Food and Drink: Sweet on sours

For a new twist on a classic cocktail, replace the rye or bourbon in your Whiskey Sour with fruity Pisco brandy from Peru. Illustration by Griff

Most of us occasionally like to brighten our lives with a touch of exotica, and rarely find it in the British pub. A cocktail bar, though, is eclectic enough to take us somewhere sunny and sensuous, summoning the rum of Cuba, the Tequila of Mexico ... or the Pisco of South America.

Pisco is a Peruvian native word for bird, and the name of a town - a port famous for its trade in the spirit. The drink has a youthful, seductive freshness, but also fine fruity flavours. Perhaps worried I would frighten cocktail-lovers, one importer told me it was not a brandy, but in the broader definition it certainly is.

Pisco the drink is a light-bodied, clear or greenish-tinged spirit, made usually from the honey-ish muscat (in Spanish, moscatel) grape, which is known for its perfumy intensity. The grapes' distinctive aroma and flavour is heightened by the brief use of their skins during fermentation.

The ageing, for months rather than years, can be unusual in that the casks are sometimes made from a local evergreen beech, called rauli. Traditionally, the spirit was transported in beeswax-coated amphorae. Its devotees claim that it is hallucinogenic. Perhaps they were experiencing the thin air of the Andes.

The drink is typically served in a Pisco Punch. This is actually a version of the classic Sour, originally made with rye or Bourbon whiskey. There are versions of the Sour with every imaginable spirit, but Pisco, with its muscat flavour, parries lemon or lime better than any other. Like all the great aperitifs, a Pisco Sour (to use the more common description) not only arouses the appetite but also refreshes the body and calms the soul.

It is made by very vigorously shaking Pisco with lime juice (preferable, in my view, to lemon, though some recipes suggest either, or both), plenty of ice (ideally, cracked or shaved), and sugar syrup. The latter ingredient is available from Oddbins, where Pisco is the spirit of the month, or other wine merchants.

Or make your own. Most recipes also use an egg white for texture, and I think this is essential. Use three or four parts of Pisco to one (or slightly less) of fresh, unsweetened juice and one of sugar syrup. There are ready-mixed Pisco Sours, but they cannot match the clean freshness of the real thing. The drink is poured with a foam, then dotted with a dash of Angostura Bitters, the aromatic character of which works its way through the cocktail as you sip.

At the Peruvian restaurant, Fina Estampa (150 Tooley St, London SE1, 0171-403 1342), Luis Vidalon uses honey in addition to sugar - and a touch of cinnamon on the foam, as though he were serving a cappuccino. These two elements give a teasing sweet-and-dry overlay.

Every great aperitif suggests its own dishes. The acidity of the Pisco Sour goes perfectly with the South American cebiche (sometimes spelled with a "v"), in which fish is "cooked" in a marinade of lemon or lime juice. Pisco is sometimes also served straight, as a digestif, in a liqueur glass, with no ice.

In my experience, the Piscos of Peru are challenged in the Sour by their flowery, resiny rivals from Chile, where the spirit is the national drink and widely made. After dinner, though, I prefer the hint of pistachio- like sweetness in the Peruvian.

Peruvian Pisco is difficult to find in Britain, but several Chilean examples are more widely available. I have recently tasted three. The oddly named Control, at 33 per cent alcohol, is completely white and flowery with a suggestion of licorice toffee. Capel, at 35 per cent, with a faint tinge of colour, has an almost aniseedy flavour, with a big, assertive finish. Alto del Carmen, at 46 per cent, has slightly more colour, and a drier, more stemmy, rooty flavour.

One day, and I hope sooner rather than later, the Pisco Sour will be a fashionable cocktail. Meanwhile, try the following:

In London, Little Havana (Leicester Place, W1, 0171-287 8050) has a Bourbon Whiskey Sour with three parts of Wild Turkey to one of Cointreau, topped up with the appropriate juices and lemonade. Pharmacy (150 Notting Hill Gate, W11, 0171-221 2442) has a Sour based on the honey vodka Krupnik. The chain Via Vita, in Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester (Heron House, Albert Square, 0161-288 7234) and other cities, does a melon sour. This is made with the melon liqueur Midori. The almond liqueur Amaretto is featured at Oporto, in Leeds (33 Call Lane, 0113-245 4444).

The making of the Sour is a true test of the cocktail professional. I have this from my most trusted practitioner, Dale DeGroff, of the Rainbow Room, New York. The key is not to make it too sweet, and not to use sugar in any form other than syrup. Without the water in the syrup, the drink will be too concentrated.

To make the syrup, use one part each of sugar and water. Stir the mixture, bring it to the boil, then simmer until the sugar has dissolved. Let it cool, bottle it, and keep in the fridge. John Humphreys, of Waterloo Wines, adds a little lemon peel

Suggested Topics
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

    £60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

    Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

    £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

    AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

    £600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

    E-Commerce Developer

    £45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice