Proposed by: Jonathan
Reviewed by: David
What could there be to argue about with a cocktail? Invention, ingredients, proportions, neat or iced, glassware, and base spirit are probably only a fraction of the list in drinks we have tried so far. My proposal last week noted the beverage of the week is the national drink of both Peru and Chile but the differences cover most of that list.
The first part of this drink may be the area of the most concord (that’s a grape pun in case you missed it). Pisco is a clear or lightly colored spirit that is considered a brandy since it is made from grapes. In particular it is a pomace brandy due to it being fermented from the must (juice, skins, seeds and stems) with the solid parts of that must being the pomace. Although Pisco is aged, it is done in neutral vessels so there is no added taste from that part of the process.
There are different types of Pisco (besides the differences between Peruvian and Chilean Pisco) that are related to the type of grape, whether it is made from a single grape, and how much residual sugar is left after fermentation. For purposes of this drink, I used acholado Pisco which is a blend of grape types.
The name Pisco probably originated from a geographic area of Peru and that has added to the dispute. Peru considers the designation limited to spirits from that region only similar to the wines of Bordeaux. Chile produces Pisco and uses the name as a designation of a liquor created from the fermentation of grape must. In the United States, the products of Peru and Chile are both sold under the appellation of Pisco.
The Peruvian Pisco Sour was first created in the 1920’s. It was the invention of Victor Morris in a bar he operated in Lima. The drink evolved until it eventually included Peruvian Pisco, lime juice, sweetener, egg white and bitters. The Chilean version, with its own story of invention, does not include the egg white or bitters and uses a Pisco made in Chile. I used a recipe from the Brad Thomas Parson’s book Bitters that is clearly in keeping with Morris’ recipe so my Pisco is from Peru:
2 ounce Pisco
1 ounce lime or lemon juice (I used lime)
.5 ounce simple syrup
1 egg white
Dry shake the Pisco, lime, simple syrup and egg white. Add ice to the shaker, shake again and strain into a coupe. Drip or dropper 4 drops of Angostura on top and create your own design by spreading it.
The end result looks familiar but has a unique taste. The Pisco has an earthiness, maybe it is the marc/pomace, but otherwise I see how it can be described as similar to tequila. It still seems odd to add a raw egg white to drink, but the body that it imparts is noticeable. In fact, one of the cautions I would add is the lift provided by the egg is so great that you need to be careful that the top of the shaker doesn’t dislodge and spray drink. Not that I did that (again) as far as anyone knows.
Here’s David’s Review:
After nearly a year of cocktails, I’ve begun to connect one to another. Some cocktail has a similar color, or complexity, or flavor profile to one we’ve tried before. Another is very like fill-in-the-blank except….
This cocktail reminded me a bit of the version of the Caipirnhia (the Caipirnhia de Uva) that we tried last October. As Pisco (whatever its origination or appellation) is a grape-based spirit, this drink brought the same taste forward along with the organic freshness of cachaça. Of course Pisco isn’t cachaça, and I don’t want to sound like I’m lumping all of South America together in its cocktail preferences. My appreciation for South America, though I’ve never been there, is far more nuanced, I assure you. It’s just that, with the simple syrup—I made a particularly viscous, almost butterscotch-y batch for this recipe—this drink had the same rich sweetness, the same direct, highly spirituous approach.
For my version of the Pico Sour I went Peruvian all the way, with a Peruvian Pisco and a Peruvian formulation of the recipe. My liquor doyenne at the store where I shop explained in great detail how the two nations formulate and regulate their versions of Pisco separately.
“Which do you like better?” I asked.
“This one,” she said, which was Pisco Portón, a highly refined and potent version of the drink… and one of the more beautiful spirit bottles I’ve encountered.
When I went home I looked at descriptions online because I’m a better reader than listener, and, for a few moments suffered buyer’s remorse. The Chilean version seems more raw, more immediate. I quickly got over that, however, when I tasted the Pisco I’d purchased. Yes, it’s strong. It’s also smooth and complex.
This cocktail was wonderful, and, in praising it, I have two important observations to offer. First, egg-whites add so much substance and refinement to cocktails. I don’t know why any one would malign including them. Second, not to be a snob or anything, but please don’t buy sour mix. The addition of fresh-squeezed lime (or lemon) does so much more for a cocktail than any saccharine bottled who-knows-what. Certainly there are times to cut corners and seek ease over sophistication, but cocktail hour should never be one of those times.
Jonathan’s take: I won’t argue, disagree or dispute. Nice, simple, tasty drink.
David’s take: The grape-sweet and citrus mixture seemed excellent, particularly with the substance of egg-white.
Next Week (proposed by David):
Next weekend, my family and I are going to be in San Antonio and participating in a “Gourmet Club” at our sister’s house. The theme is Indian cuisine, and I looked for something appropriately sub-continent for the evening. What I found is called The Bengali Gimlet. It includes curry spices associated with Indian cooking. I have no idea what to expect—other than some elaborate preparations—but feel confident this cocktail will be something new and different. And gourmet, of course.