Sweet 'n Sour Summer
This new South American cocktail travels north to the Hudson Valley, giving the season a tangy treat
Photograph by Michael Polito
First, there was the mojito. This traditional Cuban highball — made of white rum, sugar, lime juice, and mint — delighted summer revelers all around our region when it first became hip several years ago. Then, the caipirinha — Brazil’s national drink — started showing up in local bars and lounges. Now, the latest Latin cocktail to make its debut on chichi beverage menus everywhere is the pisco sour.
There is no denying it: Latin food, culture, and cocktails are hot, hot, hot. “Yes, all the Latin drinks are very popular right now,” says Milti Kastanis, manager at Shadows on the Hudson in Poughkeepsie. “It’s about freedom. It’s about not having to do anything except just enjoy your cocktail.”
So what’s the secret behind the latest drink du jour? Pisco is a South American liquor distilled from white muscat grapes. By many accounts, the Spaniards first brought the grape to the region as early as the 1500s, but when the King of Spain banned wine in the 17th century, the Peruvians had to learn to transform the grape into a different kind of alcohol. The result is pisco, a brandy-like liquor. Pisco is now produced in both Peru and Chile; each country insists that it makes the best version of this spirit, and that it originated within its borders. It continues to be a matter of great dispute between these South American neighbors, each of whom proudly names pisco as its national drink. But we’ll let them battle it out. Because while proud Peruvians and Chileans may argue that a good pisco sour can only be concocted using pisco made in their own country, we respectfully disagree.
The basic ingredients needed for a pisco sour are pisco, syrup, lime or lemon juice, raw egg whites — which give the drink its frothy foam — and a topping of bitters. At Shadows on the Hudson, the drink is made with Capel Pisco from Chile, a house-made sour mix, fresh squeezed lemon, raw egg whites, and Angostura bitters to top it off. “The pisco sour is just starting to kick off in popularity now,” says Kastanis. “But I think it will be hot this season. It’s tangy and light — it’s definitely a summer drink.”
At Machu Picchu in Newburgh, “we’d have a mutiny on our hands” if Chilean pisco was served, says owner Todd Mullins. Instead, the traditional Peruvian restaurant uses Pisco Lovera and a simple recipe: combine three parts pisco, one part lime juice, one part simple syrup, and one part egg whites; shake, then add a dash of bitters. “We sell a lot of them,” says Mullins. “It’s a great drink — potent and powerful. I’m not surprised at all that it is becoming so popular.”
What you need:
- 1½ oz Capel Pisco brandy
- 1 oz simple syrup
- ½ oz egg whites
- Juice from 1 fresh-squeezed lemon
- Dash Angostura bitters
How it’s made:
Shake ingredients vigorously with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass, and add bitters as an aromatic garnish.
Thirsty for more? Here’s our salute to yummy ginger cocktails.