Coming up behind a bar, the number of drinks a bartender has to learn that they’ll probably never serve unquestionably outnumbers the ones they will turn out during most shifts. The Pisco Sour belongs to the former group.
Considered a classic in Chile and Peru, the Pisco Sour is said to have been created by American expat Victor Morris, who opened Morris’ Bar in Lima in 1916. Building on the standard sour construct—sugar, citrus and Peru’s national spirit, pisco, plus an egg white and a flourish of Angostura bitters—the drink has, for over a century, failed to earn much of a following Stateside.
At Brooklyn’s Llama Inn, however, it’s remarkably popular. On average, the bar sells about 150 Pisco Sours per week.
“When I had the chance to focus on a Peruvian restaurant, being able to innovate around something that was so iconic was a real opportunity,” says bar director Lynnette Marrero, who, along with bartender Jessica González, went through numerous trials before settling on the bar’s current Pisco Sour recipe. Not only was Marrero looking for a perfected cocktail in terms of taste and texture, she was also looking for a method that would allow bartenders to build the drink—with its foamy, meringue-like top—quickly enough to keep up with demand.
Ultimately, the choice in base spirit was less important than the other components of the drink; Llama Inn is Peruvian, so the base spirit of its signature cocktail is, too. (Marrero opts for Macchu Pisco, a single-varietal pisco made from the quebranta grape.)
What was more important, according to Marrero, was achieving the best possible texture. “You want a nice frothy head and then kind of a silky body,” she says. Whereas some of this viscosity comes from the egg white, for Marrero, it was more about finding the right balance of sweeteners that proved most crucial.
Lynnette Marrero's Pisco Sour
The answer turned out to be a 50/50 blend of rich cane syrup (made in a ratio of 2:1, cane sugar to water) and gum syrup, a pre-Prohibition ingredient made from the sticky sap of an acacia tree, which has an especially rich texture. In most bars, where gum syrup isn’t a staple, the sugar component is where the Pisco Sour can really go awry, says Marrero: “If they’re just using their normal simple syrup and it’s 1:1, it won’t counter the citrus as much and you’ll lose some of that mouthfeel.” Those bars might have to shake the cocktail longer, or add a little extra egg white.
As for the egg white, Marrero uses just one-half ounce, and incorporates it in one of two ways: either dry shaking (without, and then with ice, to yield the drink’s signature frothy top) or using an old-school, stand-up mixer. The latter technique was a workaround to overcome slowdowns behind the bar, and turn out drinks more quickly. Built in a stainless steel tin, the drink gets flash-blended with about a quarter of a cup of crushed ice and poured directly into the glass. As is tradition, Marrero finishes the drink with a thin line of Angostura bitters.
Ultimately, the drink has proven to be an easy way to introduce pisco to drinkers, especially as more bottlings come to the States. In fact, in several drinks at Llama Inn, she splits the base spirit, using half pisco and half tequila, or pisco and rum.
“Pisco is still a very niche category, but everything Latin has this allure right now,” she says. “Look at the explosion of tequila and mezcal. People want to travel through their culinary adventures.”