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.
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.
- 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
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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