Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Pisco Sour Cocktail

Pisco Sour Cocktail in cocktail glass

This tart, smooth drink may be the tastiest product of South America

Both Chile and Peru claim to have invented pisco, a clear, fragrant grape brandy. They also both claim the Pisco Sour as their national drink.

We can’t settle the origin dispute, but we can tell you this: The Pisco Sour—in which brandy essence combines perfectly with citrus juice and a touch of sugar—is the best drink we’ve had in ages.

Once you taste it, you may want to declare independence—just so you can name the Pisco Sour as your own national drink.


Pisco Sour Cocktail in cocktail glass

Recipe: Pisco Sour Cocktail

Disputes about the origins of pisco—and the Pisco Sour—are fierce. For more on the subject, check out Wikipedia or take a look at a July 2012 New York Times article entitled The Pisco Wars.

And the arguments don’t stop there. Drinkers also disagree about what citrus should be used in this drink. Lemon or lime (and if lime, should it be Key Lime or another variety)? I’ve tasted the drink both ways, and I prefer lemon (which is unusual for me, since I tend to opt for lime in cocktails).

There’s one aspect of the Pisco Sour on which there should be no dispute, IMO: This drink requires egg white. Other sours (such as the Whiskey Sour) list egg white as an optional ingredient. But in the Pisco Sour, egg white is a must. Not only does it look great, it creates a platform to hold a garnish of Angostura bitters. (More about egg whites in the Notes.)

The recipe takes a few minutes to prepare, and serves one.

Ingredients
  • 2 ounces pisco brandy
  • 1 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice (don’t use bottled—it will make the drink flat and lifeless)
  • ½ ounce Simple Syrup (you may prefer a bit more or less; if in doubt, try less first) 
  • 1 small or ½ large egg white (exact quantity is not critical; consider using a pasteurized egg—see Notes) 
  • 3 or 4 drops of Angostura bitters as garnish
Procedure
  1. Add all the ingredients (except Angostura bitters) to a cocktail shaker that does not contain ice. Shake hard for at least 30 seconds. (You want the egg white to foam and create as much volume as possible, and it does this more readily when it’s warm rather than chilled.)
  2. Once the egg white has become foamy and voluminous, add ice to the shaker until it’s half full. Shake the contents until cold—about 20 seconds.
  3. Strain the contents of the shaker into a cocktail glass or a Pisco Sour glass (see Notes), preferably one that’s been chilled. Carefully sprinkle 3 or 4 drops (not dashes) of Angostura bitters onto the foam at the drink’s surface, and serve.
Pisco Sour Cocktail in cocktail glass, with pretzels

Notes
  • Most liquor stores carry only 1 or 2 brands of pisco, usually from Peru. So buy whatever you can find. I’ve been pleased with all the brands I’ve tried, though I’ve heard that there are some bad ones around. If in doubt, ask the staff at your liquor store—I’ve always found them to be helpful.
  • Egg whites don’t really add flavor to this drink. Rather, they give it a foamy and frothy head that’s quite attractive. You can skip the egg whites, but you’ll be missing some of the fun of this cocktail.
  • Eggs carry a slight (but real) risk of salmonella. So I suggest using pasteurized ones. Although it’s unlikely that the eggs you buy will be infected, why take the risk?
  • You can identify pasteurized eggs because they usually have a red “P” stamped on them.
  • You can also purchase egg whites in containers if you don't want to separate eggs.
  • You can also use dried egg white powder. Supermarkets usually stock this in the same aisle where they have ingredients for baking. You’ll need to thoroughly dissolve the powder in warm water before using. Dried powder works reasonably well in cocktails, though I prefer using an actual egg.
  • BTW, if you double this recipe, you don’t need to exactly double the amount of egg white. Just use the white from one large (or even medium) sized egg, and you should be OK.
  • If you don’t have simple syrup on hand, you can substitute an equal amount of sugar, preferably finely granulated (but not powdered sugar).
  • Why sprinkle the Angostura bitters on top of this drink instead of mixing them in? Because the bitters aren’t intended to add flavor. Instead, you’re meant to enjoy their aroma while you’re sipping.
  • The best presentation I’ve ever seen for a Pisco Sour was at a restaurant in St. Louis, where I live (the drink is no longer on their menu, alas). The bartender mixed the bitters with pure alcohol in a kitchen torch, and flamed the egg white top of the drink with an impressive blaze. It looked great—but sprinkling on drops of bitters is more practical for most of us!
  • The traditional Pisco Sour glass is a v-shaped tumbler (the base is narrower than the top). I haven’t invested in any of these—I already have enough glassware. Anyway, I think the drink looks dandy in a traditional cocktail glass. Some people like to serve it in a champagne flute, which also looks nice.
  • My recipe specifies the ingredient ratio that I prefer—a 4:2:1 ratio of pisco to lemon juice to simple syrup. But many people like a 3:1:1 ratio.  
  • Robert Hess uses a 3:1:1 ratio in his (delightful) video on making a Pisco Sour (he also uses lime juice instead of lemon). I find his ratio a bit too sweet, but you may think differently. 
  • Speaking of which: Bartenders often make sours way too sweet, IMO. A sour shouldn’t pucker your lips, but it should be tart—not so sweet that you fail to notice you’re drinking something that has sour citrus as a primary ingredient.
Pisco Sour Cocktail with Angostura Bitters garnish, overhead view

