Thursday, April 8, 2010

On the Trail of Pisco Sour



Generally speaking, Latin American Cocktails utilize the same principal ingredients – lime juice, sugar and a hearty portion of locally distilled spirits. Peru’s national cocktail, the Pisco Sour, falls right in line but contains a few delicious surprises!

Touching down at Lima's Jorge Chavez International Airport, I looked forward to reacquainting myself with this acclaimed libation. Checking in and stowing gear, I swooped directly to near-by Bar Cordano for a late lunch. Upon arrival the affable manager, Don Odilon, delivered news that an exhibition on the history of Pisco Sour was in full swing. He made a gift of the event poster and suggested we have Hector, the head-barman, sign it. Hector is a relative newcomer with only 21 years mixing Pisco Sour. But with his putting pen to poster, the idea was born to seek out the signatures of the Greats, the Maestros of Pisco Sour, those who keep tradition alive.

At this point let's flesh out the Pisco Sour story. The creator, Victor Vaughn Morris, was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah. His brother Richard P. Morris was SLC mayor, 1904-1905. In 1903 before his brother would go on to win the election, Morris left to work in Peru with a railroad company. There he made the first Pisco Sour as a replacement for Whiskey Sour (whiskey not being readily available in Peru at the time). Yet the true innovation was adding egg white and bitters to the mix. The results were so enjoyable that in little time the Pisco Sour became the emblematic national cocktail and continues to be held high as a matter of patriotic pride.

Thrilled! I had four days slated for Lima, a Moleskine notebook and a camera. I was also armed with an event poster, a list of iconic bars and the names of old guard bartenders. Next stop, the Bar Maury looking for Eloy Cordova. He has 47 years experience and most were spent at the Maury. I ordered a Pisco Sour and explained my mission. He approved and promptly signed the poster. Pointing to a jovial group, he confided that his friend Jorge Kanashiro with 50 years as a barman was there. Eloy made the introductions and I joined Jorge's table. Yet another signature. I spent the next hour sipping while receiving a lesson in history and proper bar technique. Seems Pisco Sour made with granulated sugar is grainy, much better with simple bar syrup to achieve a silky viscosity which never leaves a residue of sugar at the bottom of the glass. In conversation it was mentioned that Maestro Jorge Kanashiro (winner of the 1994 International Bartenders Competition in Italy) was to be the exhibition’s keynote speaker the very next day. He insisted that I attend with him.

Next afternoon after much fanfare, awards bestowed & flowery speeches, we taxied to Bar Queirolo on Quilca Street. The Queirolo has been a fixture on Lima's social scene since 1880. They serve a full traditional menu but emphasis is on the Pisco they produce. Jorge’s friend is the barman there. Another signature. Getting together yet again for lunch the following day, we were off to the Bar Hotel Bolivar, which has open-air seating with a view of the Plaza San Martin. It is rumored that Ernest Hemingway still holds the record there for "most Pisco Sours consumed in one sitting and walking out unassisted." Jorge’s friend is the barman. Another signature. Each barman suggested another stop and lauded the Maestro there. We followed the path and sought out locations throughout the city collecting signatures all along the way. Now the poster is filled with signatures of the Maestros of Pisco Sour each nominated by colleagues. In four intensely social days, I was just beginning to peek into the real Lima and understand the significance of Pisco Sour in Peruvian life. However, I had a strong feeling that further investigation was best left to a future visit. My four days spent, I needed to leave...

Years before, prior to the devastating earthquake on Aug 15th 2007, I had visited the rich valley of Ica (where the bulk of Pisco Brandy is produced) and loved it. Since that catastrophic day just over two years ago, I had longed to return to the epicenter of the quake and see how they had fared. By bus, I traveled south on the Pan-American Highway. I arrived again through rows and rows of grapevines not unlike any roadside vista in wine country. Sitting in the shade, sipping Pisco Sour and speaking with the locals, an elderly man told me that in the quake they’d lost over 500 neighbors and many important historic buildings; “All the loss is very, very sad..." He shook his head resignedly. "However, the grape is forever." I, respectfully, echo his sentiments. And by extension I believe Pisco Sour is forever.



Pisco Sour Recipe 
by Maestro Jorge Kanashiro 

 Makes two cocktails:
4oz Pisco Brandy
2oz Lime Juice
1/2oz Bar Syrup
1 Egg White
1 or 2 Dash(es) of Bitters

Shake ingredients vigorously with ice (or use blender). Strain into stemmed glassware; add bitters to taste.

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