Taking the Pisco – Ordinary Decent Spirit

This one is a bit different. One of my many interests involves the fermentation of sugars in a variety of ways to produce delicious and refreshing beverages. Alcohol, of course! And what better time to talk about alcohol than St Patrick’s Day.

Recently I’ve been listening to Neat! The Boozecast with Teylor Smirl discussing the history of different alcoholic beverages. Most of my podcast listening is as a background to other activities so my attention is often divided, but I did stop and pay attention when I heard a name I hadn’t come across. Pisco. Not a household name by any stretch of the imagination.

Pisco refers to a brandy produced in either Peru or Chile, made from the distillation of fermented grape juice. The history is quite fascinating and I’d recommend that episode if it’s something that would interest you. Peru is believed to be the origin of pisco, named for the Port of Pisco, and produced by the Spanish settlers who imported grapes into the region for wine production in the 16th century.

The flavour of pisco is highly variable dependent on the region and method of production and grape variety. I picked up a bottle of Chilean pisco stocked by my local wine merchant and spirit shop, Barrel & Still, close to Platos in Plymouth city centre.

Pisco is generally served by itself or in a Pisco Sour, which is an incredibly popular drink in Peru and Chile. Recipes vary slightly, but the generally accepted formula includes pisco, lime juice, simple syrup, an egg white and bitters. I’ve come to really appreciate egg white cocktails for the volume and texture the shaken albumin provides. This process incorpates air into the mixture and produces foam as a reuslt. If you feel weird about drinking raw egg whites, would it help if I told you we’ve been using egg whites in cocktails for at least 160 years? There’s a recipe for the classic Whiskey Sour which includes egg whites in Jerry Thomas’s 1862 Bartenders Guide. As long as you’re using good quality fresh eggs, the risk of food poisoning is minimal. Salad leaves have caused a lot more problems in recent times than cocktails. Putting a few drops of bitters gives the cocktail an aromatic finish and disguises the slight scent of the egg white.

If you’re looking for an occasion to justify breaking out a bottle of pisco, the first Saturday of February is International Pisco Sour Day – a drink worthy of celebration.

I’m going to attempt something I haven’t done before and share a cocktail recipe on here. This is outside my usual realm of expertise, but then again most of the things I do are! The recipe I’m using is based on a standard sour formula. (I used Liquor.com for reference)

Pisco Sour

50 ml (2 oz) pisco

25 ml (1 oz) freshly squeezed lime juice

12.5 ml (1/2 oz) simple syrup

1/2 egg white

Dash of bitters

Add the pisco, lime juice, simple syrup and egg white to a shaker and dry shake vigorously (without ice). This helps incorporate the egg white and impart that frothy finish.

Add ice to the shaker and shake once again. This second stage cools the drink and adds dilution.

Strain into a glass and top with a few dashes of bitters.

I love a fruity cocktail, but as time goes on I’ve started to appreciate sour, bitter and aromatic flavours increasingly. Although my interest in mixing drinks is relatively recent, I have a real thirst (pun intended) for experimentation and exploring new flavour combinations. Part of that is going back to the classics and finding out what works, and making a Pisco Sour is part of the process.


I find that the Pisco Sour pairs well with a thoughtful game, and one I have been reconnecting with. Hollow Knight. A refreshing beverage to balance a potentially tense and challenging game, but a beautiful one nevertheless. We have also started playing Pikmin on the Nintendo Switch which is a fun puzzle game centred on the control of little creatures called Pikmin. More on that later.

For now, sláinte and happy St Patrick’s Day!

I’m not at all bitter that it isn’t a bank holiday in England…

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