Nearly a century since the creation of Peru’s Pisco Sour, the origin of this esteemed and frothy cocktail continues to spark international interest.
If a pisco aficionado were to magically transport themselves to Lima of the 1920s, their first destination would certainly be Calle Boza 847 in the Historic Center of Peru’s capital city. Once there, they would eagerly order a Pisco Sour at the place where it all began: the legendary Morris Bar.
After a sip or two, they might strike up a conversation with the man behind the bar, the U.S. 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?”
We can only imagine what Victor Morris might have replied and, a century later, we continue to ask many questions about the origin of this esteemed and frothy cocktail. In fact, so rampant has its popularity become that Peru’s emblematic drink has its own day (National Pisco Sour Day) every first Saturday of February, a date that it is celebrated by pisco lovers all over the world.
Pisco historians agree that cocktails such as the Whiskey Sour or Silver Sour likely inspired Victor Morris to create the Pisco Sour. Based on advertisements in local publications from that early 20th century era, as well as the registry at the Morris Bar, there is little doubt that the pisco-based cocktail was first served at the Morris 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 in evolution.
Other bartenders in Lima, some who had worked with Morris, began serving Pisco Sours at the Hotel Maury and Hotel Bolivar, and would continue to develop the cocktail’s recipe. The egg white, which has become such an iconic ingredient of the Pisco Sour, may have been added to Morris’ original recipe.
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 well 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.
The list of ingredients and process is quite similar to the Pisco Sour we serve today. But what makes this cocktail recipe really significant is that it was published in 1903—at least 15 years before Victor Morris started making the famous drink at his bar in Lima. 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. Combining the recipe with his knowledge of other Sours, perhaps he experimented with the balance of flavors 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!
How to Make your own Pisco Sour
- 3 oz. Pisco
- 1 oz. lime juice
- 1 oz. simple syrup
- 1 egg white
- Angostura bitters
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 three drops of Angostura bitters. Makes one serving.
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.
Cover photo: AmaraPhotos.com
This article has been edited and updated since its original publication on February 7, 2014.
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