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 This is actually a version of the classic Sour, originally made with rye or Bourbon whiskey.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
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
people
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Sport
football
News
i100
News
Perry says: 'Psychiatrists give help because they need help. You would not be working in mental health if you didn't have a curiosity about how the mind works.'
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

    £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

    Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

    £28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

    Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

    £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

    £18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?