On the Road to Pisco

“Wowzer,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs as she tasted her Pisco Sour. “This is the best drink we’ve had in a long time.”

“Great, isn’t it?” I said.

“So does this cocktail come to us from Chile or Peru?” she asked, draining her glass.

“Both,” I said, mixing us another round. “Though from what I’ve read, it started in Peru. And many people think the Peruvian version of the Pisco Sour is better than the Chilean one.”

“Peru,” said Mrs K R, a distant look in her eye. “We’ve never been to South America, you know.”

“True,” I said. “But hey, no worries. After all, our local liquor store carries some great brands of pisco and . . . .” 

“I’ve always wanted to see Machu Picchu,” she added, sipping her fresh drink. “We could do an on-the-ground taste test to see which country makes the better drink.”

“Yeah, well, uh . . . .”

“We owe it to our readers,” said Mrs K R, eyeing me over her glass.

I never realized how expensive pisco could be.

You may also enjoy reading about:
Simple Syrup
Whiskey Sour
Caipirinha
Bacardi Cocktail
Last Word Cocktail
Or check out the index for more

88 comments:

  1. Yay for South America - I was hoping you would mention Buenos Aires or Argentina - because that's where I'm traveling at the moment. I have never heard of Pisco before - and it sucks that it requires egg white, does it have to require egg white?

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    1. Hi veganmiam, you'll have to head over to Peru! You could make this drink without the egg white because the egg white doesn't do anything to the flavor, but it'd sure look different. Still good, just not as pretty, alas. Thanks for the comment.

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    2. Not sure if you've read my earlier posts, but we will be heading to Peru in March :) Have you been there including Lima?

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    3. Now that you mention it, I do remember you saying you were headed to Peru. Lucky you! Never been there - love to someday. And if Mrs K R gets her way, I know we will!

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  2. A trip to Peru? Yep, this is an expensive drink. :) Have never, ever had an alcoholic drink with egg whites! I am truly intrigued. What an interesting and unique drink, and you do a great sell. Just added Pisco brandy to the liquor store list. I definitely need to give this one a try. Oh and John - a mixologist such as yourself can NEVER have enough glasses! :) Thanks for introducing this drink!

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    1. Hi MJ, someday we really would love to visit Peru, and much of South America. And silly me - you're right I can never have enough glasses! ;-) This is a super drink - I think you'll like it. Thanks for the comment.

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  3. I love a Pisco sour; I've got it scheduled in my rotation down the road a bit but I do with them what I also love with margaritas. I blend lemon and lime juice...I love elements of each so why not have both!

    It's 10:23 in the morning sir and you have made me crave a cocktail. Good job!

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    1. Hi Barb, blending lemon and lime is a great idea, especially since I believe one of the varieties of lime that's traditional in this drink does taste somewhat of a cross between the two (and the lemon they use is definitely sweeter - like a Meyer lemon, from what I understand, but without the orange highlights). Sorry about that craving thing. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  4. Testing drinks in situ is always the best plan! I adore pisco, and it's very popular here. Like a good caipirinha, it's very unique.

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    1. Hi Paula, I agree with you about testing in situ. ;-) And so does Mrs K R! Pisco is great, isn't it? Thanks for the comment.

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  5. I've never heard of this before and never heard of a drink using egg whites. Very interesting! It actually sounds like a drink I might enjoy - it's on the sweeter side, correct?

