of Piscos at this place. There are also Pisco and chocolate pairings (remember this is Peru!) and broader cocktail classes.
We settled for Pisco Sours and a Pisco tasting flight which helped us wash down the rather good appetizers available at the bar.
One word of warning, the museum (ok it is a glorified bar) is extremely popular. It was noisy with tourists (like us) but in a fun and happy manner. We really enjoyed the evening and highly recommend it.
If you want to read more about how Pisco was used to pay off Sir Francis Drake (the great British mariner or pirate, depending on your point of view) and how the Pisco industry was all but destroyed in a war with Chile, then go to the Museo del Pisco website to learn more.
Meanwhile, if you are not going to Peru, but want to experience what this Pisco Sour fuss is all about, then here follows the recipe. Enjoy!
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- Add the pisco, lime juice, simple syrup, and egg white to a cocktail shaker. Add ice to fill and shake vigorously.
- Strain into a champagne flute or small cocktail glass and gently add two drops of angostura bitters to each glass. The drops will settle into the foamy top of the drink. Create a pattern in the foam with a straw if you wish. Garnish each glass with a lime wheel.