Peru’s Celebrated Cocktail, the Pisco Sour

Lima, Peru–Pisco Sour, Pisco Shower! Sang the two French women. We were happy to be going out, finally. After long flights, an uncomfortable first night at our hostel and a long wait outside of a Mcdonald’s in a modest, Peruvian chill, our couch-surfing host arrived.

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Lima, Peru

Miguel Angel was a man of many languages, but few words. When he finally arrived we tossed our backpacks into the trunk, and hopped in his little Fiat, which swung around the roads of Lima, past the endless coastline at night with illuminated crosses off in the distance. Miguel struck us as awkward. A man of home improvement, he was planning on constructing his own bar, dj booth, and living room.

“You sure you’ve done the measurements?” I thought as I scanned the little room, which could barely hold the four of us.

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My hands ran across the smooth tiled floor. A clang struck our ears as he presented a bottle of Pisco, and four shooters. “What was this? Pisco?”

The national drink of Peru, a Liqueur distilled of Grapes, similar to a French Cognac, but colorless like Vodka.

“Salud!” The four of us took the shooters. Disgusted, the girls made faces, but I could handle it, I can handle it, I swear I can handle it, though I admit, Pisco burns. We exchanged stories about our pasts in three different languages, and I couldn’t help but feel a mixture of nausea and, what was it..displacement.

At the first bar, honestly more like someone’s kitchen than a bar, we tried the drink. “Pisco Sour!” The cocktail that puts Peru on the map, as mythical as the Andean condor, or ruins found in the overgrowth. The drink sat on a dark wooden table, fresh as a mojito, but dense from whipped egg white. Bitters like sprinkles on frosting. Like snow on a mountaintop.

After we consumed the drinks, we headed to a Salsa bar.

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Arequipa, Peru

Feet of fury, I believe that’s what they say when someone can’t stop dancing, and Miguel wouldn’t sit down. The man pulled at one of the women, and it was all fun and games–at first. Truthfully, I wanted another Pisco Sour, so my attention was diverted. I walked to the bar. Tried to order in Spanish. Turned and looked with a smile. No smiles in return. Far too aggressively, our host was spinning and turning one of the women, the other was trying to interject. Sorry, I said to the bartender, and walked back towards them. One of the pitfalls of drinking. I inserted some American improvisational dance moves, (an advantage) and put on a mask like I was having a good time, but to be frank, none of us were.

Mr. Angel slept in a solitude on his mattress upon the floor, while the faucet dripped, and the three of us just sat there, pondering what to do next. Later in the trip I purchased and read Garcia Marquez’s book, which somehow left me feeling sympathetic for this man.

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This experience is to take nothing away from the drink, it’s exotic, desirable, succulent. With its lime accents added to the strong liqueur, and the fizz restraining the drinker from being to hasty, this drink deserves a crown: The ideal drink.

-1 ounce of Lime juice

-.5 ounce of Simple Syrup

-2 ounces of Pisco

-1 egg white

Vigorously shaken, completely emulsified, and strained into a chilled glass. And there we have it–The Pisco Sour.

Con Amor,

Mr. Cohiba

 

 

Our brief history with Rice Whiskey–Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang, Laos

Somewhere in Northern Laos–The first experience I had with the stuff, was hardly into our first day. And it wasn’t optional. Our boat rested at the rickety wooden docks of a small village with huts that dotted the lush greenery of the Mekong riverbank.

A welcome committee to us Westerners, as we were allured into a restaurant with a sign advertising free whiskey, and a free shot given to us at dinner, and pretty much a free shot anytime the waiter passed our table. But no, scratch that, my first experience was our guest house at the moment of our arrival. We were basically forced to take a shot every time someone signed papers. I looked at a table surrounded by a bunch of smiles that said ‘get me outta here,’ and fake nods when she offered us more shots. It seemed innocuous. But after each of the six of us finished off an entire bottle with our host, our stomachs were burning and centers of gravity shifted. We decided to grab dinner to quell the burn, but couldn’t escape it, and I had the feeling that this ride had only just begun.

View of the Mekong River

I’m joking, free alcohol is never too bad of a thing, maybe dangerous, but in this case I appreciated the gesture, I just didn’t want it to get sloppy when we had another day of boat travel ahead. Nevertheless, it was the friendliest welcome, from the most unfriendly whiskey I have ever tasted.

Views from the Pak Ou Caves, Laos

A chorus of roosters broke the spell on the dawn of the following day, and we were off. The last leg of our journey to the idyllic Luang Prabang. Emerald waters flowed smoothly, and the Dutch backpackers decided to take the lead, and get plastered while we dozed off in the back of the boat to the sound of riverwater and paddling oars.

The days in Luang Prabang were fruitful, serene and site-driven, often with a bottle of rice whiskey in hand.  Draped in orange cloaks, the monks paced about with no need for hurry.

Relax, enjoy the aroma of french bread at dawn, and the lights and sounds of the night market at dusk as the Mekong river slowly slides by.

Downtown Luang Prabang

On our first night we discovered that a 750 ml bottle of the drink sells as low as $3 American.  Some drink journalists say that in Vientiane, the nation’s capitol, and in other, less touristic cities it is the cheapest hard liquor in the world.

Dare I say that we over did it, one of my buddies passed out on the front steps of our guest house. We slapped him a couple of times, and luckily he rallied. Somehow, someway and after some amount of time we ended up at the local bowling alley, putting up strikes, and beating Dutch backpackers in our Californian past time–it was their King’s Day too, so the victory was twice as sweet (I’m kidding guys, I swear). Afterwards, we decided to search for something a bit more clandestine and potent, and I’ll stop there. One of the few times a drink got the best of us.

The upper caves

This Whiskey calls for a specific ratio of Whiskey Coke mix to make it palatable. As most versions of the well are poured at a 3:2 or 3:1.5 even, Lao Lao (its street name) deserves a generous pouring of Coke at a 4:1.5 ratio. Or, if you and your coterie feel the need to put some hair on your chest, go ahead, take it straight, and tell them Mr. Cohiba recommends it. 😉

Con Amor,

Alexander Gittleman