Tuesday, May 10, 2011
La Mar, Pisco Sours & A Cautionary Tale
On my recent journey to Chile, we dined one evening at La Mar, a high-end Peruvian restaurant in Santiago. La Mar is a small chain, with a couple restaurants in the U.S. as well, one in San Francisco and another to open in New York City in the near future. From its multi-colored potato chips to its fresh seafood, from its causa to ceviche, we enjoyed a seemingly endless series of dishes, most quite delicious and compelling. We did a good tour of the menu, and found much to enjoy. It is a restaurant I would highly recommend, for both their food as well as their Pisco Sours.
The word "pisco" derives from "pisqu," a term in the Quechua language, that of the Incas, which refers to "little birds." There is a city on the Peruvian coast called Pisco, and the term also refers to conical pottery in which the alcohol was aged. The Spaniards, during the 16th century, created pisco in Peru as an alternative to the more expensive Orujo, a pomace brandy, which was being imported into the region. Pisco, especially as it was cheap, soon became popular with sailors of all nationalities who stopped on the Peruvian coast. During the Gold Rush, Pisco even became popular in California.
It is believed that Pisco came to Chile in the later 19th century when Chile occupied part of southern Peru. Chile began producing their first Pisco around 1871, and its Appellation of Origin was legally approved in 1931. Interestingly, though Peruvians originated Pisco, Chileans currently drink, per capita, about twenty times more Pisco than Peruvians.
Pisco is typically 60-100 proof, and several different types are available, including oak aged versions. It can be produced from several different grapes, such as Muscat, Torontel and Pedro Jiménez. Some are clear in color while others range from yellow to deep amber. Peruvians celebrate National Pisco Sour Day on the first weekend of February. In the U.S., Pisco is still relatively uncommon and approximately 25,000 cases were imported in 2009. In most U.S. restaurants and bars, Pisco Sours will be the most common drink found that is made from Pisco.
There is no clear cut origin of the Pisco Sour, though one story claims an Englishman set up a bar in Peru, in about 1872, and created the cocktail. The Peruvian city, Iquique, where the bar was established became a Chilean city in 1884. The Pisco Sour is essentially made with Pisco, Lemon Juice, Simple Syrup and an Egg White, and topped by Angostura Bitters. You will find recipes though using different amounts of each ingredient, as well as recipes using different ones, such as limes instead of lemons. Much will depend on your own cocktail preferences as to how you choose to make your Pisco Sour. Interestingly, another popular Pisco drink in Chile is Piscola, a mix of Pisco and Coca Cola.
At La Mar, the Pisco Sours were especially good, and during the course of the evening, I ended up drinking six of them. The recipe for their Pisco Sour includes: 3oz Pisco, 1oz lemon juice, 1oz simple syrup and 1 oz egg white. Shake the ingredients over ice, strain and and then top with angostura bitters. This provided a nice, balanced drink which was not overly sweet. I had more Pisco Sours at our hotel, but they were usually too sweet for me. I brought a bottle of Pisco home with me and plan to have a Pisco Sour party in the near future, using the recipe from La Mar.
Have you had Pisco Sours before? If so, what were your thoughts?
(No, that did not actually happen to me. It was a staged photo.)