Sunday, November 20, 2011

Celebrating the Aloha Spirit with Pisco Sours


Sharing Pisco Sours on a rainy November night in Pāhoa, on Hawai‘i.

We just spent a week on the Big Island of Hawaii, soaking up the local flavors of its largest city, Hilo, with our friends Matthew and Danny. They own a farmhouse (it’s gorgeous and rentable) in the one-road-in-one-road-out town of Pahoa, just south of Hilo, where lava and alterna-hippie-anything-goes attitude flow freely. The region beckons you with extremeness: 99.99 inches of annual rainfall, in-your-face lush tropical foliage and the smells from ripening fruit, black sand beaches from past volcanic activity, and the glow from Kilauea’s hot maw rising like the proverbial Phoenix, reminding us that life is ever-changing and full of new beginnings.


Channeling the Aloha Spirit, courtesy of Paul on the bongos, and Danny cranking up Don Ho.

Matthew and Danny love to cook and mentioning the word cocktail to them brought instant smiles. You see, they were eager to open their pristine bottle of pisco puro they recently brought back with them from another extreme land, Peru. Deciding on what to make was easy. We would indulge in the classic Pisco Sour.

But, first a word about pisco. Simply put, it’s a grape brandy, usually made from a single variety of grapes, that has been aged for a minimum of three months in vessels that cannot alter its chemical properties (glass and stainless steel work very well to accommodate these stipulations). Some other piscos, called acholado (half-breed) are distilled from the must of several varieties of grapes. Still delicious, but different. (We make a Pisco and Tonic using an acholado that is a must-try.)

While Danny and Steve were out looking for a bottle of Angostura bitters in the torrential (we do not use this word lightly) downpour, Matthew and Paul couldn’t wait and cracked open the bottle. The smell was light, almost of sweet hay, and the flavor, exceptionally smooth, tasting of light acidic fruit. Matthew readied the blender and Paul chose the eggs (fresh from our friends’ backyard chickens) allowing them to come to room temperature before the other guys returned with the Grail. A note to our readers: You cannot make a successful Pisco Sour without the addition of bitters (some may disagree, but believe us when we say it adds needed depth). If it means scouring every corner store in your locale, then by all means gas up your car, make sure the stores are open, and go get it!


Matthew and Danny’s farmhouse, in Pāhoa.

Making a Pisco Sour can be a little messy, we’re not going to lie, because of the addition of egg white in the mix. Getting egg whites ultra-frothy can be likened to exercising with a shake-weight. If you don’t have a blender, you’ll definitely improve your triceps. But just follow our simple recipe below, and you’ll eventually get the hang of it (we’re assuming you’re going to fall head over slippahs for the Pisco Sour, with its slightly sweet, slightly tart smoothness flowing over your tongue, so you’ll be getting lot of practice).

When the drinks were blended and poured into some cute vintage rooster glasses (Matthew and Danny are the proud owners of two loud cocks), we raised a toast to friendship, took our first sips, and licked the barm from our lips and mustaches. Ahh, so satisfying. A few sips later, as we were enshrouded by the white noise of rain pelting the fertile earth, we raised our glasses again and spoke of new beginnings.


Pisco Sour
(adapted by Cocktail Buzz)

Serves 2

Ingredients
5 ounces pisco (try a puro)
1 1/2 ounces lime juice (you can use lemon juice as well, or a combination of both)
1 ounce rich simple syrup*
egg white from 1 large egg
8 ice cubes
Amargo Chuncho (traditional) or Angostura (widely available) bitters

* In a sauce pan over low heat, dissolve 1 cup sugar (preferably demerara or turbinado) in 1 cup water, stirring occasionally until all crystals have dissolved. Let cool and transfer to a clean, airtight container. May be kept in refrigerator for up to a month.

Method
In a Boston shaker (do not use a shaker with a removable strainer, as it will allow gas to build up and force the top to separate from the main vessel) add the pisco, juice, simple syrup, and egg white and shake vigorously for about a minute until the mixture gets slightly frothy. Then fill with ice and shake again vigorously for another minute. Strain into glasses. Add bitters drop by drop (four makes for a tasty pisco sour).

Alternatively, for a frothier drink, add the egg white to a blender and mix until foamy. Then add ice, and crush until it breaks up well. Then add the pisco, juice, and syrup and blend until smooth (or as smooth as you can get it—not all blenders are made equally). You will have a lot of froth. Pour into glasses and add bitters drop by drop. Drag a toothpick through the drops to create pretty patterns.


Come to think of it, the garden salads that Danny is famous for went well with the Pisco Sours. The addition of avocado added creaminess.

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