Continuing the theme of brandies after Monday’s look at Calvados, tonight I’ve been sampling Pisco, the national spirit of both Chile and Peru. Pisco is made by fermenting grapes in to wine, and then distilling this wine in to a clear brandy. It has a sharp, fiery taste with an underlying fruitiness and a hint of sweetness.
It is generally agreed that Pisco began when wine that had been produced for export but deemed inferior quality were gifted to local farmers, who then took the wine and distilled it. However, that is about all that is agreed on – the origins of Pisco are very much in dispute, with both Chile and Peru claiming it as their own.
The earliest known reference to Pisco is from the Spanish colonies of Peru, in 1613, and most of the evidence I’ve read seems to point towards Peru as the originator. However, this is muddied when you consider that the Spanish controlled Vice-Royalty of Peru at one point extended from southern Chile to the Caribbean – the Peru of today is not the same as that of 1613. Who knows, perhaps both countries started making it at a similar time and over the years the name was just applied to both. Truthfully, we will probably never know the real history of Pisco.
The way Pisco got its name is also in question. Some believe it comes from the town of Pisco, which in turn was named after the local bird which is called a Pisqu in the Quechua language. Others, meanwhile, assert it comes from the pot Pisco was stored in, called a Pisko, after the local inhabitants who were called Piskos.
To try out Pisco I could find no better cocktail than the famous Pisco Sour. You’ll be unsurprised by now to learn that Chile and Peru even argue over where this cocktail came from, each claiming it originated from a local port. Whichever country it was, it seems likely it was invented during the 1920s for the steam-boat passengers who were travelling past South America on the way to San Francisco.
- 2 shots Pisco
- 1 shot lemon juice*
- ½ shot sugar syrup
- 1 egg white
- Shake all ingredients hard with ice for long enough to ensure the egg white is well mixed. Strain in to a cocktail glass and add a few dashes of Angostura Aromatic bitters to the frothy top of the drink.
- * You can also use limes for an equally pleasing drink – try both and see which you prefer.
The Pisco Sour has a relatively clean, simple taste. The lemon and sugar work remarkably well to tame the Pisco, allowing its flavours through but pulling back the fiery kick, producing a very drinkable cocktail. Thanks to the egg the drink has a lovely silky quality which I’m sure helps smooth out the roughness of the Pisco too.
A lot of people are wary of using raw eggs in cocktails. To be honest I was too at first, but the risk of salmonella is absolutely tiny – read Darcy’s excellent post on using raw eggs if you’re not convinced. The egg provides an amazing foamy head to the drink, which allows you to dash the bitters on the top. As well as looking good, this allows the wonderful aroma of Angostura to be the first taste that greats you as you bring the glass to your mouth.
I’ve only mixed up a few Pisco Sours so far, but I’ve yet to produce the large white head I’ve seen in some photos of the Pisco Sour. I’ve tried shaking the egg before adding the other ingredients, I’ve tried shaking it for ages and ages, but I still only get a small amount of froth. Any tips for getting the perfect Pisco Sour?
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