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    1. Hi Vicki, it's a fun drink, and you can make it as sweet or sour as you like. My recipe has a definite touch of sweetness to it; I sometimes make it with less sugar. Thanks for the comment.

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  6. If this is the best drink you've had in ages than I'm am going out to buy some pisco. And it is manservant's birthday. He usually likes anejo tequila to sip. What do you think? Is this a good switch?

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    1. Hi Abbe, it's definitely worth getting pisco. I've tasted pisco neat, but haven't really served it that way. think it'd work - ask the people at your liquor store to recommend one that would work both in cocktails and as a sipping liquor. Thanks for the comment.

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  7. Why do you have to THAT creative and awesome all the time?!
    How come you keep forgetting about the photography tutorial that you promised me to deliver? :(

    I can't stand your too beautiful photos anymore :( It gives me headache :(

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    1. Hi Nusrat, sorry about that headache. ;-) And that photo tutorial thingy. ;-) But thanks for the kind words, and comment.

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  8. I got so frustrated trying to figure out the whole Pisco ownership thing that I didn't even celebrate Pisco Sour Day in February. (they couldn't decide on a month either:)

    I really should make up my own mind and try this drink, John. While I'm at it, I should probably dig out that Pisco Recipe book I have around here too.

    Thank you so much for sharing...

    P.S. I'm having a Pasta Party at my blog, you and the mrs. are more than welcome to join us:) If pasta isn;t on your menu any time soon, wine would be nice:)

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    1. Hi Louise, I'm voting for Peru, but I can't give you a definitive reason why! At least not one that I can't argue against. ;-) We're going to be doing some pasta recipes soon (once I decide which ones to feature) so I'll definitely be dropping by your party! Thanks for the comment.

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  9. This is a really interesting and pretty drink :D

    Cheers
    CCU

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    1. Hi Uru, it really is nice. And now that you're legal, you can sample. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  10. I've had this drink before because my BIL went to Chile for a holiday and came back with a bottle of Pisco for me as a gift. He came for dinner and made me a Pisco Sour with limes and I loved it. Strong! But it did have lovely flavour and was quite unlike anything I've ever had before xx

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    1. Hi Charlie, isn't this a fun drink? Although it is a big strong - but such lovely flavor. Thanks for the comment.

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  11. I have never heard of Pisco, even though I don't drink, I like to stay educated :) This is such a pretty cocktail John and it was interesting to hear the feud behind it. Maybe I should take a tip or two from Mrs KR, make a dish and suggest we go and visit the country to taste the authentic version, my husband would totally fall for it :)

    Nazneen

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    1. Hi Nazneen, it's OK not to drink but to be educated! And not a bad idea to make a dish then insist you need to do on-the-ground research. For your blog, you know. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  12. I love all these fancy drink recipes you post! I wish someone would make me some of these to try... I think the fanciest we get is the occasional martini (which I love). This looks really refreshing!

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    1. Hi Amy, a martini is a good drink! But I hope I give you some ideas so when you're out and want to try something different, you'll have more options. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  13. I say "wowsers" too! What a walking encyclopedia you are on delicious beverages and your photos are simply amazing! Do you need any other critquers other than Mrs. Kitchen Rifts? I've put in my application!

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    1. Hi Chris, there's so much to learn about drinks, so "research" is a lot of fun! And I'd love to have your critiques! Thanks for the comment.

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  14. Hi KR,

    There is raw egg white in this drink??? Funny that I don't mind using raw egg white for mousse and icing but hesitate drinking it as a drink... Got to try this and hope this drink will change my mind :D

    Zoe

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    1. Hi Zoe, yup, raw egg white. You don't taste it, though there is a tiny bit of "texture" it adds to the drink. I know the whole raw egg thing sounds a bit weird, but remember eggnog is essentially raw egg. ;-) And back in the day of the soda fountain, they'd routinely add raw eggs to milk shakes! Thanks for the comment.

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  15. John: No blogger photographs drinks so professionally as you do. These pictures are amazing! And the pisco drink sounds delish!

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    1. Hi Denise, it's really a wonderful drink! Thanks for your kind words, and comment.

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  16. I have never tried grape brandy before...nor have I done the egg whites. I want to try both now! Thank you for sharing...and thank you for your kind words on my own blog. They mean so much.

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    1. Hi Monet, pisco really has an interesting flavor - quite different from "regular" brandy. Thanks for the comment.

