Yes. Pisco is ours. It belongs in our jiggers and shakers. It belongs with key limes, egg whites, and sugar syrup. And bitters. This is what we Peruvians sustain, especially every first Saturday in February, when Peru celebrates Pisco Sour Day. But pisco sour’s reputation extends beyond Peruvian territory. Prestigious bars around the world have the pisco sour on their cocktail lists, and renown bartenders mix it with flair. Many expats living in Peru know how to shake their pisco sours, and some others prefer to blend them. Knowing the popularity of the mixed drink, Living in Peru held a new edition of their Expat Pisco Sour Competition at Caplina – Miraflores, and I was honored to be one of the judges.
With only five minutes to mix and pour their pisco sours, the nine competitors from eight different countries are allowed to bring their own ingredients, utensils, or ice. The designated pisco is Intipalka. And they are off! And first is Bill Sallade from the U.S. with an exceptional pisco sour crowned by a long-lasting head of creamy texture and incredibly small bubbles. Perhaps he should not have squeezed the limes so hard as his pisco sour has a little too much bitterness in the aftertaste. It is still good enough to be the runner-up in the competition.
While other contestants go at it, I cannot help myself from wondering why some of them are completely ignoring the rules of the competition and making their pisco sours with some pisco infusions and juices other than lime juice. Another thing that comes to mind is how much there is to do when it comes to helping people remember that our classic pisco sour does not need to have any cinnamon sprinkled, blown, or stenciled on top. Some drops of aromatic bitters will do. I may be much mistaken, but I believe they use cinnamon in Chile. Pisco Inquebrantable’s Pepe Moquillaza is also here, and he claims that aromatic bitters were swept off the shelves during the military regime of the 70s. Consequently, the home-made version of the pisco sour in those years had cinnamon on top. Regardless, I doubt there was as much cinnamon back then as I see today.
After Serge Bedard from Canada and Anastasia Deykka from Russia comes Olivier Díaz from Belgium. Importer of Belgian beers, Olivier drops his original plan of using a blender and starts shaking like a pro. Though a little bit too sweet for my taste, his pisco sour is good enough to win the tournament’s third place. Then comes Lucy Fredi from Germany, Andrew Neale from England, and Mahlon Barash from the US.
Right after them is Ratger Boskers’s turn. He makes a great impression with his technique in the use of the shaker —some competitors had a hard time trying to open theirs after shaking with ice— and with his chilling of the glass prior to serving. Unfortunately, he forgot to add enough syrup to his recipe. His pisco sour turned out to be too tart. And now it is time to watch Owen Miller, from Scotland, dry shake (shake without ice) his pisco sour before shaking it with ice. It is still a bit sweet to me, but the other two judges, Ericka La Madrid from Delectable Peru, and I agree that he deserves the first place.
Unquestionably, this was a very exciting and busy afternoon. It was a great learning opportunity as well because it gave me the chance to see how the foreign non-bartending public sees our pisco sour. Moreover, I was pleasantly surprised to see the gusto with which the competitors made their drinks and the enthusiasm that reflected in the audience’s cheers. I wish our local bartending competitions had more of the same spirit. Pun intended.
José Castro is a certified barista keen on reading, writing, and self-learning. In addition to being a father of one and husband of one, he is a columnist with Catering & Gastronomía magazine and a contributing writer to Cocktail magazine. Translator, photography aficionado, and former singer of a Beatles tribute band, he runs his own blog on beer, cocktails, coffee, and their food pairings at TomandoAltura.com under the pen name El Gourmetógrafo. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram.