Pisco Sour: Chile (And Peru’s) Iconic Drink

There have been numerous heated debates about Pisco sours for decades, regarding its origins, the origins of Pisco itself, and whether the drink is truly Chilean or Peruvian.

Today, I’m going to dig a little deeper and try to provide a conclusive answer. But more importantly, I’m going to share my recipe for the Chilean version of Pisco Sours so you can make this delicious cocktail for yourself! 

Pisco Sour Chile (And Peru’s) Iconic Drink

For those of you who have never tried a Pisco Sour or even heard of it, you may be wondering why this is such a contentious topic, and why the origins of the drink are so disputed.

Well, it’s unknown whether the drink originated from Chile or Peru, two countries that have many rivalries (gastronomical and otherwise), so a big part of this debate is rooted in national pride.

Plus, since Pisco has a long history, facts about its origins have been clouded by history and also blurry territory zones. 

So let’s set the record straight! 

The History of the Pisco Sour

The History of the Pisco Sour

When Spanish settlers first arrived in Peru, they brought with them some home comforts. Namely, the vines of Europe. The first vineyards were planted in the coastal valleys of what was then the Viceroyalty of Peru.

The sub-standard grapes were not used in the wine and instead used to distill a brandy-like liquor, adopting the same technique to make Orujo in Spain. Thus, Pisco was born!

Most of the early Pisco in Peru was made from a grape variety known as Quebranta. While this is still true today, they could have actually used any grape to make the drink. 

A hundred years later in the mid-1600s, the Spanish crown imposed a prohibition on imports of wine and Pisco from the colonies. Now, the Peruvians had a surplus of Pisco and it began circulating among the colonies.

However, its spread really took hold when commerce increased into the 1700s and 1800s, when the sailors moving these goods began to indulge in Pisco themselves.

The drink actually got its name ‘Pisco’ from a port in Peru where many believe it originated. Okay, so Pisco technically originated in Peru. 

However, the popularity of Pisco endures today in both Peru and Chile for two main reasons. It’s not expensive and is available everywhere. 

Appellations

But while Pisco is incredibly popular in Chile and Peru, they vary wildly between countries from the valleys to the grape varieties and the processes. 

Peru

Peru Pisco Sour

In Peru, they take Pisco seriously. They even have a national Pisco day, celebrated the fourth Sunday of July, and a province named after the drink (Much like Tequila in Mexico).

They also have a long list of regulations surrounding the appellation and process to rival DOC in Europe. Pisco is divided into four varieties.

These are Pure (this is made from a single grape like the Quebranta), Aromatic (made from a Muscat grape like the Torontel, Albilla, or Italia, this is also a single varietal), Acholado (a blend of several grape varieties), and the less common Mosto Verde (this is distilled from partially fermented must).

Peruvian Pisco is made in the areas surrounding Lima, Ica, Arequipa, and Tacna, this is also where the grapes grow.

They directly ferment the grapes and then distill this must. So it retains its color, Pisco is aged in glass or stainless steel. Pisco is normally very clear in color and smooth, almost resembling vodka.

This smooth transparency gives Pisco a very elegant look! The Acholado variety is more aromatic and found in Pisco Sours, but Mosto Verde is the most fragrant of all and needs to be sipped and savored. 

The rivalry between Peru and Chile when it comes to Pisco is clear when you discover that importing Pisco from Chile is apparently illegal in Peru. 

Chile

Chile Pisco Sour

In Chile, Pisco grapes are grown in the northern desert region near La Serena in the Elqui Valley and other inland, arid spots and made in situ. Unlike Peruvian Pisco, Chilean Pisco is a distillate obtained from wine.

The grapes used are part of the Muscat family, using many varieties of Muscat, Pedro Jiménez, and Torontel. 

The obtained wine is then distilled and the crude liquor is aged in old wine barrels for a few months. Sometimes the liquor is distilled with water to achieve the desired proof.

In my opinion, Chilean Pisco is far more rustic and has more of an earthy flavor. It is often used in cocktails to take the edge off.

However to compete with whiskey, in recent years there has been a desire among Pisco companies to produce finer Piscos that can be served on the rocks.