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  17. Hi John , thanks for another wonderful drink and you are a master at this , you make it so easy to follow . Made my list and it ain't for Santa Claus ... it's for the liquor store 'MAN" Thanks for sharings :).

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    1. Hi Nee, I'm sure the liquor store staff will be happy to see you coming! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  18. I have never heard of this, but gosh, it looks like a dream creation. I haven't even heard of the ingredients, and definitely not have had a drink with egg whites in it. Wow, just wow!

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    1. Hi Minnie, it's really a terrific drink! Loads of flavor, and I think it looks quite nice, too. Thanks for the comment.

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  19. Hi John, wow, what a drink! I would definitely go with Key limes just because I love it so much that in this drink I would completely ignore an egg in it. I should look Pisco in the store. After reading your blog for a while, and especially the cocktail section, I got interested in mixing up something myself. Would any cocktail shaker work? See, I don't have one and they sell so many different shakers that I am lost. Any suggestion what to look for in a good shaker? Thanks! Say Hello to Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. This holiday season I want to make one of her fudges, now when I have microwave... :)

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    1. Hi Marina, if you're in the market for a cocktail shaker, I'd just go to a good housewares store (or liquor store) and see what they have on hand and what looks good to you. I can think of pros and cons on many different shakers, but until you use one you really won't know what's important to you. So I'd spend maybe $20 and experiment. I actually need a new shaker - the seals on my current one leak - so I'll probably just go to Amazon and read some reviews. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  20. It's been a long long time since I've had Pisco. Completely tempted to go get me some liquor.
    I like that it's a bit on the sweeter side. Your pictures are another ball game, absolutely stunning.

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    1. Hi Asha, such a nice drink, isn't it? You probably need a bottle of pisco. ;-) Thanks for the kind words, and comment.

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  21. Wow! I don't think I've ever heard of pisco.... sounds divine!

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    1. Hi Lizzy, it's really worth looking into - nice liquor, wonderful drink. Thanks for the comment.

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  22. I will toast to this drink! Really unique and interesting and I have never heard of it. I am with Mrs. Riff I think a trip to do some proper QA analysis is in order here. LOL Have a super weekend. Take Care, BAM

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    1. Hi Bam, yeah, one of these days a research trip to Peru will be in the cards! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  23. The Pisco Sour is uplifting, refreshing and a real pick me up - that's why many are saying that it's set to take over mojitos. I think its even better.

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    1. Hi cquek, I think the Pisco Sour is tons better than the mojito - an I like mojitos! More interesting flavors going on. Thanks for the comment.

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  24. ooo, i like this so much! sounds wonderful; and i'm not scared of egg whites, so i'll definitely include them. Mrs. KR has the right idea about heading to South America, probably. :) think of it as research.

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    1. Hi Shannon, I really do think the egg white makes this drink. And I'd really love to go to South America someday! I know we will, just need to plan (it'll be a few years). Thanks for the comment.

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  25. Wow...John....first of all, I think you know I am a huge fan of your photography! I find it so hard to photograph cocktails and yours always look so enticing! And coming to your blog is always a culinary education....which I enjoy so much. I'm going to be investigating this grape brandy. And Mrs. KR....she deserves that trip! ;- )

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    1. Hi Anne, thanks for your kind words (and comment). Photographing cocktails is all about controlling reflections and the light source. The book, Light, Science, and Magic has some great info on photographing glassware and shinny objects, and the entire book is basically about understanding reflections. Not a book about food photography, just about understanding light and how to deal with it. And Mrs KR definitely thinks she deserves that trip!

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  26. This sounds like my kind of drink - very light and refreshing!

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    1. Hi Laura, this really has terrific flavor, and is indeed very refreshing. Thanks for the comment.

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  27. Would you believe I only tried my first Pisco Sour about two years ago? Of course, I'm hooked now. I love how bright and zingy it is. Truly awakens the palate.

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    1. Hi Carolyn, this is a wonderful drink - really excellent as a predinner palate cleanser and teaser. Thanks for the comment.

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  28. When I traveled to Lima, Peru, my friend made pisco sour for us. I also bought a bottle of pisco there and took it home. It was the best pisco I've had... so smooth, you can drink it straight. I haven't found a good bottle since my trip. You got any recommendations John? Thanks for posting this... brought back good memories. :)

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    1. Hi Anne, isn't this a great drink? I'd check with your liquor store and see what they have in stock and recommend when it comes to buying pisco - there's a big variety of brands out there, and I've only sampled a couple, which may or may not be available where you live. Thanks for the comment.

