Tales from Tales III

Chapter 3: In which we learn about Pisco Sours

July 23, 2010

The teams from New York and San Francisco rub elbows as they squeeze through a big bucket of limes. It made me feel bad for theirs arms and they hadn’t even started shaking yet.

This morning I attended a Pisco Sour Pentathlon, in which four teams of bartenders competed to create, under serious time constraints, pisco sours for some prestigious judges as well as a room full of very loud people. They were so very loud, in fact, it was hard work trying to listen to the two MCs. This was a shame, because these MCs had very interesting tips about creating pisco sours. Just for you, I leaned forward and listened hard and I managed to get about 60 percent of what they said.

For the uninitiated, pisco is a liquor distilled from grapes that is traditional to Peru and Chile. It’s not a grappa—with grappa you use the skin, seeds, and stems of the grape, with pisco it’s just the juice (or pulp).

The pisco sour was invented in 1916 in Lima, by a guy named Victor Morris. His bar was called the Morris Bar. The ingredients are: lime juice, egg whites, pisco, simple syrup, and Angostura bitters. Sounds simple, but it’s quite the process—you have to do quite a bit of shaking. With a lot of shaken drinks, you just pour over ice and agitate enough to get things properly chilled. But with this drink, you want creamy foam, so you dry shake it first and then you shake with ice to chill.

Do you have a bartender friend you’d like to play a prank on? You should convince ten people he/she doesn’t know to all walk into his/her bar at the same time and one by one order a pisco sour. It’s such a classic nightmare situation, your prank will probably get figured out fast, but it’s still funny.

Back to our tips. In Peru, I learned, pisco sours are quite consistent because the limes are very similar. Here in the states our limes vary depending on season and variety. Get to know your fruit. Do you like your piscos with keylimes, or prefer Tahitian? Experiment, and you’ll know which fruit to buy to create the drink you want.

You want to store your limes at room temperature and be careful not to oversqueeze when you are juicing or your lime will taste bitter. When you cut it open, check how much pith (the white part) your lime has going on—too much pith and you’re going to have a bitter drink.

A lot of people are scared to drink cocktails with egg whites because they don’t want to get salmonella. Reasonable enough, but you should know that salmonella lives mostly on the shell of the egg. Wash your eggs well and you’ll have little risk of the dreaded ’ella.

I tried all foor pisco sours, and my favorite came from the team from San Francisco—Neyah White and Alicia Walton. To me, it tasted most like a pisco sour you would get at a bar, where the bartender doesn’t have to stand on a stage and make 100 cocktails in a big bucket.

More later. I miss you Seattle, I hope you’re having an excellent Friday.

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