In 1641, King Philip IV of Spain sanctioned heavy taxes on all wine produced in Peru. Instead of revolting, his indignant overseas subjects evaded the burden by distilling their grape harvest into booze. Talk about the mother of invention.
Pisco (which means “bird” in the indigenous Quechua language) remains a popular spirit today. The clear brandy-like libation is named for the Peruvian port from where it was first exported. Made from grapes fermented with their skins still on, it goes through a single distillation, meaning there’s no water added; each batch is pure and unaltered.
Peruvian pisco – considered more traditional than its Chilean counterpart – is lightly sweet and malty with notes of almond, orange blossom, citrus, and cinnamon. (Chilean versions are sometimes aged in oak or beech barrels, which can tame some of the liquor’s bright tones.) Spring for a bottle that costs between $25 and $40, such as Pisco Portón or BarSol Pisco – it’s worth it to avoid cheaper versions that can have a fiery, gasoline-y taste.
This is culinary alchemy: The culmination is light but rich, tart and ambrosial.
A pisco sour is conventionally made with fresh lime, egg white, and sugar. Our version – the Grade A Pisco Sour – swaps in maple syrup as the sweetener, which imparts a delicate floral aspect. Along with the egg whites, the syrup also adds body to the cocktail. This is culinary alchemy: The culmination is light but rich, tart and ambrosial.
Although many people associate maple syrup with fall, March is high sugaring season all across New England, when trees are tapped for the sap that is then boiled down into this Northern nectar. In fact, it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup, making this one local staple that’s truly worth celebrating. That’s exactly why we’ve updated the classic pisco sour with this regional ingredient. Think of it as a crafty nod to King Philip’s clever subjects. — Willa Van Nostrand and Meaghan O’Neill
Recipe by Willa Van Nostrand. Images by Willa Van Nostran and Glenna Van Nostrand
Grade A Pisco Sour
yields 1 cocktail
2 ounces Peruvian Pisco (I like BarSol Pisco and Pisco Portón)
½ ounce Grade A maple syrup
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1 ounce farm fresh egg white (about 1 small egg’s worth)
3 dashes Amargo Chuncho Bitters
In a shaker, combine Pisco, maple syrup, lime juice, and egg white. Dry shake (i.e., without ice) for 15 seconds to froth the egg whites. Add ice and shake vigorously for another 10 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass and carefully add three dashes of bitters. Drag a toothpick lightly through the drops of bitters to create a swirl, similar to what you’d see a barista do on top of a latte.
Want to make a round of sours? Multiply all liquid ingredients by the number of drinks you want to make, and put them in a blender. Pulse for 10 seconds, add a few cubes of ice per serving, and blend to frothy perfection. The final cocktail should be ice cold, but not slushy. Crown each individual cocktail with bitters and serve immediately. This method is super quick and easy!
Mixologist’s note: Can’t find Amargo Chuncho Bitters? Use Angostura bitters in a pinch for a similarly aromatic experience.