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  29. I'm sure you own a well-stocked bar. This looks so yummy!!

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    1. Hi Kiran, over the years we really have accumulated a ridiculously large variety of drinkables. But I'm not complaining. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  30. That sounds interesting. I'm a sucker for sour drinks.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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    1. Hi Rosa, this is really an excellent drink - if you ever have the chance to sample it, I think you'd like it. Thanks for the comment.

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  31. It's 5 o'lock somewhere!! ;) Another great looking drink... Never heard of pisco before!

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    1. Hi Ashley, our motto! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  32. Ha! If you won't go to Peru with Mrs. KR, tell her I'll go with her! I've always wanted to see Machu Picchu too.
    Have a great weekend!

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    1. Hi Beth, I'm sure Mrs KR would appreciate that! ;-) Machu Picchu must be wonderful to see, and I do hope we get there someday. Thanks for the comment.

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  33. Mrs KR thinks just like me- Machu Pichu is definitely on my travel list. Yes, and I must start reading my new book 'Light, Science and Magic.'

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    1. Hi Fran, Mrs KR definitely is a smart cookie, isn't she? ;-) And I do go on a bit about that book (and it's not the easiest read in the world) but it's just so good about helping one think about light - at least it was for me. Thanks for the comment.

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  34. Even though I've never had one (the egg white kind of puts me off) this drink really intrigues me. It sounds like something I would really enjoy if it weren't for that darned egg white. Since I have powdered egg whites in the pantry I might just have to hunt down some pisco and mix one up. As usual, you photograph is mouthwatering.

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    1. Hi Karen, the dried egg white works pretty well. I often use about half the amount of liquid the instructions calls for, although following the instructions for mixing the egg white gives a good result, too. You don't really taste the egg white (it does have a slight mouth feel, though) - it's mainly there for looks. Thanks for the comment.

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  35. The first time I tried this was in Peru, where they definitely claimed it as their own. I also prefer lemon.

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    1. Hi Suzanne, I really would love to visit Peru someday! And I agree lemon works so well in this drink. Thanks for the comment.

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  36. Sounds like a delicious drink. I have never heard of Pisco before and was surprised to see the egg whites in this drink.

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    1. Hi Dawn, egg whites sound weird, I know, but they so, so work! They really add body to the drink. Worth trying, IMO. Thanks for the comment.

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  37. I went to Peru and Machu Picchu a few years ago and drank many Pisco Sours. I don't know about the Chile version, but I sure enjoyed the Peruvian ones. Thanks for bringing back some great memories. I need to see if my local liquor store carries Pisco. Great post!

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    1. Hi Bill, I envy you! I really want to see Machu Picchu someday. And drink a Pisco Sour at the source. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  38. after looking at this amazing recipe....all we want to do is sip it and chill...must taste uplifting :-)

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    1. Hi Kumar, this is a really great drink - definitely uplifting! Thanks for the comment.

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  39. Sounds very delicious! You've been making so many nice cocktails and cocktail lists gets longer and longer! Speaking of Machu Pichu, I'm hoping to visit there one day too - my brother is dating a Peruvian girl in Thailand... hope they will marry in Peru.:D

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    1. Hi Nami, a wedding in Peru would be fun! Hope you get to attend one. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  40. I can't believe you posted this drink! My husband and I visited our daughter when she was an English teacher in Chile and came back in love with this drink. We couldn't find Pisco, so we had to ask to have it ordered. Yummy, yummy drink!

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    1. Hi Kristi, pisco is really good stuff, and this drink is outstanding. But I guess I don't have to tell you that! Thanks for the comment.

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  41. This used to be a favorite of mine and then I forgot about it. Yum.

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    1. Hi Maureen, it's a great drink. Definitely worth buying a bottle of pisco and becoming reacquainted with it. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  42. Yay! An egg white drink! My friend who took a class on making your own drinks told me that the bitters take away the smell of the raw egg. We don't have any bitters in our possession, but I think it's high time we get some!

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    1. Hi Laura, you definitely need some bitters! They're good in so many cocktails. Thanks for the comment.

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  43. Hi John, very interesting drink, it look so refreshing. Very spectacular picture. Thanks for sharing the recipe and nite.

    Have a great weekend, regards.

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    1. Hi Amelia, isn't this nice? Pretty, and so tasty! Thanks for the comment.

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