Sours are among the oldest class of cocktails, and as mixology goes, they’re pretty basic stuff: mix booze, lemon and sugar, then chill and serve. Nothing could be easier, and from this base simplicity comes the sour’s true charm — after all, it’s nothing more than that sentimental classic, lemonade, assuming you make your lemonade with hard stuff rather than water.
I’ve already covered the whiskey sour, the most common “pure” sour still in circulation (assuming for a moment that you discount the daiquiri, which you shouldn’t, but swap the lemon for the lime and it appears that naming the drink is open to all comers), but one sour that’s popping up all over the place is the pisco sour.
Not that the pisco sour is anything new — no, this little number has been around the block a few times, ever since pisco had a brief role as the rotgut of choice around San Francisco saloons way back around Gold Rush days, when getting whiskey or rum to California meant loading it onto a wagon train, or onto a ship for a treacherous trip around the Cape. No, during that time, pisco had it easy — native to South America (Chile and Peru are still battling it out about who’s responsible), this grape brandy had a clear shot at the gold fields, at least until the transcontinental railroad came along and blew away that market. Granted, I can’t attest to how many pisco sours were served during that time — according to David Wondrich, in an article he wrote for Slow Foods USA a couple of years back, pisco punch was the way to go for quality drinking — but it’s impressive to see this spirit, and this drink, showing up on bar menus once again. Hell, the next thing you know, you’ll be able to stroll into your local sports bar and order an arrack punch.
OK, maybe that’s wishful thinking. But still, hone in on a pisco sour. Like the rest of the sours, the pisco sour is defined by its simplicity: pisco, lemon, sugar. Done? Not quite. Sure, you could stop there and mix it as usual, and you’d have a fine drink, but a really alluring pisco sour requires a couple of extra steps. First, stick a raw egg white in there — no, really, all you squeamish types who are scratching this drink off the list, try this just once: Get a really fresh egg, rinse it off, then crack it and separate it (if you need that explained to you, go grab your Joy of Cooking) — introduce the white into your mixing glass (one white works well for two drinks), then, after you add all the other ingredients and your ice, shake extra hard, for about 10 seconds. This aerates the white — kind of like you’re making meringue in your cocktail shaker — and gives the drink extra body, the kind of hearty gumption it’s nice to see in a drink sometimes.
Then — and this is the pisco sour’s other unique attribute — after you’ve strained your drink into a glass, drip three or four drops of Angostura bitters on the foam. Why not mix it in? Easy — because, now that you have that nice foamy head the egg white gives you, the Angostura remains somewhat suspended at the top of the glass (some blossoms nicely in the drink, of course). As you raise the glass to take a sip, the first thing you experience is the aroma of the bitters, followed by the slight funkiness of the brandy and the sour of the citrus, all with a texture like liquid silk. Nice? Absolutely.
OK, before I give the recipe, there’s something that needs to be said: while Peru and Chile still wrestle over the origins of pisco, there is also a continuing debate over what’s most appropriate to use in a pisco sour: lemon or lime. The answer, of course, is whichever one you prefer, and to find out which is the case, you should try both. Tonight, however, start with lemon, for two basic reasons: lemons are the citrus of choice in the classic sour; and, today is Mixology Monday, hosted by Jonathan over at Jiggle the Handle, and Jonathan’s chosen topic is Lemon. Be sure to jog over there and check out all the other drinks that are coming up this week.
- 2 ounces pisco
- 1 ounce fresh lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons simple syrup (or 1 teaspoon sugar)
- 1/2 of an egg white
- 3-4 drops Angostura bitters
Shake everything except bitters ferociously with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass (or, you can use a Champagne flute—I had one served this way once, and it made a pleasant impression). Drip the bitters on the foam topping the drink.