Politics of the Pisco Sour

Chile is well-known for its wines, which form a significant part of the travel experience. But wine is not the national drink of Chile. Rather, it is the pisco sour, the base of which is a grape brandy, pisco, to which is added fresh lemon or pica lime juice and a dash of syrup.

Things are not as simple as they seem, however. Pisco is also the national spirit of Peru. Both countries claim to be the place of origin of the famous cocktail, and the rivalry is intense. In fact, Peru has even designated the first Saturday in February as Pisco Sour Day and made it a national holiday. Peru has fought a series of wars against Chile going back to the early 1800s, and its inhabitants do not take kindly to appropriations of any kind by their neighbor.

A pisco sour
A pisco sour - peffan/iStock/Getty Images

The Peruvian pisco sour uses Peruvian pisco as the base liquor and, as well as lime juice and syrup, includes egg white and Angostura bitters. In 2013, the European Commission acknowledged Peru’s claim to be the geographical origin of pisco. Many accounts of the pisco sour date back to the American expatriate Victor V. Morris. His bar in Lima opened in 1916, and there are numerous references to the pisco sour being served there in the 1920s.

None of this cuts much ice with the Chileans, however, who argue that they have the first commercial trademarks and legal recognition of the spirit. Chile takes pisco production very seriously, and the brandy must be made in the country’s two official D.O. (Denomination of Origin) regions — Atacama and Coquimbo — established in 1931 by the government. In addition, Chilean distilleries are required to grow their own grapes and are grouped into two categories based on aromatic expressiveness: Muscat types are very fragrant, while Pedro Jiménez, Moscatel de Asturia and Torontel are more subtle.

So whether in Chile or Peru, American travelers are well-advised to be diplomatic. In both countries, the pisco sour is an extremely touchy subject. Imbibe, enjoy, but on no account discuss!


Read more about our editor’s trip to Chile

By Hideaway Report Editor Hideaway Report editors travel the world anonymously to give you the unvarnished truth about luxury hotels. Hotels have no idea who the editors are, so they are treated exactly as you might be.
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