Pisco Sour

Claimed by both Peru and Chile, the Pisco Sour is the quintessential Pisco cocktail.

A wonderful blend of sour components with a faint sweetness juxtaposed with earthy or floral notes.  Soft notes of spice on the nose, positioned with the texture of a fluffy cloud on the tongue.  Overall a fantastic drink, but one that is an acquired taste: many people have an aversion to the unique flavors of Pisco.  Made from muscat grapes (in the case of Chilean Pisco), or Quebranta (Peruvian Pisco), the aromatic brandy can be pungent and overwhelming in flavor (Robinson 532).  Generally, Pisco has an aromatic flavor, which is augmented and mellowed by the aging process in the case of Chilean Pisco; on the other hand, Peruvian Pisco generally exhibits a strong and more primal nature, being unaged and full of flavor, but retaining that full blow grape-like flavor with a natural sweetness.

The cocktail is made up of a few simple ingredients, making it rather similar to a Boston sour.  The Boston sour is essentially the designation of a variation of a sour, featuring the use of an egg white to give it a new texture.  Unlike a traditional sour, with the use of lemon juice, the Pisco sour draws upon the use of Persian limes rather than Eureka lemons.  In many cases, there is a mistake in translation to English, calling for lemons rather than limes, mainly because limes are referred to as a lemon in Spanish.  As such, you find quite a few Pisco sours in the United States made with lemon juice, but in the case of a properly made cocktail, lime juice is the way to go.

Pisco brandy, Pisco punch and Pisco sour have been the focus of a book by Guillermo Toro Lira, Wings of Cherubs (2007), and also his other book History of Pisco in San Francisco (2010).  In the case of the spirit, there is a strong relationship between Pisco brandy and San Fransciso.   It seems that according to Guillermo, the drink’s original precursor was a concoction drunk by the Viceroyalty of Peru, essentially a mix of pisco and lime; later, in San Franscisco, a cocktail would originate called the Pisco punch which featured pisco, lemon and pineapple.  Contrary to this origin story of Peruvian origins, there is another creation myth surrounding the drink: specifically that it was made by an Englishman who visited Iquique, a Peruvian city which would later become a Chilean City in 1884, and that he created what would become the Pisco sour (Joseph 275).

The principle way of changing this drinks’ flavor is to vary the type of Pisco used: besides branding, the most obvious change is to use Chilean or Peruvian, since the production processes are different, you get rather different flavors, thanks to the terroir of the grape varietal.  The lack of, or minimal aging difference in the production processes between Peruvian and Chilean Pisco also changes the flavors tremendously, so it is only natural that a switch in the principle ingredient by volume would alter the overall taste of the drink.

In general, any type of bitters can be used to top the white foam from the egg white, but the bitter of choice is Angostura.  The contrasting, strong colors add a wonderful visual aesthetic, but at the same time, the spice notes complement the flavor of the Pisco.  However, in Peru, it is common to use regional bitters rather than obscure ones.  For a wonderful twist, switch it out for some orange bitters or other type of aromatic bitters.

Pisco Sour:

2 ounces Pisco
1 ounce lime juice
1/4 ounce simple syrup
1 egg white

Dry shake the egg white in a shaker tin; after shaking so that it is broken down a bit, add in lime juice and simple syrup; dry shake some more.  Add ice, Pisco, shaking until well chilled, and strain into a glass; top with some Angostura bitters.


Field, Colin Peter.  2003.  The Cocktails of The Ritz Paris.  New York: Simon & Schuster.

Jackson, Michael.  1995.  Michael Jackson’s Bar and Cocktail Companion: The Connoisseur’s Handbook.  Originally published 1979.  Philadelphia: Running Press.

Joseph, Robert.  2006.  Wine Travel Guide to the World.  Footprint Handbooks.

Schumann, Charles.  1991.  American Bar.  New York:  Abbeville Press Publishers.