Sour Grapes

By David Nelson/Photos by Brandon Matzek

July 22 is Peru’s National Pisco Day, and they’re celebrating in the nation’s capitol of Lima by filling a fountain with 2,000 liters of the white liquor. Talk about big gulp.

Like brandy, pisco is distilled from grapes, but it shares some of the feisty qualities of vodka and gin. Spanish settlers who arrived in Peru in the early 1500s invented the beverage when their vines first bore fruit, and it has lubricated festivities ever since.

Pisco flows freely at San Diego watering holes, ranging from ritzy rendezvous like the bar at George’s California Modern in La Jolla, to earthy joints like Sessions Public in Ocean Beach, conscientious cocktaileries like El Dorado and Noble Experiment, and Downtown’s new Saltbox. Although the Pisco Sour is the most familiar version of the drink (the plush 1920s-style cocktail gains a silky texture from being shaken with a raw egg white), local barkeeps tart things up with all kinds of tasty additions: lavender laps the Pisco Sour recently created by Sessions, while Noble Ex uses pisco to accent a summery Champagne refresher.

Working behind a bar decorated with Gerbera daisies, driftwood bowls filled with peaches and bananas, and bottles of rare bitters like Dandelion & Burdock from Scotland, Frankie Thaheld shakes a mean drink. As George’s official mixologist, he created the Andes Pisco Sour as a contemporary upgrade to the classic formula. And it kicks like a llama.

The most eye-catching, tongue-teasing and unorthodox ingredient in Thaheld’s mix is the sprinkling of safflower petals that float atop the foam like hot red rays harvested from the sunset over La Jolla Cove. The $13 cocktail is built with premium Pisco Logia from Ica, the center of Peruvian pisco distilling. It’s classy stuff and too expensive to fill a fountain with, but definitely worth diving into.

The Andes Pisco Sour (George’s California Modern)

In the Mix?1 ½ ounces premium Pisco, such as Pisco Logia
½ ounce Dimmi (an Italian aperitif)
¼ ounce Campari
¼ ounce simple syrup
½ ounce fresh lemon juice
1 egg white
3 drops Peychaud’s Bitters
Pinch of safflower petals
Classic Martini glass, chilled

Fill a shaker with ice, add all ingredients except safflower, then shake until thick and foamy. Strained into into glass, sprinkle with safflower and serve.