2 oz pisco
¾ oz lemon juice (lime works too, or a combination of both)
¾ oz simple syrup
½ oz egg white (about ½ an egg white )
5-6 drops Angostura bitters - for garnish
Combine all ingredients except the bitters in a shaker. Fill with ice and shake as hard as you possibly can for 8-10 seconds. To maximize foam, use one of the techniques listed below. Strain into a chilled coupe or stemmed cocktail glass. Let it sit for 5-6 seconds so the egg white can set a bit. Then lightly dash the bitters on top. Do so as ornately or haphazardly as you desire.
The Pisco Sour is the gateway pisco (PEE-skow) cocktail, which is an unaged Peruvian brandy. Though it should be noted that while it originated in Peru, Chile also makes pisco and Pisco Sours, and claims ownership of them in what continues to be a heated, and rather silly, dispute which I won't weigh in on at the moment.
This drink follows the basic sour template - spirit, citrus juice and sugar - like it’s fellow eponymous sour, the Whiskey Sour. Though in the case of a Whiskey Sour the addition of an egg white is optional, with a Pisco Sour, it's essential. Without it, I daresay it’a not a Pisco Sour at all. The light frothy texture egg white brings is the perfect vehicle for pisco’s delicate floral character. It’s as if the aromas are physically rising up and out of the glass.
The capper that further distinguishes this cocktail is the bitters, which are dashed on top of the drink. Instead of sinking, they rest neatly on the head of foam, which is courtesy of the egg white. This provides additional aromatic complexity and gives the drink one heck of a presentation. Try one and get yourself hooked!
How to Maximize Egg White Foam:
The Reverse Dry Shake
The most important factor to getting a nice foamy head on your cocktails is to shake really really hard. Give it all you’ve got. On top of that, you employ the reverse dry shake which, despite sounding like an obscure 80s dance move, I assure you is an actual unironic bartending term. Here's how it works:
It involves shaking the cocktail with ice as you normally would, and then strain the cocktail into a separate vessel, if you using a 2-piece shaker this will just be the tin not holding the ice. You then discard the ice and the shake the cocktail a second time without ice, aka "dry". This works because it is egg white will generate more foam when there isn;t
Ideally, Use Large, Clear Ice Cubes
First off, if you have them, large cubes are better for shaking egg white cocktails because they will create more velocity in the shaker which creates more aeration, and thus, foam. Clear cubes are even better because they won't shatter as easily (cloudy cubes have air bubbles trapped inside and are less stable) keeping your cubes nice and big. But don't to go to great lengths to get clear cubes, common ice cube trays or 1x1 perfect cubes are great.
The History of the Pisco Sour
It’d be natural to assume that the Pisco Sour was the first pisco cocktail to gain widespread popularity, but that title actually belongs the Pisco Punch which emerged in San Francisco during the California Gold Rush in the mid-19th century. Why San Francisco? Because ships full of would be prosectors making the months-long voyage from New York to California had to travel around South America’s Cape Horn - this being the pre-Panama Canal days - and Peru’s Port of Pisco was a common pit stop along the way. Thirsty passengers without other options loaded up on, and fell in love with, the local pisco and brought it with them up the west coast. The Pisco Punch itself is a mysterious beverage with a recipe that is the stuff of whispers and second-hand approximations (rumor has it some of the earliest versions included cocaine). Today it’s typically made with pisco, lemon or lime juice, pineapple and spices of some kind, cloves are common. It’s delicious.
But I digress, let’s talk about the cocktail at hand (I’m sure I’ll do a page on the Pisco Punch down the road). I’ve gotten the lion’s share of my intel here, as usual, from David Wondrich’s Imbibe!. A good bit came from Difford’s Guide as well. So kudos to them for doing the work.
As with other major spirit categories - rum, whiskey, gin, and tequila - adding sugar and citrus to pisco was an inevitability. So, as we have the Daiquiri, Gin Gimlet, Whiskey Sour and Margarita, we also have the Pisco Sour. Though like these other drink’s, the Pisco Sour has its own particulars and traditions that set it apart, namely the egg white.
The driving force being the Pisco Sour’s rise is widely attributed to a man named Victor Morris. He was an American exp-pat from Utah who moved to Peru in 1903 to work on the railroads. In 1916, clearly having enjoyed his time down there, he opened an American style bar in Lime called, fittingly, Morris’s Bar. Naturally, they served American style cocktails, one of which was the Pisco Sour. The bar became popular amongst Peru’s aristocratic and English-speaking clientele, earning Victor the nickname Gringo and bringing the Pisco Sour international notoriety.
Over time the drink spread as Morris’ bartenders left for other establishments and took the Pisco Sour with them (you can’t keep a good drink a secret. It may not be fair, but once created, it belongs to the world). Sadly, Morris’ Bar closed in 1929, but the Pisco Sour lived on. Notably through Mario Alfonso Bruijet Burgos who worked at Morris’ until it closed before moving to the Maury Hotel Bar where he stayed until his retirement, serving Pisco Sours all the way. Some credit him as the one one who added the bitters to the drink. Whether or not that’s true, the bitters where certainly there in 1951 when Charles Baker’s wrote his South American Gentleman's Companion. His recipe is from the Lima Country Club, it uses lemon and advises the mixer to "spot the surface with five or seven drops of Angostura bitters”.
