Pisco is Chile’s national liquor, but it is most often not served alone. Though it can be mixed with Coca-Cola to make piscola, neither is that the ideal mode of consumption. No, for many Chileans, picso was made for one cocktail alone: the pisco sour. The Chileans who say this are completely, 100% correct. A well made pisco sour is almost reason enough to visit the thinnest country in the world.
To make a pisco sour the most important, and unfortunately most difficult-to-find, ingredient is pisco itself. Pisco is distilled from fermented muscatel grapes; it is essentially a grape brandy. I know next to nothing about brandy, but maybe that helps you understand it better. Tens of millions of bottles of pisco are produced annually in Chile, but all but a fraction are consumed within the country. For now, let’s assume that you have had the good fortune to encounter a bottle of pisco (if you are having trouble with this part, a $100 check with my name on it will get you a bottle in no time). The other ingredients that you will need are a bunch of lemons—15 to 20—ice, and powdered sugar to taste (but at least 2 cups).
For me the lemons were pretty easy to get because we have a lemon tree in our front yard. Besides watering the tree occasionally, we pretty much ignore it for most of the year, and come July a few hundred lemons have grown. If you can somehow arrange a similar situation, I highly recommend it. Anyway, to get started, I wandered out to the front yard and picked twenty lemons. Some of them looked like they had been injected with fruit steroids, so those of you shopping at the supermarket should take that into account.
Then I juiced the lemons. I don’t think the brevity of the previous sentence really captured the arduous process. I used one of those old-fashioned hand squeezers where you rotate half of the lemon on a ridged cone to extract the juice. After awhile your hands will get messy and the acidic lemon juice will start to burn you, primarily at the knuckles and nail cuticle. I recommend taking turns with a friend because it’s tough work juicing lemons. If you have a fancy Juiceman electric juicer, now’s your chance to use it. I once convinced my family to buy a Ronco food dehydrator after watching the infomercial every Saturday morning, so I too know what it’s like to be taken in by advertising. With an automatic juicer your hands will hurt a lot less than mine did, though you might not feel like you really earned the pisco sour when you’re done—pick your poison.
After juicing the lemons, pour the juice into a blender. If you took the hand-juicing high road, you may want to send the juice through a strainer to get rid of extra pulp. Next, add the bottle of pisco to the lemon juice. Then add some ice cubes for the dual purpose of chilling the drink and diluting the pisco—you did just add a whole bottle, didn’t you? Toss in a cup and a half of powdered sugar and then turn on the blender. Make sure that you put the top on first, though. Mix everything up well.
In a typical recipe this would mark the end where the expert chef send you off to enjoy your culinary creation. I am not an expert chef. This is not the end, though we’re close. Pour a small sample for the tasting and adjustment phase. Taste it. If it is too sour for you, add more powdered sugar and blend again. If it is too strong, add some water to dilute. Repeat to your liking. Keep in mind that a good pucker is really an integral part, if not the integral part, of a good pisco sour. The dominating taste should never be sweet. It’s not, after all, a pisco sweet. Once you are satisfied with the taste, serve your guests. Above all, be careful—pisco isn’t a children’s Happy Meal toy.
Congratulations! If you followed the directions carefully, you now know one of the 17 different recipes for a Chilean pisco sour.
Pisco sour sans narrative (but what fun is that?)
Squeeze juice from lemons. Strain juice and pour into blender with pisco, ice, and powdered sugar. Blend well. Add additional powdered sugar and water to taste. Serve chilled.