Labor Day Cocktail: Pisco Sour
I’m traveling in Chile this week and simply had to report on the tasty concoction I've been sipping since I arrived. The Pisco Sour can be found in virtually every restaurant and bar in this very long country, made from the spirit Pisco. Pisco (pronounced “PEES-koh) is made from wine distilled in copper pots; by law the distillation must end by January 31st to ensure only the grapes from that year are used. (The Chilean government has strict controls for the entire process.) It’s made only in one region—Pisco—from five primary grapes: Pedro Ximenez, Torrontel, Muscatel Alejandria, Muscatel of Austria, and Pink Muscat.
Peru and Chile have an ongoing battle about where Pisco came from; Pisco from Chile is different in that they always make it from a blend of the grapes, rather than from individual grapes like they do in Peru, among other differences. There are four levels: Seleccion (30 percent alcohol); Special (35 percent alcohol); Reservado (40 percent alcohol), and Gran Pisco (43 or more percent alcohol). Then there are several styles: Artisanal (made by small companies from a specific terroir); Transparent (can be made single or double-distilled; they are clear); Guarda (aged for at least 6 months in American or French oak; slight amber color); and Aged (aged for a minimum of 1 year in American or French oak; deeper amber color; very similar to Cognac). Every year on May 15th the town of Pisco Elqui celebrates their beloved Pisco with a festival that apparently is quite the party.
Younger Chileans mix Pisco with Coke (and call it a “Piscola,”) but for the more refined palate a small glass of Pisco served neat is the perfect way to enjoy the floral and subtle orange blossom flavors in this spirit. The Pisco Sour is the national drink, a mix of lime juice, sugar, egg whites, and Pisco. (Additional juice can be added, from strawberry to the local Chilean papaya.) It’s usually served in Champagne flutes but any tall, thin glass will do. Pisco is available in any good liquor store or online, Capel is a well-known producer. (For more info on Pisco, check out www.piscospirit.com.)
The recipe below is adapted for the States; the traditional Chilean recipe uses gum, a sweetener that is essentially a very thick simple syrup. For the Pisco Sour use the Transparent style; for Piscola, use the Guarda style. The egg whites give structure to the drink, according to the Chilean sommelier and Pisco expert I am traveling with. Kick off your Labor Day party with an icy Pisco Sour and a plate of empanadas--two of my favorite things about Chile.