Bobby Heugel's Weekly Cocktail: The Pisco Sour
Peruvians and Chileans drink pisco sours like Texans drink margaritas. For decades, Peru and Chile have viciously fought over the origins of pisco, a grape-based spirit similar to grappa, and the equally famous cocktail the pisco sour. Arguing so fiercely over spirits and cocktails may sound quite ridiculous to us; after all, most Americans are hardly familiar with the spirit, much less the differences between the Chilean and Peruvian versions. So what's the big deal?
In short, pisco is much more than a spirit; it is a cultural symbol. The ongoing pisco conflict is likely an extension of tensions dating back to the War of the Pacific, which resulted in land disputes and treaties that left both Peru and Chile bitterly unsatisfied. Today the countries compete over everything from pisco to football, often leaving their neighbors to function as referees.
Most Latin American countries that have taken a stance recognize pisco as en exclusively Peruvian product; however, Chile actually produces 50 times more pisco than Peru. In the end, countless arguments could be made for either side, but both countries claim to be the true creator of pisco, ignoring the fact that distillation in the area actually predates the colonial era, and consequently, the formation of Peru or Chile. In short, both sides are incorrect.
Among many legal requirements specific to each nation, the primary differences between Chilean and Peruvian piscos are grape use and aging practices. Peruvian piscos are more focused on specific grape varietals - they're even divided into aromatic and non-aromatic categories - and they are not aged in wood. Chilean piscos are produced from many more grape varietals and may be aged in wood. Both are great spirits, and both make great pisco sours.
The Pisco Sour
Shake all ingredients hard with ice for a long time. (When making any cocktail with egg white, it is extremely important to shake the cocktail for an extended period of time in order to gain the appropriate texture. The protein-rich egg white expands when agitated, trapping air in the drink and creating a wonderfully frothy texture.) Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with angostura, or other appropriate aromatic bitters, on top and swirl.
Today, most Americans fear cocktails with eggs because they are afraid of the taste or a perceived threat of illness. Neither should be of major concern. The egg itself does not contribute any noticeable flavors. And drinking egg white cocktails is generally a safe practice as long as the eggs being used are cleaned appropriately and are less than three weeks old.
One hurdle to creating an authentic Southern Hemisphere-style pisco sour is the citrus. Pisco sours in the States generally taste odd when compared to their Peruvian and Chilean counterparts because our citrus is quite different. Diehard pisco enthusiasts might be willing to overnight citrus from Latin America, but local citrus still makes for a perfectly fine cocktail.
There you have a white-boy, American take on pisco and the pisco sours. Unleash the Chilean and Peruvian Houston Press readers! Everyone else: Be careful when dealing with all issues pisco. It may appear to be a harmless grape-based spirit dustily resting on the obscure bottom shelf at your local liquor store, but international conflicts and cultural identities also are packaged into that seemingly simple bottle. You might just find yourself in whole world of nasty West-Andean turmoil.