The Pisco Sour

The Pisco Sour is a classic that everyone should know — simple and closely related to the classic Whiskey Sour. Simple as it is, this drink has become the national drink of Peru, featuring its native spirit pisco — a clear, unaged grape brandy that comes in four different styles.

Puro (pure), made from a single variety of grape, mostly Quebranta, although Mollar or Common Black can be used; however, no blending between varieties is accepted (“pure” pisco should contain only one variety of grape).

Aromatico (aromatic), made from Muscat or Muscat-derived grape varieties, and also from Albilla, Italia and Torontel grape varieties; once again, the pisco should only contain one variety of grape in any production lot.

Mosto Verde (Green Must), distilled from partially fermented must, this must be distilled before the fermentation process has completely transformed sugars into alcohol.

Acholado (Half-breed), blended from the must of several varieties of grape.

(from Wikipedia)

What I didn’t know was that it was invented in Peru by an American bartender in 1915, whom I suspect was looking to make a brandy or whiskey sour but went for the local spirit instead, either by choice or necessity (thanks to Chris McMillian for that tidbit). Pisco is made is Chile as well, and although the Chileans claim that both the spirit and the drink are original to them, this has been shown to be a rather dubious claim.

One really nice way to serve these is to serve them in a glass that gives it lots of surface area, such as a 6-ounce coupe (the ones from Libbey are perfect for this), so that you can get a nice swirly design of bitters on the top — much prettier and for me preferable to just a little dash or two). In the video below, watch bartender Bobby Heugel at Anvil in Houston spray the bitters on top with a mister, then swirl them with a toothpick. Very nice. (Barring that, a few dashes around and some deft toothpick work will give good results too.)

Angostura is standard in most places you’ll get one of these, but in Peru there’s a homemade variety of bitters called Amargo Chuncho, until recently impossible to find outside of Peru, but now available via mail-order from Cocktail Kingdom, or Five Points Bottle Shop.

The Pisco Sour

2 ounces pisco.
1 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1/2 ounce simple syrup.
1 egg white.
Angostura or Chuncho bitters.

Combine ingredients in a shaker and dry-shake without ice for 20 seconds or so to emulsify the ingredients and froth up the egg white. Add ice, then shake again for at least 30 seconds — you want this drink to be frothy and silky and creamy. Strain into a wide-mouthed glass and either dash a few dashes of bitters on top, swirling them around with a toothpick (or use a Misto or other atomizer).

Here’s a quick tour of Anvil, with a demonstration of how a Pisco Sour is made.

Make sure the pisco’s always Peruvian, for authenticity, and because my Peruvian friend Enrique might give you the stink-eye if you use Chilean.