What does an ex-Mormon have to do with the national cocktail of Peru and Chile?

According to the accepted origin tale, everything. Yet new research shows there’s much more to the story. What is a Pisco Sour, exactly? It’s a frothy concoction of lime juice, simple syrup, egg whites, bitters, and Pisco, a clear, Peruvian spirit distilled from fermented grapes.

During the turn of the century, Peru’s mining industry was booming. As many bar industry folks did during Prohibition, Victor Vaughen Morris, an American bartender, and former Mormon relocated to friendlier shores in Lima, Peru. He then opened a saloon in Lima, aptly named Morris’ Bar.

Legend has it that since whiskey was in short supply, Morris substituted the local spirit, Pisco, when his customers requested a Whiskey Sour. Thus, the Pisco Sour was born.

Unlike other nebulous cocktail creation stories, the Pisco Sour was the main headliner in newspaper ads that Morris ran to attract thirsty miners. However, new discoveries point to a much earlier origin than the 1920s.

The 1903 cookbook Nuevo Manual de Cocina a la Criolla suggests that the Pisco Sour was actually a traditional Creole cocktail made in Lima more than 100 years ago. However, if you want to dive deeper into the history of the beloved Pisco Sour, then you’ll want to talk to Guillermo Toro-Lira, a leading Pisco historian and author who has devoted serious study to Pisco cocktails such as the Pisco Punch and Pisco Sour.

Pisco’s legend is celebrated annually with National Pisco Sour Day, which occurs on the first Saturday in February. Whether you celebrate the Peruvian or Chilean Pisco Sour, that’s up to you; the distinction is that the Chilean Pisco Sour eliminates the bitters and uses sugar instead of syrup.

If you happen to be in Peru, be sure to check out the different riffs on Pisco Sours using exotic local fruit, root, and vegetable infusions. Some of the most popular versions include the Aguaymanto (golden berry) Sour or Chicha (purple corn) Sour. Many of Lima’s most popular bars and restaurants, like Huaringas, ámaZ, and Cala, offer dozens of different Pisco Sour flavors. If someone suggests a Cathedral Pisco Sour, be warned: “Cathedral” refers to a giant-sized Pisco Sour. After imbibing just one, this super-sized drink may have you waving a white flag for the rest of the evening.

If you order a Pisco Sour here in the States, the most popular Piscos to request as the base for the drink include Camp de Encanto Pisco, Pisco, Portón, Pisco 100, Macchu Pisco, BarSol and Kappa Pisco (Chilean). Luckily, the relatively unknown spirit as of a decade ago has had an uptick in popularity, and most U.S. craft cocktail bars now carry at least a few different Pisco brands.

There’s nothing like sampling Pisco and Pisco Sours in the motherland. To tide you over until your next trip to Peru or Chile, here’s the traditional Pisco Sour recipe to try at home.

Pisco Sour

Pisco Sour

Pisco Sour

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz. Pisco
  • 1 oz. Simple Syrup
  • 3/4 oz. Lime Juice
  • 1 Egg White
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Preparation: Combine Pisco, lime juice, simple syrup, and egg white in a cocktail shaker. Add ice to fill and shake vigorously. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass, and sprinkle with Angostura bitters on top of the foam.