By Maribel Rivero
Each year, the first Saturday in February, Peruvians celebrate their national cocktail, the Pisco Sour. This cocktail only gets one day of celebration unlike the “Semana de Chilcano,” a weeklong celebration of the other famous Peruvian cocktail, which happens in January. After asking local gastronomes why the more well-known cocktail gets less of a celebration, answers were inconclusive. However, they did offer up quite a bit of feedback on the subject of what makes a good Pisco Sour. The Union of Peruvian Sommeliers provided a lecture session presenting the history of Pisco and the Pisco Sour, the varietals of Pisco, and the art of making the perfect Pisco Sour. Suffice it to say that with a room full of Peruvians there is as much pride that goes into the components of making a Pisco Sour as there is associated with creating Peru’s traditional dishes.
The history of the Pisco Sour starts with its inventor Victor Vaughn Morris from Salt Lake City, Utah in the United States. After working for the Peruvian railroad he landed in Lima, founding the Morris Bar in 1916. His bar was known to attract the Peruvian affluent and travelers of the world. The Pisco Sour was a version of the Whiskey Sour. The original recipe died with its founder as it was always kept top secret.
Roberto Meléndez, head barman at Bar Inglés in the Country Club Hotel is currently most famous for conserving the integrity of the Pisco Sour. There are five elements: Quebranta Pisco, lime juice, simple syrup (often referred to as coma), egg whites, and a drop of Angostura Bitters. All bartenders can agree on the use of these components. The controversy lay in the ratio proportions, and the type of product used for each component.
Meléndez’ Pisco Sour, which he claims to have been used the historic Hotel Maury Bar, used a 4:1:1 ratio which is respectively 4oz. Quebranta Pisco, 1oz. lime juice, 1oz. simple syrup, and splash of egg whites topped with a drop of Angostura bitters. This ratio is contrary to commonly used ratio of 3:1:1. Some bartenders vary on the type of Pisco straying from Quebranta Pisco variety. Some may use other styles like Albilla Pisco and Acholado Pisco or even a splash of Torrontel for a little bit of aroma.
The evening with the Union Peruvian Sommeliers resulted in trying four different Pisco Sours each with a different Pisco variety. All agreed after much discussion that criolla limes (Peruvian limes, key lime variety) must be used with a strong protest to Persian/Tahitian limes. “Our criolla limes are perfect in acid and one of a kind”, Raiza Carrera, a bartender at MadBar, passionately stated. Others commented that the Pisco Sour should use only these ingredients, without the addition of a fruit juice, or should have a different name. It should be called something else.
Among the crowd of bartenders, sommeliers, and Pisco producers the most important take away was, “Use the pisco that is your favorite.” This means you have to taste a variety to find out what is your favorite concoction. Luckily there is always an event to celebrate such occasion. Below, a sampling of some of the festivals surrounding national Pisco Sour Day.
Surco | Festival de Pisco Sour in Parque Amistad | Av. Caminos del Inca |Feb. 5 – 8 |
11:00 to 23:40
Enjoy a variety of Piscos provided by different purveyors and their Pisco Sour cocktails.
Barranco | Pisco Sour Fest in Plaza de Armas de Barranco | Feb. 5 – 8 | 11:00 to 22:00
A variety of food vendors including Amazonian fare. Pisco vendors and, of course, Pisco Sours. Live music and even a Miss Pisco Sour contest.
Central Lima | National Pisco Sour Day | Alameda Chabuca Grande, Cdra 1 | Feb. 6 – 8 |
10:00 to 22:00
Caja china, cilindro food preparations and more. Live music and Pisco Sours galore.