Pisco sour shows off fruity complexity of Peru’s beloved grape spirit

One of the world’s spirits with a distinct sense of place — imbued with all the traits that the natural environment, from soil to climate, influenced it with — is pisco, a brandy made in Peru and Chile’s winemaking regions. It’s one of the few spirits that can boast a Denomination of Origin, a regulatory title that means all pisco has to be made under strict guidelines and in only a specific region. (That region, according to the DO, is Peru, although certain countries allow Chile to export the grape-based spirit under the pisco name.)

Also deeply tied to the land is pisco’s biggest producer, Hacienda La Caravedo, a Peruvian distillery that has been making the white spirit since 1684, now through the Portón brand. The pisco that current Portón distiller Johnny Schuler makes comes from estate-grown grapes that sprout from the distillery’s land, nestled in the Ica Valley of Peru in the foothills of the Andes.

The result of the pisco’s distinct terroir is a silky beverage with a complex symphony of savory and tropical fruit flavors and a stewed stone fruit finish. It’s just as easy to drink by itself as in a cocktail, but if you do want it in a drink, try it in the pisco sour, the creation of an American bartender living in Peru in the 1920s. This Prohibition-era cocktail has helped to introduce many a drinker to the flavorful pisco, and Saturday is its big day: Peruvians celebrate National Pisco Sour Day on the first Saturday in February. A few local bars, including Peche, Searsucker and Firehouse Hostel and Lounge, will be featuring pisco sour specials. Or you can make it yourself at home with this recipe.

A pisco sour made with Chilean pisco, left, and one made with Peruvian pisco. Both countries make the grape-based spirit, but they have different parameters for what constitutes it, such as the grape varietals that can be used.

A pisco sour made with Chilean pisco, left, and one made with Peruvian pisco. Both countries make the grape-based spirit, but they have different parameters for what constitutes it, such as the grape varietals that can be used. Photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez / American-Statesman.

Portón Pisco Sour

2 oz. Pisco Portón

1 oz. fresh lime juice

1 oz. simple syrup

1 oz. egg whites

Dash of Angostura bitters

Add all ingredients in a blender. Blend on high for 15 seconds, add 5 cubes of ice, and then pulse in the blender 5 times. Strain up into a glass. Garnish with 3 drops of Angostura bitters.

— Pisco Portón


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