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The Deceptively Simple Pisco Sour Is Ripe for Experimentation

The pisco sour is what comes to mind for most cocktail aficionados when they think of pisco, the grape-based spirit that hails from Peru and Chile. The South American classic has become a mainstay on drinks lists across the United States and, at many places, has become a top-seller due to its appealing mix of sweet, tart and herbaceous flavors as well as its light and silky texture.

“It’s definitely one of our staples and vies for top three [most popular drinks] of every month for sure,” says Brett Luevanos-Elms general manager of Top Chef-winner Stephanie Izard’s Peruvian-inspired rooftop restaurant Cabra Los Angeles.

While it’s certainly become far easier to track down a well-made version of the fashionable drink at most watering holes, there’s no reason you can’t make this surprisingly simple sour cocktail at home. Here’s a rundown of everything you need to know, from choosing the right pisco and ice cubes (very important) to properly mixing it together.

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What’s in a Pisco Sour?

The basic recipe is a 2-1-1 formula starting with good-quality pisco and equal parts sugar and citrus, with egg white and the iconic drops of bitters that float on the foamy surface. And while that sounds pretty straightforward—because it is—there’s a lot of diversity and nuance that can influence the end result by switching out the individual pisco sour ingredients.

These days, it’s now possible to find a wide array of piscos in U.S. stores. There are, of course, the basic bottles intended for blending into cocktails. But there are also single-vineyard piscos that aim to highlight the local terroir, similar to the tequilas and mezcals that hail from specific villages in Mexico, says Luevanos-Elms. Though he adds, he “doesn’t recommend using single-vineyard offerings] for a pisco sour unless someone else is paying.”

Any basic Peruvian pisco should do the trick, as the country is stricter with its regulations on what can be exported than its neighbor to the south. “I don’t want to sound like I’m knocking Chilean piscos, because there are plenty of good ones out there,” says Luevanos-Elms. “But the regulations are more lax and they can go in a different direction with aged versions and more variability.”

In the U.S., Angostura bitters has long been recommended due to its widespread availability. However, the go-to in Peru is Amargo Chuncho, a richer and earthier cocktail bitters with notes of spice and a floral base. Cabra’s Pisco Sour recipe blends the two together, which really “pops against the white background,” says Luevanos-Elms, who also suggests playing around with some of the other craft bitters on the market.

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The citrus component of the pisco sour is also ripe for experimentation. When Izard was researching the cuisine and cocktails down in Peru, she realized that the local citrus is different from what we get in America. To approximate its taste at Cabra, Izard and her team decided to create their own lime-orange juice, which is four parts lime juice to one part orange juice.

“We suggest playing around with lemon and lime to see what works best rather than relying on poor-quality lime juice,” says Luevanos-Elms.

Lastly, the final item of contention in the already contentious cocktail—Peru and Chile, which both claim it as their national drink, have been fighting over its origins for decades—is how to incorporate the egg white. While some mixologists assert that it’s best to dry-shake the whites first, then add ice, the folks at Cabra opt to do a nice hard shake with four large cubes.

“You still aerate the foam on top while it gets chilled,” says Luevanos-Elms, who has found that adding ice after the whites have been shaken can cut through that lofty foam. And make sure to chill your glass or coupe, he adds, “so you don’t warm it as you’re drinking—nobody wants warm egg whites.”

Pisco Sour
Image Courtesy of Boka Restaurant Group

How to Make a Pisco Sour

Recipe courtesy of Cabra


  • 2 ounces pisco (we use Caravedo)
  • ¾ ounce rich simple syrup (2 parts sugar to one part water)
  • ¾ ounce egg whites
  • ¾ ounce lime juice (or other citrus combo)
  • 3 dashes of bitters (like Angostura or Amargo Chuncho)

Step 1

Place pisco, lime juice, egg whites and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker filled with four large ice cubes. Shake vigorously until chilled, about 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled glass. Top with bitters. Serve.

Updated on January 5, 2024.