If we could go back in time to the Lima of the 1920’s and order a Pisco Sour, our first destination would probably be the place where it was allegedly born; the legendary Morris Bar, owned by an American from Salt Lake City, a.k.a. “el gringo Morris”. Most Pisco historians agree that the traditional anglo cocktail, the Whiskey Sour, which first appeared in South America at the former Peruvian port of Iquique (today Chilean territory) most probably inspired Victor Morris to create the Pisco Sour, using the locally produced grape spirit called Pisco.
Based on advertisements from local publications of 1920’s era, as well as the registry at the Morris Bar, there is little doubt that the Pisco Sour was first served by Victor Morris at his bar in Lima. The registry also shows notes from returning visitors to Lima, who commented that the Pisco Sour kept getting better, and continued to develop the recipe for the cocktail, perhaps by adding the egg white that has become such an iconic ingredient of the Pisco Sour.
But a recent discovery of a Peruvian creole cookbook from 1903 entitled “Nuevo Manual de Cocina a la Criolla” (Lima 1903), suggests that the origin of the Pisco Sour may be based on cocktail made in Lima over 100 years ago. This cookbook has the following recipe for a Pisco drink simply titled “Cocktail:” “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. “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.”
This recipe is almost identical to the Pisco Sour we serve today. But what makes it really significant, is that it was published in 1903 — at least some 17 years before Victor Morris started making the famous drink at his bar in Lima. If this recipe was published in 1903, then it’s possible that the cocktail was being made in Lima even earlier. So what then is the origin of the Pisco Sour? Is Victor Morris still its creator?Perhaps this gringo also came across an early recipe for the Pisco Sour such as the one that appeared in the 1903 Peruvian cookbook, and using his knowledge of other Sour cocktails, experimented with measures until he came up with the version that he served at his bar. All that remained was to add bitters, ice, and a name to tie it to the Sour family.
Will we ever know where the first recipe for the Pisco Sour came from? Maybe not. But for now we know its birthplace is Peru, and every year on the first saturday of february, we will celebrate its spirited past, by enjoying the taste of over 100 years of tradition in a glass. Cheers to Pisco, the oldest distilled spirit in the Americas, and cheers to over a centhury of the Pisco Sour cocktail. Salud!