DrinksFood & Drinks

Intersections: Pisco Builds Ties Between Countries

Nicole Watson

Oh Mai, Under Current Bar, Salt Lake City, Utah
Oh Mai, Under Current Bar, Salt Lake City, Utah

The swirl of brown in the melting of the white foam topping to pisco sour is reminiscent of brown earth popping through the snows of winter in Utah. However, that is not the only intersection of Pisco with Utah. According to emol.com,

“In 1922 there existed in ancient Boza street a bar, whose owner, Victor Morris who was known as ‘ el gringo Morris’- catered to friends with shots of his inspiration.

“One night Morris surprised his friends with a new drink which he called pisco sour , a formula that blends the Peruvian pisco with ‘sour ‘ (lime), for their homeland .

“Cocktail fame grew during the oil boom of the decades of the forties and fifties, thanks to Hollywood stars like Orson Welles , Ava Gardner and John Wayne, who drank the famous cocktail in historic hotels Maury and Bolivar in Lima.”

Victor Morris was born in 1873 in Salt Lake City. He moved to Peru to work as a cashier for the railroad, but started a bar in Lima where international celebrities would come to converse and pass the time.

Although Victor is credited with ‘inventing’ the drink, there have been similar recipes found in “Nuevo Manual de Cocina a la Crilla “an early cookbook dated 1903, several years previous to the time when Victor began serving his Pisco sours. The recipe calls for: An egg white, a glass of Pisco, a teaspoon of fine sugar, and a few drops of lime as desired, this will open your appetite.” It goes on to add

“Up to three glasses can be made with one egg white and a heaping teaspoon of fine sugar, adding the rest of the ingredients as needed for each glass. All this is beaten in a cocktail shaker until you’ve made a small punch.” Although Morris may not have been reading that particular cookbook, he would have been familiar with the construction of a whiskey sour. The Whiskey Sour is a shaken drink with whiskey, lime and an egg white. With the addition of bitters to the frothy egg white topping and the use of Pisco, a wonderful local spirit, Morris was able to create a new cocktail that became the signature drink of Peru. The Pisco sour is a wonderful intersection of Utah and Peru made possible by the turning kalediscope of time and events.

Downtown Pisco, Peru, the Port City from which the Brandy Takes Its Name
Downtown Pisco, Peru, the Port City from which the Brandy Takes Its Name

According to emol.com “The ‘Day of the Pisco Sour”, was institutionalized in 2003, by President Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006) The first Saturday of February is Pisco Sour Day. In addition, it was decreed that the cocktail would replace wine and sparkling wine in toasts and the celebrations in Palace of Government, ministries and Peruvian embassies”.

Pisco means ‘little’ in Quechua. The grape brandy-wine takes its name from the place from which it was exported by the Spanish. A shrine has been erected in the financial center of Lima to the Pisco sour.

Pisco has wonderful historic roots in Peru. When early Catholic missionaries came to the Americas, they found that there were no grapes on Peru’s coast. No grapes meant no wine. No wine meant no mass on Sunday. No mass meant there wasn’t money for the church. So King Charles IV established a reward for the first person to grow grapes in the new world. The Listan Negro – or the Mission grape as it has evolved, was first brought to the hacienda Marcahusai of Cuzco. It was the first place grapes were grown in South America. The wine distilled from these grapes was clear and rather unremarkable, and because it had to be transported in jugs that would break easily, a process as developed of distilling the wine to make Pisco. This allowed the alcohol content to be increased several times. These distilleries in Peru are among the oldest in the world. (Johnny Shuler, Pisco Porton)

Under Current Bar in Salt Lake City, Utah
Under Current Bar in Salt Lake City, Utah

All of this information piqued my interest and so I asked David to go to a local establishment, attached to a restaurant. The restaurant is called “Current” and the bar is called “Under Current”. It was rumored that they served Pisco Sours made with Peruvian Pisco. Upon asking our waiter, Adrian, we found that their import came from Chile rather than the superior brands from Peru. Adrian complained he had not been able to get the Peruvian pisco yet.

We took a moment to pause and consider if it was worth ordering a drink with the Chilean distillation, but in the end decided in the interest of discovery, to try a pisco sour, and another pisco drink with absinthe and pineapple called an “oh mai”.

The drinks arrived beautifully served. The first sip of the Pisco sour was a delight. The sigh of egg white over the thrum of the intense pisco was wonderful on the palate. With the back note of bitter, and a cleansing astringent lime, the drink was wonderfully executed. To compose a drink is to orchestrate the various flavors so that nothing dominates, but they play upon each other to form a mystical musical quality. The adoption of the Pisco sour as a national drink was not at all mystical after trying

The Pisco sour celebrates the intersection of Peru and Utah. Salud.

Monument to Salt Lake's Victor Morris in Lima's Parque de la Amistad
Monument to Salt Lake’s Victor Morris in Lima’s Parque de la Amistad

Here are references I used for this article.


The Origin of the Pisco Sour


Interview with Johnny Schuler: Youtube. History of Pisco Porton
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prm3dUo7828 (I hate the way the American says “piss co”

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