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A Passion for Pisco: Peru’s Legendary Libation

Not every cocktail has its own national holiday, but the pisco sour does!  On the first Saturday in February, Peruvians are obliged to consume a pisco sour during the time it takes to sing the country’s national anthem.  And this enrages the Chileans, who also claim pisco as their invention and national drink.

Peruvian food has become wildly popular in recent years and the pisco sour has kept pace, making its determined way into the signature cocktail menus of bars all over the world.  Pisco, its aficionados confidentially assure us, is well on its way to unseating vodka as the universal spirit.  Certainly it packs just as much of a punch!

Pisco begins life as white wine but then is distilled until it becomes something closer to brandy with a clean fruity taste that varies depending on what grapes are used and what kind of container it is aged in.  Chileans, who bring their grapes from the vineyards in the north, use three different varieties of white grape that results in a subtle layering of flavor.  Like they do their famous chardonnay, Chileans also age pisco in oaken barrels which infuses the liquor with something of a woody taste.  Purist Peruvians insist on using only a single variety of grape for premier cru pisco or pisco puro and they age their pisco in neutral, non-reactive containers.

Both countries acknowledge the role of the Spanish who taught the art of distillation in the sixteenth century, but violent disagreements emerge when laying claim to the pisco sour.  If you are in Lima, go with the Peruvian version that longtime American expatriate Victor Vaughn Morris invented at the Hotel Maury.

A good pisco sour is conclave of flavors, which complement one another perfectly.   A veteran barman I consulted cautioned that you should always ask that your pisco sour be shaken in a proper cocktail shaker for 25 seconds.  No more, no less: this is the only way, he maintains, to get the right consistency of the egg whites.  Pisco is a perfect complement to Peru’s other signature food:  ceviche, so when you are in Lima, try them together.

Pisco Sour
1-1/2 oz of pisco
1-1/2 oz of freshly squeezed lime juice (lemon works almost as well)
1 oz of simple syrup
1/2 of an egg white from a large egg
Ice cubes
2 dashes of Angostura Bitters

Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously for exactly 25 seconds.  Strain the mixture into a frosted champagne glass or conical cocktail glass and consume immediately.

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Posted: 6/12/2015 10:26:41 AM by Alexander + Roberts