The first drink in a foreign country carries with it an outsize importance. Let’s face it, you’ve been through a lot to get to that bar stool. You’ve bought books and scoured the internet, taken pills and prepped passports. You’ve endured bag searches and airplane food and the countless humiliations handed down by stone-faced TSA agents. Maybe you even studied a few words on the way so that first order at the bar will come off clean. But when you bring that glass to your lips, something transformative takes place. As the booze floods your brain and those foreign flavors work their way down your throat, it suddenly sinks in: no estoy en Kansas anymore.
This is the pisco sour, the national cocktail of Peru, and a strong candidate for world’s finest alcoholic beverage. It’s a sweet, sour, bracing mix of liquor, lime, sugar, and egg white, whipped into a milky, frothy frenzy, then splashed with bitters just before serving. It’s a whiskey sour gone rogue, a maverick margarita with the mouthfeel of crushed velvet and the bite of an angry bee.
This one comes from Ayahuasca Bar, more renovated mansion than cutty watering hole—fitting for the soft-lit streets of the polished Barranco district. The bartender who made this one pulled a pisco-pro move during its loving production: with the blender running at full speed, he dropped a spoon into the drink, splashed a bit across the back of his hand, and took a taste. Tweaking ensued: a touch more lime juice to balance out the sweetness, another slug of pisco because the two gringos at the bar had fire in their eyes.
We’ll be talking a lot about pisco in the days to come. It’s harvest time here in Peru, which means grapes will be stomped, feet will be stained, and another year of this fiery brandy-like liquor will begin its long journey from the vine to the bottle to the Peruvian liver.
In the meantime, it’s Lima through the veil of a pisco hangover.