The spirited history of Peru’s Pisco Sour

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If a Pisco aficionado were to magically transport themselves to Lima of the 1920’s, their first destination would certainly be Calle Boza 847, and they would eagerly order a Pisco Sour at the place where it was born — the legendary Morris Bar. After a sip or two, they might strike up a conversation with the man behind the bar, the American from Salt Lake City, Victor Morris. They might also have the courage to ask a simple but important question, “Señor Morris, tell me about this Pisco Sour, what inspired you to create this popular cocktail?” Today, a week after Pisco lovers all over the world celebrated National Pisco Sour Day on the first Saturday of February, we can only imagine what Victor Morris might have replied and we continue to ask many questions about the origin of the National Drink of Peru — the Pisco Sour.

Pisco historians agree that cocktails such as the Whiskey Sour or Silver Sour likely inspired Victor Morris to create the Pisco Sour, and based on advertisements in local publications from the era as well as the registry at the Morris Bar, there is little doubt that the Pisco Sour was first served by Victor Morris at his bar. The registry also shows notes from returning visitors to Lima, who commented that the Pisco Sour kept getting better, indicating that the recipe was evolving. Other bartenders in Lima, some who had worked with Morris, began serving Pisco Sours at the Hotel Maury and Hotel Bolivar, and continued to develop the recipe for the cocktail, perhaps adding the egg white that has become such an iconic ingredient of the Pisco Sour.

But a recent discovery of a Peruvian creole cookbook from 1903, Nuevo Manual de Cocina a la Criolla (Lima 1903), suggests that the origin of the Pisco Sour may be a traditional creole cocktail made in Lima over 100 years ago. This cookbook has the following recipe for a Pisco drink simply titled “Cocktail:”

“An egg white, a glass of Pisco, a teaspoon of fine sugar, and a few drops of lime as desired, this will open your appetite.

“Up to three glasses can be made with one egg white and a heaping teaspoon of fine sugar, adding the rest of the ingredients as needed for each glass. All this is beaten in a cocktail shaker until you’ve made a small punch.”

which is almost identical to the Pisco Sour we serve today. But what makes this cocktail recipe really significant, is that it was published in 1903 — at least some 17 years before Victor Morris started making the famous drink at his bar in Lima. If this recipe was published in 1903, then it’s possible that the cocktail was being made in Lima even earlier. So what then is the origin of the Pisco Sour? Is Victor Morris still its creator?

Perhaps Victor Morris also came across an early recipe for the Pisco Sour such as the one that appeared in the 1903 Peruvian cookbook, and using his knowledge of other Sour cocktails, experimented with measures until he came up with the version that he served at his bar. All that remained was to add Angostura bitters, ice, and a name to tie it to the Sour family. Will we ever know where the first recipe for the Pisco Sour came from? Maybe not. But for now we know its birthplace is still Peru, and on each National Pisco Sour Day, we’ll celebrate its spirited past and enjoy a silky smooth taste of history in a glass — cheers to the Morris Bar, cheers to all the mixology work done by Victor Morris and his colleagues in Lima, cheers to Pisco, the oldest distilled spirit in the Americas, and cheers to over 100 years of the Pisco Sour — ¡Salud!

*Make your own Pisco Sour*
Makes one serving

*Ingredients*
3 oz. Pisco
1 oz. lime juice
1 oz. simple syrup
1 egg white
ice
Angostura bitters

*Preparation*
Mix the Pisco, lime juice, simple syrup, and egg white in a shaker. Add ice and shake for 1 minute to create a thick egg white foam. Serve strained in a coupe, and garnish with 3 drops of Angostura bitters.

*Notes*
For the Pisco, use a Quebranta grape varietal or an Acholado blend. To make the simple syrup, combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a saucepan, bring the mixture to a slow boil, stir, and simmer until the sugar dissolves completely. Pour into a mason jar and let the simple syrup cool before using.

*Born in Peru and based in San Francisco, California, “Nico Vera”:http://www.piscotrail.com/about/ is the founder, food writer, and chef for “Pisco Trail”:http://www.piscotrail.com/, where he specializes in Peruvian cuisine and Pisco mixology. Follow Nico on “Facebook”:https://www.facebook.com/piscotrail and “visit his site”:http://www.piscotrail.com/ to read more of his work.*

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