In 2003, Peru established National Pisco Sour Day—an official government holiday—on the first Saturday in February. Since the love for Pisco Sours exceeds international boundaries, the rest of the world soon followed suit, recognizing the first Saturday in February as an international day of celebration for the South American staple.
While Peru is certainly the birthplace of International Pisco Sour Day, the history of the pisco sour cocktail is a bit murkier, with both Peru and Chile claiming pisco as their invention, and the pisco sour as their national drink.
Way back in the 1500s, Spanish settlers in Peru began distilling aguardiente—”fire water”—from fermented grapes, resulting in an unaged grape brandy. The spirit gained popularity, and Peru began exporting the drink in the mid-1700s. The aguardiente was exported from the Port of Pisco, located on Peru’s western coast, and sailors slangily began calling the aguardiente they got there “pisco”. The name stuck.
Soon, aguardiente being made in Chile also garnered the generic “pisco” moniker.
The pisco sour didn’t come on the scene until the 1920s, when (according to Peru’s version of events) Victor V. Morris, an American bartender, used pisco in a twist on a classic whiskey sour at Morris’ Bar in Lima. Soon, another bartender at Morris’—Mario Bruiget—put his own spin on the evolving drink by adding egg whites and Angostura bitters.
Morris’ Bar closed in 1929, but the popular pisco sour began popping up all over—from popular bars in Lima to hotspots in San Francisco and New York.
Some scholars now claim that Morris borrowed the idea for his cocktail from a 1903 Peruvian cookbook, which contained a cocktail recipe eerily similar to today’s Pisco sour. Chileans have claimed that Elliot Stubb created the cocktail as early as 1872 in the Chilean city of Iquique. (Though this has largely been disproved, Chileans hold vociferously to the claim that pisco and its most famous expression—the pisco sour—hail from their homeland.)
Luckily, there’s enough pisco for everyone. Try both versions and see which you like best! The Peruvian version of the Pisco Sour is made from a base of Peruvian pisco, and contains simple syrup, lime juice, egg whites, and bitters. A Chilean pisco sour is made from Chilean pisco and the juice of a pica lime (or a lemon), and skips the bitters and egg whites.
No matter which side of this fierce rivalry you stand on, celebrate your preferred pisco on the first Saturday in February—International Pisco Sour Day!
International Pisco Sour Day is typically celebrated worldwide.