Origins of the Pisco Sour
Pisco is a unique South American spirit, with roots in both Peru and Chile. While technically a “brandy” since it is made from fruit (specifically grapes), it is as different from brandy as vodka is from gin. There are only a few cocktails which historically use Pisco as a base, with the Pisco Sour being perhaps the most famous. The Pisco Sour appears to have its origins in the early 1900’s, with some debate as to if it was first created in Chile or Peru. A Chilean researcher points to Elliot Stubb as creating the Pisco Sour in 1872, but that reference was actually to him mixing up a Whiskey Sour, which was already a well-known drink by that time.
The Peruvian government feels that the Pisco Sour was first created in 1916 by Victor Morris, although I haven’t yet found any references to his serving a Pisco Sour until the 1920’s. While Victor Morris “called” his drink a Pisco Sour, it bore only a passing resemblance to the drink we know by that name today. His original drink was just Pisco, lime juice, and sugar. Truly just a sour made with Pisco, the same way a “Gin Sour” would be a sour made with gin, and not a unique drink in and of itself. Any customer, going into any bar, at any time prior to this date (assuming the bar carried Pisco) could have asked for a Pisco sour and be served the exact same drink that Mr. Morris would have served in his bar.
There is however an earlier reference to a drink that is more similar to what we consider a Pisco Sour, and this is from "Nuevo Manual de Cocina a la Criolla", a collection of small cookbooks published in 1903 from Lima, Peru. It listed the drink simply as a “Cocktail” and gave the recipe as:
Una clara de huevo, una copa de pisco, una cucharadita de azúcar fina y unas gotas de limón á voluntad, os abrir á un buen apetito.
Hasta tres copas podeis hacer con una clara de huevo y una cucharadita bien colmada de azúcar fina agregándole lo demás un tanto mas por cada copa. Todo esto se bate en una cocktaslera ó ponchera, hasta formar un ponchesito.
Which I translate to:
An egg white, a glass of pisco, a teaspoon of fine sugar and a few drops of lime to taste, will provide you with a good appetite.
Up to three drinks can be made with one egg white and a heaping teaspoon of fine sugar, adding the other ingredients for each glass. All this is beaten in a cocktail shaker or punch bowl, to form a small punch.
The main difference between this drink, and the one that Victor Morris was serving, is that this one includes an egg white. An egg white was a somewhat common addition to the “sours” of the day, but not seen as much in modern days. All that is missing in this version, is the bitters dashed on the top, and the proper name.
To finally bring the Pisco Sour to completion, we return to Victor Morris and his bar. He had gained some notoriety for serving the Pisco Sour, often including its mention in advertisements he published. But it wouldn’t be until around 1924, and the fortuitous hiring of Mario Bruiget Burgos that the Pisco Sour would finally come into its own. It was Burgos, trying slight tweaks to the recipe, that finally settled on what we would fully recognize as a proper Pisco Sour by adding both the egg white and the dashes of bitters to the gentle foam which blankets the drink.
Special thanks to Nico for his research into the Pisco Sour and how it showed up in “Nuevo Manual de Cocina a la Criolla”. His writeup is here: http://www.piscotrail.com/2013/12/09/culinary-history/the-origin-of-the-pisco-sour/
And an online PDF of the 1903 cookbook is here: https://issuu.com/davidpino7/docs/recetario1903