Pisco sours: Drinking and making a tasty little bird

Just as ouzo has never tasted as good as it did is Greece, pisco sours have never tasted as good as they do in Peru. Chilly pisco sours kept the sweat at bay in Lima and exacerbated our altitude sickness in Cusco (totally worth it). The cocktail paired perfectly with simple yucca fries as well as high-falutin’ alpaca steaks.

Pisco sour with aguaymanto from Peru photo

Pisco sour with aguaymanto

Pisco sours are disturbingly easy to drink, considering the high proof of the cocktail. The booze level seems no barrier to Peruvians, who order them by the carafe-full at every meal (yes, sometimes even breakfast). In addition to egg whites, pisco sours are infused with cultural pride — piscu means “little bird” in the language of Peru’s Quechua people and the booze base was invented in Peru, though Chileans deny that claim.

Most of the pisco sours I’ve had in the U.S. have been either too sweet or made with cruddy pisco. Also unfortunately for stateside bartenders, Peruvian limones add a different pucker than the lime varieties available in the U.S. In my pisco sour recipe, I’ve tried using key limes, a mix of lemon and lime juices, or just regular ol’ limes, but it’s never quite as good.

One of the best piscos I’ve tried is Campo De Encanto Pisco de Peru. This grape brandy is palate-perfect for its smooth yet earthy flavor. I’m also enchanted by the producer’s sustainable sourcing values; handcrafted, preservative-free production process; and that they hail from San Francisco, California. Hence: hella good pisco.

While the classic pisco sour preparation uses Peruvian limone juice, my favorite variation in Peru was made with aguaymanto. Usually translated in Peru to cape gooseberry or Inca berry, aguaymantos are superball-small, tart yet sweet, yellow fruits that grow inside a papery husk, like a tomatillo.

While I impatiently await aguaymanto season in the fall — when, if I’m lucky the fruit will make a brief appearance at San Francisco’s farmers markets — this classic pisco sour recipe will have to do.

And really, it does just fine.

Recipe: Pisco Sour

Makes 1 strong cocktail.

3 ounces pisco
1 ounce lime juice
1/2 to 1 ounce simple syrup, to taste
1 egg white
a handful of ice cubes
Angostura bitters (optional but advised)

Put a cocktail glass in the freezer to chill. In a blender, combine the pisco, juice, simple syrup, egg white, and ice. Blend until the ice is completely crushed and mostly melts away. (Lack a blender? Use a cocktail shaker and brute upper body strength).

Pour into the chilled glass. A layer of foam will rise to the top. Add a dash or two of bitters to the foam for garnish. Drink and rejoice.