Aguardiente Sour: A Gastronomic Tip for a Culture with No Taste

Alternate Title: An Ode to the Pisco Sour

Jump to the recipe.

Something inside compels me to check the price every time I see Antioqueño aguardiente at Tottus. And sometimes I just can’t help myself, like recently when it was going for $6, or 18,000 Colombian pesos.

I broke out two bottles for a drinking session with two Peruvian buddies. I realized my dilemma a short time before they arrived: we didn’t have any beer.


Colombians drink aguardiente, or “fire water” as they like to translate it, in shots. In fact, they’re not even full shots but what I call “halfskies” – half a shot glass. Given the aguardiente is only 27% alcohol – the sugar-free version is even lighter at 23% – a hard drinker like me may wonder why in hell would you only serve a half shot of something so weak.

The answer is that you simply take many more of them. You’re constantly pouring them, and you’re never too drunk that you have to decline a shot of “guaro.” Its softness is its strength.

But I’m not drinking halfskies all night if I don’t have beer to mix it with. In the refrigerator I found simple syrup and limes – the ingredients needed to make Pisco Sour. I decided to make Aguardiente Sours with guaro in place of pisco. And if you ever need to do something with aguardiente besides drinking it straight, try this.


  • 3 measures aguardiente
  • 2 measures syrup
  • 1 measure lime juice
  • 1 egg white
  • Ice
  • Bitters (optional)

Cut and squeeze your limes. In my early days I would’ve thought those Peruvian lime squeezers were for pussies, but the Peruvian limes have so many seeds and Pisco Sours already present so much work, and serious drinker will have one of these in their home.

In a blender, measure out three parts aguardiente, two parts simple syrup, one part lime juice and one egg white. Peruvian bartenders poke a hole in the eggshell to pour out the white. I might give somebody a slap if they did that in my kitchen. Just crack the egg and catch the yolk in one half of the shell. After most of the white has fallen in the blender, juggle the yolk onto the other half shell to get the rest of the white. If they yolk falls in the blender, you don’t have to start over. Just don’t tell anybody. The yolk has all the nutrition anyway.

If you run out of syrup, which I always do, mix sugar and water and boil until thick. Don’t listen to the online recipes telling you to mix it half and half, it won’t be sweet enough. Just boil it until it’s thick like syrup. In Peru where sugar isn’t white, it’ll look like this (above).

Add enough ice so that no cubes are floating, but no more. Blend and serve. Add two to 20 drops of bitters on top if desired.

I found some Aguardiente Sour recipes online (one, two). They call for orange juice in addition to lime juice, and are certainly too weak for an adult male. Colombian aguardiente is not strong enough to be adding an equal part of juice in addition to sugar unless you’re serving children. So drink my variant and, if you’re going to tweak it at all, add one more measure of aguardiente.

An Ode to the Pisco Sour

So the Peruvians liked the Aguardiente Sours, but they weren’t Pisco Sours. Fortunately one of the guests brought a bottle of pisco, so we ended up drinking Pisco Sours and shooting the aguardiente. We got good and twisted.

And I told my Peruvian pals how much I love Pisco Sours, and I’m generally just a beer guy. On special occasions beer with shots of whiskey. But in the last year I’ve taken to drinking Pisco Sours all night long. The only downside is that it’s a lot of work.

Pisco is distilled from grapes, so basically un-aged brandy. It is sometimes translated from Peruvian novels as “Peruvian brandy.” It can be harsh for some, especially the cheaper brands. The more expensive brands, however, are smoother and gaining traction in the global market.

I hated pisco during my first year in Peru because (A) I never took the time and effort to make Pisco Sours and (B) I never spent mixed it with anything but Sprite. What would you think of brandy and Sprite?

Bar Maury

Bar Maury in downtown Lima invented the Pisco Sour in the early 1900s when an American guest asked for a whiskey sour, but the bartender had no whiskey. Looking at the ingredients, you’d assume it’s like  a Peruvian margarita, sweet and foamy.

But they’re not “girly.” They are stronger than they taste, and if you don’t be careful they’ll put you on the floor. Wife and I spent Valentine’s Day 2014 in Arequipa to leave the baby with the in-laws. We rented a hotel room and suited up to have dinner at Zig Zag and later drinks at Museo del Pisco. I was knocking back their signature Pisco Sours like beers or cocktails, and I ended up hurling that night in the hotel room.

Suffice to say I don’t “hurl” any more. Probably not since college, until that Valentine’s Day in Arequipa drinking Pisco Sours. They will creep up on you.

Many cocktail bars in Peru serve variations like the Maracuya Sour and Chicha Sour with passionfruit juice or Chicha Morada in place of lime. I’ve experimented and these are OK. But nothing tops the classic with lime juice.

If you want to get your girl drunk, or you are a girl and want something sweet but strong, try an Algarrobina, which mixes pisco with black carob syrup and evaporated milk to make a cocktail similar to a chocolate martini. Above is the wife drinking one of those.

At the bullfights, where nobody has the time to do all the work required for a Pisco Sour, the most popular cocktail is the Chilcano – pisco with ginger ale and lime. I wouldn’t glorify it with a special name; I’d just call it brandy and ginger ale.

Do you have any recipes for aguardiente or pisco? Let us know in the comments.

I was once served an aguardiente creation which had lime and salt, and was served in a martini glass. No egg white. It was chilled, but served without ice. Do you have that recipe? Help us out here in Peru.



  1. Pisco is pretty close to Bolivian Singani which is also liqour distilled from grapes. Peruvian pisco has a more subtle taste but then again i haven’t had the cheaper brands. Bolivians also mix with sprite or ginger ale (called Chuflay) but make a few nice coctails that would work with pisco aswell:

    El Yungeño

    Suposedly invented by coca growing afro-bolivians in los yungas. Mix singani and orange juice and some grenadine if you have any. Tracionera.

    Ponche Boliviano

    San juan tradicion. Boil milk, cinnamon, clavo de olor and sugar. Add a few cups of singani. Great to keep you warm by the bonfire.

    Té con té

    Warm tea with lime juice and singani. Also great during the andean winter.


  2. Zac — weren’t you a bartender back in the States? You should be ashamed!

    Luis — very interesting. I’m going to keep an eye out. I’ll give Yungeño a shot if I ever get a hold of grenadine. Also “Afro-Bolivian” was a new term to me.


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