Sour Times

Pisco Sour is the most important cocktail for the Peruvians and Chileans and a source of some irritation as both countries claim it as their own. Both countries have a National Pisco Day with Peru’s being staged in February and Chile’s in May. If you want to get a rise out of a Peruvian, try telling them that Pisco is definitely Chilean – then duck.

Pisco is a regional brandy commonly made from Quebranta or Muscat grapes. The cocktail is a bit like a whisky sour and is made with cane sugar, egg white, lemon and a dash of Angostura bitters.

It is thought that the Spanish brought grapes to South America and that the first vineyard was planted in 1551. Irrigation systems and guano collected from the islands off the coast of Pisco ensured that the vineyards thrived and expanded. The accountant Lopez de Caravantes states that 20,000 arrobas of wine were produced in 1572, equivalent to 230,000 litres, enough to fulfil local demand and export.


Now the Peruvians claim the name Pisco as theirs because firstly it is a Quechua word for bird and secondly on the coast there is a valley where the Piskos used to live. These people were potters who made cone shaped pots in which they prepared ‘chicha’ and other alcoholic drinks that came to be known as pisco. They also believe that the Chile ‘stole’ pisco during the War of the Pacific in the late 1800’s. Peru was defeated and lost land in the Tarapaca area where Peruvian pisco production was important.

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