As for the actual creator of the Pisco Sour, many credit Morris for that as well. That is until, 2012 when this scan of a pamphlet published in 1903 entitled Nuevo Manual de Cocina a la Criolla - or New Manual of Creole Cooking - was posted online by the Peruvian writer Raúl Rivera Escobar. In it is what we know today as the first appearance of the Pisco Sour, though it doesn’t go by the same name Pisco Sour - it’s listed simply as “cocktail” - but it’s all there, here’s part of a translation of the recipe: “an egg, a glass of pisco, a teaspoon of fine sugar, and a squeeze of lime….Hit all this in a shaker or punchbowl to form a little punch”.
The author the pamphlet is a man named S. E. Ledesma. We don’t know any more about him, but he probably wasn't the drinks creator either. Thanks to the Gold Rush, American culture had been present in Peru for decades, and cocktails were a key piece of that - including the Whiskey Sour which was very popular at the time and the Pisco Sour is no doubt based on. Despite all this, I think Morris still deserves plenty of credit. He may not have been the first one to make a Pisco Sour, but he and with his proteges were certainly the ones who introduced it to the world.
The Legend Spreads
In the 1940s and 50s, the Pisco Sour’s profile was elevated by Hollywood Stars vacationing in Peru such as Ava Garnder, John Wayne, and Orson Welles. Mr. Welles in particular apparently enjoyed them a great deal and is rumored to have once consumed 42 in one sitting. Of course, this is impossible, but it’s a tale that has probably helped spread word about the drink. Peru’s travel sites certainly still make use of it).
In the second half of the 20th century, the Pisco Sour found life outside of Peru when Joe Baum put it on the menu of his trendsetting Spanish restaurant La Fonda Del Sol in New York City, which opened in 1960. Joe Baum would go on to open the Rainbow Room in 1987 and hire Dale DeGroff as his head bartender, who of course would go and on to revitalize cocktail culture around the world. Today the Pisco Sour is widely considered a member of the essential cocktail canon and is one of only two on that list to hail from South America (along with the Caipirinha). After more than a century it’s tradition is alive and well, with no signs of slowing down.
You can get really creative with the bitters float on a Pisco Sour, or any cocktail with egg white served straight up. While it’s fine to simply dash out the drops and be done with it, those drops can be swirled around using a straw, chopstick, barspoon or the like, which stretches them out into the foam, almost like you’re painting with them. Even a few slapdash strokes will give you have a nifty abstract doodle, and with just a little creative foresight - and perhaps an eyedropper - you can create some truly beautiful designs that can range from minimalist to elaborate. It's surprisingly easy to do. I'm not much of an artist, but I still was able to figure out the design in the photo above. Trust me, I can do that, anyone can.
Some bartenders take it to another level by making a stencil of some kind, laying it over the glass and spraying on the bitters out of an atomizer. When done well this is a bonafide showstopper. In a way, bitters floats are the cocktail equivalent to latte art (which I’ve never been able to figure out). They're not necessary, but pretty darn awesome. It’s a fun opportunity to let your aesthetic sensibilities run wild.
In addition to appearance, the other benefit of the bitters float is it helps to cover up the unpleasant wet-dog smell that afflicts egg white cocktails when they start to warm up. Though while helpful, they aren’t a cure-all for this problem. The best solution? Drink quickly!
Lemon or Lime
The Pisco Sour is a rare cocktail where it’s not clear-cut whether lemon or lime juice should be used. Recipes calling for both have appeared in credible cocktail books over the years. The first documented Pisco Sour recipe uses lime, so on those grounds, you could say that’s technically correct. Though personally, I prefer lemon a bit more. I find it’s softness and lower acidity to be a more harmonious match for pisco’s delicate character. But only slightly, both are delicious. Particularly interesting is a mixture of the two, if you don’t mind going to those lengths.
While we’re on the topic of citrus, some may prefer their Pisco Sour with just a hair more citrus juice than simple syrup. It’ll depend on the pisco you use, some are more floral than others and will come off sweeter (that doesn’t mean they have more sugar, just more aromatics that suggest sweetness). Also how much egg white and bitters you use will impact the balance - both with dry out the drink. So it's a sliding scale, but I think equal portions of simple syrup and citrus juice is a good place to start.
After you shake a egg white cocktail with ice, instead of straing it into a glass, you strain into the other half of the shaker if you’re using a 2-piece shaker) toss out the ice into the sink, return the cocktail to the shaker and shake it again with no ice. It’s important to use the same shaker that you initially shook with using ice because it will still be cold.
It is the opposite of another technique called the "dry shake", which is when you shake all the ingredients together without ice first (or “dry”) and then shake them again with ice as you normally would. This works because is easier to egg white emulsifies without ice. The reverse dry shake is, as you might imagine, which has started to be adopted by bartenders more recently. This is exactly what it sounds like, the inverse of the dry shake. Here you shake everything with ice first,
Dry vs Reverse Dry
While both are effective, I think the reverse dry shake begets more foam. However, it creates larger bubbles, which aren't as pretty. I like foam to look like cream. So while you could just pour the cocktail directly into the glass after reverse dry shaking (because there's no ice), I still like to use a Hawthorne strainer to smooth the bubbles out. Keep the gate partially open so as not to hold back too much foam. The slower you pour the better. At the end, you may want to jiggle the shaker the get the last few dollops of foam out, those will be the thickest.