A few months ago we were having drinks at a bar in Teneriffe, Brisbane and decided to order a Pisco Sour in preparation for our South American adventures. In a Fawlty Towers-esque moment the waiter advised ‘Sorry, we’re all out of Piscos (sic)’. So the Pisco remained elusive, despite my very good attempt to recreate them at Visa Fest, using a combination of Tequila and White Rum.
Pisco is a distilled grape brandy. It’s clear and slightly viscous with very little taste. This lack of strong flavour makes it very easy to throw back the drinks, with lethal results. Pisco is the subject of a huge trade dispute between Peru and Chile with both laying claim to its origin and as a national drink. It’s serious business. When you enter Peru from Chile it is very clear on the custom’s card that anything marked ‘Pisco’ will be confiscated by Peruvian Customs. Whilst the town of Pisco certainly seems to have a stronger claim, given it’s name, the frosty relations between these two countries continues. There’s a lot to the ’Pisco Wars’ so if you’d like to read more, click here.
In Lima, we stayed at the Hotel Maury, allegedly where the Pisco Sour was invented. Allegedly for a variety of reasons including every other bar and the whole Chile also laying claim to the Pisco Sour. The Maury has a lovely wooden panelled bar and after 29 hours in transit, the Pisco Sour went down very well indeed. We also took in one at the Grand Hotel Bolivar early the next afternoon and, combined with the jet lag, it knocked our socks off. Both these hotels have faded charm that added greatly to the atmosphere and the price of the drinks at S/-12 and S/-16 respectively.
Our first night after leaving Lima was in Pisco, where most of the grapes are grown for Peruvian Pisco. Pisco was at the epicentre of a devastating 8.0 earthquake in 2007 and the damage is still evident everywhere. Over 500 people were killed including nearly 150 people who were in the Cathedral at Mass when the quake struck. The photo below shows the cathedral as it is now but in this short montage at 1.30 you can see how badly the building was damaged (be warned that some may find the pictures upsetting). Re-construction has been slow and there is very little money in the town to progress repair of infrastructure. So whilst there’s not much to see in Pisco other than the damaged cathedral, left as a memorial of that terrible day, tour groups often stop in the town for the evening to give a welcome injection of funds into the town’s coffers.
We did our bit to stimulate the economy by visiting Taberna de Don Jaime, just a block from where we were staying. The walls of the small taberna were lined with dozens of different Pisco as well as local wines. As we walked in the door, they were preparing for a busy evening with the patron’s son giving the floor one last mop. We ushered to a table and offered a menu with over 20 types of Pisco Sours on offer as well as other Pisco based drinks including Pisco Libre (with Coke) and Capitan (with Vermouth).
We opted to share a Pisco Sour Jarra (Jug of Pisco Sour) at S/-24 ($9) for 500ml. Whilst we waited for our drinks to be made, we were offered a complimentary aperitif of a local red wine mixed with a semi dry sparkling red wine. A lovely gesture by our host. Our jarra arrived with small glasses and we toasted our Pisco in Pisco. The first few small glasses went down very well but it was early yet so there was time for another jarra before heading out in search of dinner. The jarra arrived with some local roasted corn snacks and was just as quickly downed as the sun set and the bar started to fill for the evening. We had an early start the next day so two jarras were enough for these four amigos for one evening.
The basic recipe for a Pisco Sour is: Pisco, Lemon or Lime Juice, Sugar Syrup and Egg White. The ratios vary wildly with some drinks having as much as a third of a cup of Pisco per serve – wow! When shaken vigorously, the egg white gives the drink a distinctive fluffy white head. The drink is then topped with a drop or two of bitters. I’ve bought a bottle to bring back to Australia and hope to enjoy many Pisco Sours with my friends over the coming Summer.