Friday, May 15, 2009

Happy National Pisco Sour Day, Chile!

According to Wikipedia, today is national Pisco sour day in Chile. In celebration, I've made a few of this venerable cocktail using various recipes. I really like this drink.

Pisco is a south American spirit that is produced from grape juice, namely Muscat, Torontel and Pedro Jiménez varieties in Chile, and a long list of varieties in Peru. It is similar in flavor profile to grape brandies that I tasted while in Italy. Also according to Wikipedia: In modern times, it continues to be produced in winemaking regions of Peru and Chile. The drink is a widely consumed spirit in the nations of Bolivia, Chile and Peru. The right to produce and promote pisco has been the matter of legal disputes between Chile and Peru, both of which hold their most iconic cocktail to be the pisco sour. Apparently Peru already celebrated their national Pisco sour day in February.

I've chosen the Chilean version of this drink in deference to my good friend Marcos whose family hails from Chile and provided me with the critical element to this drink - the Chilean Pisco. (Capel brand). I can remember being at his house in junior high or high school and his parents mixing up a batch of pisco sours for guests at a midday party in their backyard. Too young to drink at the time, I can still remember the festive atmosphere that accompanied the preparation, serving and consumption of this beverage.

A number of recipes abound. Some use egg whites, some don't. Peruvian pisco sours usually come with bitters (Peru native Amargo Chuncho brand preferred, but Angostura will do), but Chilean sours mostly do not. I've gathered from some reading that the Chilean version tends toward the simpler side, with the egg white and bitters being considered unnecessary adornments for this delicious cocktail. Marcos's mom uses egg whites in her recipe and I really like the silky texture that results, so I'm including them in mine, but the drink is still delicious without them. Also, she does not use bitters so I'm leaving them out despite my current predilection to use Angostura bitters in everything (beverage-related and otherwise). She recommends rimming the glass with sugar.

Also, citrus selections also vary by locale. In Peru, it is traditional to use limón de pica (thorny lemon), which is apparently similar to Key lime or West Indian lime in the U.S. The typical citrus used in the Chilean Pisco sour is lemon.

Ratios vary. The formulation that I present below is the result of some experimentation - I like a strong citrus character balanced by sweetness. The recipe included on the bottle of Pisco wasn't my favorite (3:1:1/6 Pisco:lemon: sugar) My base recipe uses lemon exclusively, but I've also found that a little lime works very well. Try it and decide which best suits your taste.

Finally, regarding the preparation method, either a blender or shaker will do the job and give you a nice texture with a lot of dense foam. The shaker method works better for a small batch (one or two cocktails) but definitely requires a good deal of elbow grease in order to generate a meringue-like foam. The blender is better for larger batches. Either method, when done properly, yields a good result. I've added a scant pinch of salt to bring out some additional flavor (yes it makes a subtle difference).

The result is a smooth and tangy drink with the nice grape flavors of the Pisco. So head to your local liquor store, buy yourself some Chilean Pisco and celebrate national pisco sour day! Discover what a delicious drink this is if you haven't already.

Pisco Sour (Chile)
3 oz. Pisco (Chilean brand such as Capel or Alto del Carmen)
1 1/2 oz. lemon juice (or 1 oz. lemon, 1/4 oz. lime)
2-3 tsp. sugar (scant Tablespoon, Baker's superfine)
1 egg white (or not)
scant pinch salt
8-9 ice cubes (shaker) or 1/4 cup cracked ice (blender)

Shaker Method) Add ingredients except ice to shaker and dry shake (i.e. sans ice) vigorously for about 10 seconds to emulsify. Add ice cubes and shake vigorously for about 1 minute or until your arms give out (resting every 20-30 seconds is ok). Strain with a Hawthorn strainer into a sour glass or footed goblet rimmed with sugar (I used a Riedel Vinum Port glass)

Blender Method) Add ingredients to blender except ice and dry blend (i.e. blend sans ice) for a few seconds to emulsify. Add ice and blend for 10 seconds pulsing, if required, to blend ice. Strain with a Hawthorn strainer into a sour glass or footed goblet rimmed with sugar.


  1. when we were in Chile, it seemed to us the sugar being used was powdered sugar???

  2. I can see that. You definitely want something that will dissolve thoroughly. Baker's sugar worked fine for me, leaving no crystals behind in the finished drink.