My spring travels in Peru with Campo de Encanto Pisco allowed me to richly deepen my pisco knowledge, from hands-on work in pisco production and blending, to witnessing broader uses of pisco in cocktails on Lima menus. I come from a city that has full-on pisco bars, a rarity in the US. Yet despite the range of pisco cocktails in SF, not until visiting Lima have I seen such a wide possibility for pisco in cocktails.
There’s far more versions of pisco sours, for one. The ubiquitous cocktail appears as aji amarillo (my favorite) or rocoto pepper sours, coca leaf sours, passion fruit sours, and so on.
I also learned that Peruvian limes make a superior Pisco Sour. More akin to key limes (best to use in lieu of the real thing, which we can’t get in the US), Peruvian limes are even more tart, acidic and vivacious, making the Sours at even a hole-in-the-wall or chain restaurant “pop”.
I became hooked on milk-based classics like the Algarrobina, a pisco cocktail mixing evaporated milk and egg yolk with Algarrobina, a syrup made from South American carob seeds. Creamy-frothy cinnamon-chocolate notes intermingle with subtle earthiness. Chilcanos or Cuzco Mules (essentially a highball of pisco, lime and ginger ale or ginger beer) are more common in Peru than even Pisco Sours, being both a simple and refreshing drink.
Produce from the vast array of what is available in the agricultural paradise of Peru is used in cocktails, whether purple corn or camu camu (a fruit native to the Amazon Rainforest, acidic, almost like the taste of sour cherry and lime).
Particularly delicious in Pisco Sours and more non-conventional cocktails is aguaymanto, a fruit reminiscent of a tomatillo in that it grows loosely wrapped in a paper-like skin. Also known as Peruvian cherry or cape gooseberry, the fruit is a golden yellow, pleasantly sweet and sour.
Alongside my best dining experiences in Lima, here are my top five cocktail bar recommendations:
1. Pitahaya Bar in Miraflores
Go for the stunning house alone: Pitahaya is a multi-room wonderland of lush velvet couches, chandeliers, dramatic chairs and couches sweeping the length of a room, gilded in gold. Each room and the patio are themed in different colors, my favorite room featuring a sexy, red velvet couch lining an entire wall, where our group staged an impromptu photo shoot.
Best of all, Franco Cabachi and crew are passionate about cocktails, studying recipes and techniques, experimenting with pisco, and even Tiki and whiskey-based cocktail classics, which are much harder to find in Peru.
2. Astrid y Gastón in Miraflores
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Gastón Acurio’s famed restaurant, Astrid y Gaston, is currently #1 in Worlds 50 Best Restaurants Latin America and getting ready to move to a new location. In keeping with the exquisite dishes, cocktails are likewise exquisite, among Lima’s best. Thankfully, there’s a casual bar where one can go just to enjoy cocktails (and dishes, if you wish) made with farm fresh produce unique to Peru, whether purple corn or aguaymanto.
3. Central in Miraflores
Central also houses a comfortable front bar from which one can drink and eat. Cocktails are thoughtful, employing flaming techniques and more use of the exuberant array of Peruvian produce.
4. La Emolientería in Barranco
La Emolientería, in the hip, edgy Barranco neighborhood (think tattoo parlors, vintage clothing and an eclectic demographic), is easily the most fun bar of my trip.
Open, airy, white walls are punctuated with dramatically colorful artwork, like a vibrant Chinese dragon or a painting, playful nodding to the harmony between Chile and Peru, who’ve warred for generations about pisco, among other things (see revamped WWII image below).
Drinks are simple and herbaceous, not particularly challenging or unusual (think basic sours and Mojito-type drinks), but delightful in a space that inspires good times.
5. Mayta in San Isidro
Bright and sunny, with clean white walls and black accents, celebrated restaurant Mayta has an impressive bar lined with jars of over 90 infused piscos, steeped with Peruvian fruits, vegetables and herbs.
You can sip straight infusions or ask for them in cocktails. Try ubiquitous coca leaves, litchi, camu camu, yucca, eucalyptus, ginger or any number of fascinating infusions.
They make Chilcanos and Pisco Sours from all infusions, offering a notable variety of cocktails.