April 2011

Pisco Sour Hour

By: Kelly A. Magyarics


The original recipe is sublimely simple: pisco, lemon, sugar and egg white, served up, on the rocks or blended, and garnished with a few drops of Angostura bitters. But as twelve mixologists from the Washington, DC area recently proved, the unabashedly sippable, classic cocktail has infinite-and infinitely delicious-variations.

  In February, the Embassy of Peru and producer  Macchu Pisco kicked off a nationwide search for the "Centennial Macchu Pisco Sour," the most fitting pisco-based drink to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the re-discovery of Macchu Picchu. I was on the judging panel along with Derek Brown, cocktail consultant and mixologist at DC's Columbia Room, Washington Life editor Michael Clements, and CNN en Español Producer Willie Lora.

Pisco is a clear, grape-based brandy developed in Peru in the 16th century by Spanish settlers. Though both Peru and Chile lay claim to pisco in a fiercely patriotic and contentious battle, most will at least concede that the Pisco Sour is actually a North American invention, created by an American in the early 1900s. "It's incredible that there's so much pride and animosity over a cocktail," mused contestant Clinton Terry of Alexandria, VA speakeasy PX. "But it's always fun to see those so passionate about what they believe in."

Passion and creativity were certainly not in short order in a contest where area bar stars brought their A-game. Overall winner Jason Strich of DC Indian restaurant Rasika won over judges and guests with his Chicha Sour. Strich created his house made, sweet and spicy chicha by germinating purple corn, boiling it with spices and fermenting it with beer yeast. "Chicha has been consumed throughout the Andres for centuries," explained Strich. "The Inca used chicha during ceremonies and consumed it in vast quantities during religious festivals." He garnished the tipple with puffed quinoa, giving it an enticing crunch.

Terry's Tusán cocktail took the award for Best Creativity. The drink's name pays homage to Peruvians of Chinese descent-a bridge, he said, for the cultures in his cocktail. "I tried to envision seasonal, indigenous ingredients from both lands, hence the different citrus, vinegar and chilies." Fresh and citrusy, Terry's drink was kicked up by a lip-burning syrup drizzled on top. "Just enough heat to offset some of the sweetness in the cocktail."

Channeling Peru by way of India, Best Presentation Winner Michael Saccone of Alexandria, VA's Majestic Café offered up a fragrant, garam masala-based libation. "The inspiration came from a trip to India," remarked Saccone, who has an affinity for Indian food and wanted to mimic the country's cuisine in a cocktail. "I felt that carrot would hold up well with the pisco and spices, as well as give the drink a bright color. Orange in Indian culture represents strength, courage and determination-some of the traits the Incans surely must have possessed when constructing Macchu Picchu." Though this curry in a glass perhaps strayed the furthest from the original Pisco Sour, it offered up a truly innovative spin.

Rounding out the winners was Carlos Espinoza of Peruvian Restaurant Imperio Inca in Norfolk, VA. His quaffable Imperio Sour tweaked the original version by the addition of sweet potato syrup, yet the winner for Best Taste still allowed the flavor of the base spirit to shine through.

The national search for the "Centennial Pisco Sour" is currently traveling to other cities including Boston, San Francisco, Las Vegas and New York, before returning to Washington, DC in July for the grand finale at the Peruvian Embassy.

Chicha Sour
created by Jason Strich, Rasika, Washington, DC

1.5 oz. Macchu Pisco
2.5 oz. house made and fermented chicha
½ oz. lime juice
½ oz. simple syrup infused with cinnamon and chili
1 small egg white
Dash Angostura bitters, for garnish
Puffed quinoa, for garnish

Combine all ingredients except garnishes in a blender with a half-cup of ice. Blend until smooth. Pour into a chilled coupe glass, garnish with puffed quinoa and a dash of bitters.


created by Clinton Terry, PX, Alexandria, VA

Roasted Meyer lemons
Agave syrup
House-made citrus vinegar
2 oz. Macchu Pisco
Few dashes of lemon bitters
1 small egg white 
organic powdered sugar
Chili-pepper reduction, for garnish

Add all to a cocktail shaker, except the chili-pepper reduction. Shake without ice. Add ice, shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Drizzle with chili-pepper reduction.

Punjabi Sour
created by Michael Saccone, Majestic Café, Alexandria, VA

2 oz. Macchu Pisco
1 oz. carrot juice
½ oz. lemon juice
½ oz. Garam masala simple syrup (infused with green cardamom, brown cardamom, mace, nutmeg, allspice, cumin, star anise, black peppercorns, coriander and cinnamon; steeped in coconut milk and water for about an hour, and then strained through cheesecloth)
1 small egg white

Add all to cocktail shaker. Shake without ice, and then add ice and shake again. Strain into a cocktail glass.

Imperio Sour
created by Carlos Espinoza, Imperio Inca, Norfolk, VA

2 oz. Macchu Pisco
1 oz. lime juice
½ simple syrup
½ sweet potato syrup
1 egg white
Angostura bitters, for garnish

Add all to a blender, except garnish Add ice, and blend until smooth. Pour into glasses and garnish with Angostura bitters.



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