Chilcano: A Pisco Cocktail That’s Not Too Sour

This amazing summer drink makes you wonder why the South Americans have been pushing Pisco Sours all these years.

The most popular way to drink pisco, a Chilean or Peruvian grape brandy, is in a Pisco Sour: a frothy concoction of pisco, simple syrup, lime juice, egg white, and bitters. I tried one in Chile on my 21st birthday, and didn’t order another until a trip to Peru five years later. It’s not my thing.

So when I recently received* a very big, fancy bottle of Pisco, I figured I better find another way to drink it. I got on Skype, and consulted with my Peruvian friend Franko, who had just returned to his desk after lunch in Lima.

From Franko:

FG: Hooooooola! The history of the pisco is very old. Many people take it straight, like a shot. But is very good for cocktails! I think around the world it is in fashion to drink it in the Pisco Sour. There is another cocktail called Chilcano - this is what I drink! To prepare the Chilcano you need: Pisco, ginger ale (Canada Dry or other brand), ice, lemon, syrup and bitters. Are you ready?

JA: Yes!

FG: Ok, let’s go:
You have a long glass, like the one you use for a vodka-tonic.
In the glass put 4 or 5 ice cubes.
Then you put the pisco.
Then you put the juice of half of the small lemon.
Then 2 or 3 drops of bitters, and then you put the ginger ale.
Then you put in the glass a slice of lemon.

This is the way I prepared and it is dry. If you want more sweet, put a little bit of simple syrup before you put the ginger ale.

Use the green ones!

By itself, I thought the pisco tasted more like a smooth sipping tequila than brandy. I made my first Chilcano at home, as I was getting dressed for the night. (Any drink simple enough for a solo pre-party gets bonus points.) Then, I poured some of the pisco into a glass jar, and brought it to my boyfriend’s for further tasting.

I had asked him to pick up not only some Canada Dry ginger ale, but also some San Pellegrino sodas like Limonata and Aranciata, just in case the traditional Chilcano was an epic fail.

I made cocktails with each of the sodas, and although the Aranciata mixture was delicious, my friend Mike said it best: “If this was Iron Chef the ginger ale version wins, because the featured ingredient (pisco) is paramount.”

“Yeah,” said my boyfriend, by way of super-critical assessment. “I could drink a lot of that.”

I liked the way lots of lime juice balanced out the sweetness of the ginger ale, which was dangerously easy-drinking! So, we made a giant to-go jar, and arrived at a rooftop party just as all the beer was running out. Everyone was pretty happy to see us.

Good…but the Canada Dry was better!

Tips for Lazy and Creative Boozers
• After much deliberation and link-exchanging, Franko and I decided that by “lemon” he meant lime. (The limón, lemon, lime thing causes endless confusion in my South American recipe exchanges.) I’ve seen this recipe with key-limes, but I just got regular limes from the bodega on the corner. Definitely nothing fancy.

• I used Schweppes for my first Chilcano, because that was the ginger ale available at the corner bodega, and the cocktail was a little too sweet-tart for me. Take Franko’s advice and go for Canada Dry. It tasted more clean and crisp.

• I didn’t think it needs simple syrup at all.

• CONFESSION: I completely forgot the bitters. But when I make this again, I’ll use Citrus Hella Bitters, cause it’s hella delicious and I already have a bottle.

The final recipe.

*This came in the mail from someone whose job it is to promote Pisco. This is the first time I’m writing about anything that came as a free sample. Readers, if something is gross, I won’t write about it — unless of course, it is so gross it’s comical, or everyone should be warned. And on the flip side, things don’t taste better to me because they’re free. They may even have to work harder, because I’m sipping and thinking, “Would I pay for this?”

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