Chilean Pisco is incredibly smooth, refined, and aromatic and is not usually used in Pisco sours. Of course, you can use Chilean Pisco in Pisco sours but that would be one expensive drink!

Since it is primarily made of Muscat varieties, Chilean Pisco has an unmistakably spicy, flowery aroma. 

Chile vs. Peru

Chile vs. Peru Pisco Sour

It’s clear that Pisco is a big deal in both Chile and Peru, but what are the main differences between their Pisco sours? How did they come to be, and did the drink originate in Peru or Chile? 

There are a couple of theories regarding the origins of Pisco sours, but in Peru, it is believed the Pisco sour originated in Lima’s grand hotels in the 1920s.

It is believed that the bartenders who always whipped up popular whiskey sours for international guests, decided to throw some Pisco in the mix, and it became a big hit. 

Meanwhile in Chile, the drink is believed to have arrived in Iquique in the late 1800s, delivered by a creative Englishman trying to find a way to improve upon Pisco with lemons and lots of sugar.

The sour term refers to the lemons, and the drink spread throughout the country.

But whichever version is correct, it’s a delicious drink nonetheless! So what are the differences in ingredients? 

Well, the Peruvian Pisco Sour uses key limes, egg whites, sugar, and bitters and combines these with Pisco Acholado to make a sweet-tart frothy drink.

Meanwhile, in Chile, Pisco sours have lemon juice (as lemons are the predominant citrus in Chile), sugar or simple syrup, and bitters are optional.

The vigorous shaking (or blending) of the drink is what gives it the frothiness achieved by the egg whites in the Peruvian version, although some people do add egg whites to the Chilean version too. 

Despite sharing a name, if you blind-tasted these drinks beside each other, they would taste as different as a margarita and a lemon drop. This is because the liquors are different, the citrus is different, and the ratios are different as well. 

While the rivalry has become woven into the drinks’ identities, they are both as iconic as each other, are both their countries’ national drinks, and deserve to stand on their own. So going forward, let’s celebrate them individually! 

Chilean Pisco Sour: Recipe

Pisco Sour Cocktail

Okay, so now that’s all settled and the history of Pisco has been explored, let’s get down to making a drink!

As I said, I’ll be sharing my Chilean Pisco sour recipe since I often make these at home.

Besides, any visit to Chile will always be bookmarked with rounds of Pisco Sours since it is the beloved national cocktail! Interpretations of the drink will depend on the bartender, and this is also true of the potentness of the drink!

In establishing this recipe, I’ve played around with ratios, blending lemons and limes, and I’m sure you’ll make your own tweaks when trying this recipe out so it fits your preferences!

However, I believe this recipe is a lemony, refreshing, alcoholic hit that isn’t overly sweet. 

These Pisco Sours are best suited to a terrace on a sunny afternoon with friends, as well as an aperitif, or served during your own personal cocktail hour!

Proceed with caution, however, as these do have plenty of booze. They taste so good, it’s easy to forget the alcohol content. But you don’t need me to remind you, your head certainly will let you know by the end of your second glass!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (or 250 ml) of Pisco (Capel is the most popular brand in Chile as well as the rest of the world).
  • ½ a cup (or 125ml) of powdered sugar. But this can be adjusted if you like more or less sugar in your drink. 
  • ½ a cup (or 125ml) of fresh lemon juice.
  • 1 cup of ice cubes.
  • Drops of Angostura Bitters.
  • Serves 4.

Process

Now, this couldn’t be simpler.

Combine the Pisco, powdered sugar, lemon juice, and ice in a blender. Then, blend for 30-45 seconds until the mixture achieves the texture of a frappe. 

Lastly, pour into champagne flutes and top with a few drops of bitters.

There, a delicious, refreshing Chilean Pisco sour!

Conclusion 

While the rivalry between Chilean and Peruvian Pisco does add a fun backstory to these famous drinks, it is impossible to say if one drink is better than the other.

It all comes down to personal taste, and both long-lasting, delicious drinks have earned their titles as the drinks of their national countries!