Pour the perfect Pisco Sour in Peru

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions

From social trend to proper blend, sweeten your grasp of the sour in Lima and learn why Peru’s most famous drink is a cultural force

Duration: three hours
Cost: US$30
Outcome: market bartering skills, the perfect pisco-sour recipe and cocktail-pouring skills
Where: Lima, Peru

The pisco sour may not be as famous as Mexico’s margarita, Cuba’s mojito or Brazil’s caipirinha, but it’s just as potent a liquid cultural emblem, claimed by both Peru and Chile as their national drink.

Evidence points to a bar in Lima in the early 1920s as the elixir’s place of origin, but both Peru and Chile dispute the other’s boast of having invented the alcoholic brew. Such sociopolitical friction is all in a day’s play, of course: Peru and Chile have a long history of sometimes bitter, or should we say sour (ouch!), antagonism.

Understanding this rivalry is just one part of what gets explored when learning how to make a ‘real’ pisco sour in Peru’s capital, Lima. It’s an education fitted to local interaction that includes a visit to Parque Kennedy in Lima’s Miraflores neighbourhood, travel by combi buses to a market in nearby Surquillo, exploration of local products and exotic fruits (try a camu camu, lucuma, granadilla or aguaymanto), and then shopping. Every step of the way is a chance to chat with locals – especially when bartering in Spanish for pisco-sour ingredients.

The fitting finale is the preparation of the libation. Back in Miraflores, in a rooftop setting with gorgeous views of the coastline, you’ll roll up your sleeves and, while tutored in the history and tradition of the pisco sour, squeeze your own limes and then blend the citrus juice with pisco brandy, syrup, egg white and ice. The final toast is a celebration of your newfound cocktail knowledge.

How it suits you
The task of absorbing pisco sour culture is best enjoyed by a go-with-the-flow person. Mixing and quaffing the drink is relaxing, but the rough and tumble of taking a combi (minibus) and negotiating prices with local merchants in Spanish requires spontaneity and spirit. Travellers keen on history will take particular interest in the background story of discord between Peru and Chile.

What you’ll get from it

Cultural insight
Drinking a pisco sour simply tantalises the taste buds, but putting it in its proper social context – understanding its complex history and culture – stirs the soul.

Urban awareness
Most travellers avoid combis as the routes are often unclear and they contribute to Lima’s urban bedlam. This trip demystifies combis, while raising awareness of some pretty serious urban planning issues. Local market zeal Rubbing elbows with merchants and shoppers will cement your fondness for local markets.

Practical details
This pisco sour experience is offered through Urban Adventures (urbanadventures.com, click on Lima). Trips can be arranged throughout the year with 48 hours’ notice.

Other options
Beer Tours (urbanadventures.com/beer_tours_around_ the_world) are an increasingly popular evening escape, especially in cities with local craft brews and a whole lot of history. On a schnapps distillery tour in the Black Forest of Germany or the Zillertal region of Austria, you’ll discover the traditions, raw materials and science of schnapps.

Doing it at home
At your next party, put your pisco-sour skills into practice. Explain the drink’s contested history through a blind taste test that compares the Peruvian ‘original’ with its Chilean variant. Accompany it with a signature Peruvian ceviche.


Extract taken from Lonely Planet’s new title: Cooks, Clowns and Cowboys (£14.99; Lonely Planet). For more information or to purchase the book, please click here

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