Pisco Sour

Pisco Sour Cocktail in a highball glass

Pisco Sour

Ahh, the Pisco Sour. A tangy, refreshing cocktail that tastes like a whisky sour meets a margarita meets a key lime pie. Delicious.

The Pisco Sour is the national drink of two South American countries, Peru and Chile and each country claims the drink as their own creation.

I know I have had many a delicious Pisco Sour before but my fondest memory was on my last trip to Peru for a family wedding. On our first night in, despite the late hour my cousins escorted me to Huaringas, a popular and long-standing bar in Lima that claims to have the best Pisco Sour in the country, and boy was it spectacular: acidic, creamy and subtly floral from the Pisco. They had the classic of course as well as many blended with exotic jungle fruits from the Amazon like aguaymanto, maca, maracuya and more.

Key Limes sliced on a wooden cutting board

So what exactly is a Pisco Sour? Much like a whisky sour, it blends Pisco; a spirit distilled from grapes much like brandy or grappa with key lime juice, simple syrup, egg white and bitters.

The frothy top created by the egg whites and the sweet and sour lime beneath coupled with the floral Pisco makes it reminiscent of a key lime pie.

Both Peru and Chile claim genesis of this refreshing cocktail, but I’m going to side with the Peruvian origin version, due to my inherent bias. In Peru, there is even a national Pisco Sour day on the first Saturday in February.

Juiced Key Limes

In the 1920s and American named Victor Vaughan Morris opened Morris’s Bar and created the Pisco Sour, based on the American whisky sour. A few years later, an apprentice of Morris’, Mario Bruiget added egg whites to the mix and garnished the cocktail with bitters, giving it its characteristic white frothy top. The Chilean version of the Pisco Sour uses Chilean Pisco, pica limes and omits the egg white, which to me is the best part! The egg whites and lime juice create such a stiff, frothy merengue-like head; I can’t imagine the drink without.

One of the oldest known advertisements for Pisco Sour 

One of the oldest known advertisements for Pisco Sour 

What is Pisco?

Technically, Pisco is brandy. In the 16th century, Spanish conquistadors brought vines and grapes and grew and developed Pisco as an alternative to Orujo, a pomace brandy from Spain. The Spanish planted the grapes such as the Quebranta in winemaking regions of Peru and Chile, and from their yield Pisco was made by distilling grape wine into a high proof spirit.  In Peru, Pisco is aged in clay, allowing for oxidization without impacting colour that can come from wood aged spirits.

Pisco has a floral and spicy flavour (think grappa meets high-quality mezcal) that mixes well in cocktails or is easily enjoyed alone.

In this recipe, I used Pancho Fierro Pisco Puro from Peru.

Pisco Sour

Pisco Sour

Makes 1 cocktail

2 oz. Pisco
1 oz. fresh squeezed key lime juice
1 oz. simple syrup, recipe below
1 egg white
Dash of Angostura bitters

In a shaker combine Pisco, lime juice, simple syrup and egg whites and shake vigorously for 20 seconds

Strain into a highball glass or shallow martini glass and top with froth and a few drops of Angostura bitters.


Pisco Sour

Simple Syrup

1 part sugar
1 part water

In a saucepan combine the sugar and water, gradually bring to a boil while stirring

Remove from heat and let cool

Will keep in the refrigerator for up to one month

** In my recipe I used Level Ground Cane Sugar from Ten Thousand Villages, so my simple syrup was a dark caramel colour with a rounded, molasses-like flavour. Try experimenting with different sugars to make different simple syrups. Just beware that they may alter the colour of your finished product. 

Pisco Sour