Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Pisco Sour

Nobody can argue that fütbol is the most popular sport in the world. South America is no exception, especially in South American countries such as Chile and Peru. Chileans and Peruvians can argue for hours on end to team is greater than the other. Both countries take great pride in their national teams, and you may have even heard or seen the incredible emotion from the fans during, (and sometimes after) the matches between the two countries. However, between life and fütbol, there has been one outstanding issue that has been the subject of great debate between both countries: Which country is the originator of the cocktail brandy the Pisco Sour? For over 500 years, the two countries have been battling over the true origin over the drink.

If you traveled to Chile, you would most likely discover that the citizens believe that the cocktail was created solely by them. If you traveled to Peru, you would most likely hear a similar story in Peru’s favor. This cold war of pisco has gone on for decades and seems that the debate will never rest until a distinct truth emerges from the past. If you track both histories of pisco between both Chile and Peru, you can see how the creation of the actual drink may seem something worth debating over. After all, the Pisco Sour is an amazing drink! Unfortunately, the drink is quite rare in the United States especially on the east coast.

Although the history is in high debate, Peruvians claim that the earliest roots of pisco itself have been dated back to the 1500’s. Pisco is a liquor that is distilled from grapes from both wine-producing countries of Peru and Chile. The earliest known vineyard to harvest pisco was dated back to 1553 in Peru during the time of the Spanish Conquistadors. The Spaniards had begun to harvest grapes in the southern areas of what is now known as Peru for wine production. Then in the 1920’s, the pisco sour cocktail was then supposedly produced in a local bar in Lima at a bar named “Bar Morris”. Whatever their claim may be, the Peruvians can claim that the original word, “pisco” is, in fact, a genuine Peruvian word. It came from a Quechua, (Peru’s indigenous language) word meaning “bird”. Furthermore, Pisco is also a port city located in the Ica Valley in Peru. The mud container that pisco was deposited was the “bojita”.

To debate the origin, Chile had also developed the pisco sour cocktail supposedly before Peruvians claimed they had in 1920. The birth of the pisco sour was said to be produced in Chile during the War of the Pacific in the 1800’s. An Englishman by the name of Elliot Stub was the so-called inventor of the pisco sour while he was on leave in a small city called Iquique. He had opened a local bar in the area and had begun experimenting with the local pisco and a small lime grown in the area called limon de pica. From there, he had created the cocktail known as the pisco sour. However, the Peruvians claim that drink was “stolen” during the War of the Pacific. Peru had lost the war and had therefore lost a lot of land to the Chileans.

The area that had been taken over was a region of Peru where pisco production had thrived. This region that was taken over was a large desert area known as Tarapaca. Naturally, Chileans disregard this “allegation” as a fallacy and have since focused on the fact that Chile produces fifty times more pisco than Peru today. Chile’s marketing power and claiming to be to able to, “bring the world pisco” is truth enough for them that they are the original creators of the cocktail.

Needless to say, we may never know the true originator of the Pisco Sour, but both hold the Pisco Sour with great regard and pride. Even though pisco is a pomace spirit, it is actually a brandy. The Pisco Sour cocktail has a very distinct taste and has said to be a cross between a margarita and a whiskey sour. When it is tasted, one would get a sweet and sour taste with a dash of lemon on their palate which makes for a very refreshing drink! The recipe includes egg whites, lemon,, cane sugar and bitters known as Angostura bitters.

However, Chile and Peru can also debate which variation of the recipes is the superior. Some South Americans claim that the inclusion of Angostura bitters, (a bitter found in Venezuela) in a Pisco Sour is not a “true” Pisco Sour. Especially in Chile, where is a largely believed that adding egg whites and the bitters is not part of the original recipe in a Pisco Sour. In Peru, the variation of the recipe may use lime instead of lemon and in other areas simple syrup instead of cane sugar is used. Whatever the recipe best suits the individual, the mixture is shaken over cubed ice and strained and then served into a traditional and old fashioned glass. The egg whites are said to give life or consistency to the frothy top of the beverage.

Although most popular in Peru and Chile, the Pisco Sour is also a popular drink in many areas of California such as San Francisco and Los Angeles. The Bank Exchange Bar in San Francisco is famous for selling this drink. Along with the Pisco Sour, the bar experiments with different variations of the drink such as Pisco Punch. Sadly, the Pisco Sour has been left out of the mainstream in the United States. There aren’t many restaurants around North America that make it or even distribute it.

There are many online sites that do, however, sell many mixes and variations of the drink to buy such as or To truly purchase this drink at any local bar, one must travel to South America; namely Chile, Peru, or Bolivia where the drink is most popular. Hopefully the cocktail can break out into the mainstream so that all can experience its delicious and fresh taste!

Until then, Peru and Chile will continue the debate of the origin of the Pisco Sour. The debates had gotten so “sour” that in 1961, Chile actually began to ban imports on all Peruvian imports! However, many outsiders would agree that the two countries would or could eventually come to a small agreement if they actually sat down together and talked about it. If you ask a Chilean or Peruvian personally about the heated debates, they would most likely respond, “Ah, you just don’t understand”.

We may never know, but the argument about who the original creator is neither here nor there at this point. Both countries hail it as a regional drink and both make very delicious variations of both. Who can complain?

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