How can we have been strangers for so long to a pisco sour—now our favourite cocktail? Why didn’t we discover it before we became jubilados, destined to drink mostly wine?
A pisco sour (pronounced peace-ko) is the national drink of Chile and Peru. To make this elixir, pisco, a sort of brandy distilled from certain fermented grapes, is mixed with lime (or lemon) juice, sugar syrup, an egg white (although usually not in Chile), shaken with ice (crushed or not) and topped with a few drops of Angostura bitters (maybe). Aromatic, refreshingly tart and playing fast with your taste buds, one sip entices another and evokes desert air cooling before the sun goes down, Audrey Hepburn in a pale green cocktail dress and lime mousse spooned in the shade at an outdoor restaurant.
Pisco has been around since at least the sixteenth century, when Spanish settlers began distilling it in South America. The oldest recorded mention of a pisco sour is from a Chilean magazine in 1921. It’s serious stuff down there—Chile and Peru have been disputing the rights to ownership of the name pisco, its production and other technicalities for more than 50 years.
We were introduced to pisco on our first afternoon in Chile at the Patagonia Café in Santiago’s Lastarria district. “Pisco Patagonia” was a powerhouse blend of pisco (40% alcohol proof), wine, whisky and honey, so intoxicating (but good) we needed a snack (lamb meatballs and seafood empanadas) to carry on. Three weeks later, after testing many pisco sours, we concluded that the more traditional recipe was our favourite.
Design—the bottle’s shape and grass-green label—influenced our purchase of Pisco El Gobernador when we returned home. Miguel Torres makes “The Governor” in traditional copper stills from an equal mixture of Moscatel de Alejandra and Moscatel Rosada grapes in the Limarí valley near the Andes in northern Chile. The company describes Pisco El Gobernador as “colourless, brilliant with silver sparkles…an exuberant floral scent with notes of roses and jasmines, in addition to candied citrus peels…appetizing, greedy, round, even creamy, with a long and persistent aftertaste.” One taste and you know why the “Governor” has won gold medals in international spirit competitions.
Standing in our refrigerator for two years, the Governor is on his last legs. There’s a jar of homemade sugar syrup beside him and on the kitchen counter, a few fresh limes warm and ready for juicing.
“Govern your Destiny” is El Pisco Gobernador’s tagline.
Our destiny tonight is to evoke a bit of South American summer with a pisco sour.
- 3 ounces pisco
- 2 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1½ ounces sugar syrup
- ¼ cup ice cubes, smashed into about ½-inch bits
- 2 drops angostura bitters
- Blend first four ingredients in a cocktail shaker.
- Pour into a glass and top with the bitters. Cheers!