In this episode of “Cocktail College,” host Tim McKirdy dives into the Pisco Sour, a Peruvian drink whose staple ingredient is right there in the name. He is joined by award-winning bartender and Speed Rack co-founder Lynnette Marrero.
The Pisco Sour is the perfect cocktail to pair with a meal, which is exactly what Marrero does at Nikkei-inspired NYC restaurants Llama San and Llama Inn. She and McKirdy discuss how this classic South American drink gained popularity in the United States, the various styles of pisco to choose from, and the best ways to incorporate egg whites into the cocktail for the ultimate velvety texture.
Lynnette Marrero’s Classic French 75 Recipe
- 1 ounce cane simple syrup (2:1)
- ½ ounce fresh lemon juice
- ½ ounce fresh lime juice
- 2 ounces pisco, ideally acholado or quebranta
- 1 egg white
- Garnish: Angostura bitters
- Add all ingredients (minus Angostura) to a Boston shaker and dry shake without ice until all ingredients are well incorporated.
- Add ice and shake until chilled.
- Strain half of the cocktail into a chilled coupe glass. Allow to settle for a moment, then slowly top with the rest of the drink.
- Garnish with a few dashes of Angostura bitters.
CHECK OUT THE CONVERSATION HERE
Tim McKirdy: My name is Tim McKirdy, and this is VinePair’s “Cocktail College” podcast. I am thrilled to be joined by Lynnette Marrero. Lynnette, welcome and thank you for joining us.
Lynnette Marrero: Thanks for having me. I love going back to college.
T: Especially when the topic is drinks, right?
L: 100 percent. I would have aced it without studying.
T: That’s a win/win situation right there. Let’s dive right into today’s drink, the Pisco Sour. I think that a lot of people who see your name on the lineup will be very happy to see and hear that we’re discussing this drink today.
L: I love this cocktail. It’s kind of funny to think that this drink has almost become my crusade for the last seven years since opening Llama Inn in 2015. It’s a cocktail that I was introduced to a long time ago, actually at the Flatiron Lounge, so really when I first started in cocktails. And it’s funny when a drink comes back to you full circle, and then you get to live in it and understand it and grow with it.
T: You’re definitely the perfect person to be chatting with about this today. From the get-go, what are some things that are notable or really stand out about the Pisco Sour?
L: What’s really amazing about it is that many people are drinking it without knowing anything about pisco. They’re enjoying it because it’s a really food-friendly cocktail. It’s velvety, and the nature of pisco makes it a very comfortable sour cocktail. You’re not jumping into a Whiskey Sour, which you have to buy into a little bit more because of the heavier ingredients. You’re going to try and delve a little bit into this balanced cocktail that’s really meant to go with food, that can be very visually appealing, and it’s the one that always looked a little more delicate. When we were starting to drink sours, it was the one that came in the prettier glass. It would often be served up rather than on the rocks, alternately, like a lot of Whiskey Sours are. And plus, people get really creative with adding something that accents the floral nature of pisco. You get a lot of it, but I think people are just enamored with it. I’ve found lots of different ways to keep getting people to try new styles of Pisco Sours with very colorful ingredients, which are kind of iconic and signature to what we do with the Llamas.
T: Amazing. Another thing to tack onto that, too, is that the name of the spirit is in the name of the cocktail. It’s the first and maybe the only pisco cocktail that folks might be aware of or are exploring. It shouldn’t be, but it’s definitely the first. I have a question for you about pisco, because this is a conversation that I’ve had with some folks before. It strikes me as interesting that it hasn’t really taken off yet as much as it could or perhaps should have in the U.S. If a spirit is going to take off, the idea of having an iconic drink attached to it is very helpful, you would imagine. The name of the spirit is in the drink. We can get into things, and I hope we will, like terroir and sense of place. It’s made from natural ingredients, right? Pisco has all of this stuff, but I think it’s still got a fair amount of work to do here in the U.S. What’s your take on that?
L: Until recently, or the last few years, Peru was still a very distant place. We’re looking at distillates from places, and I like to think of pisco in a way that’s like mezcal and agave spirits, because that really is about where it’s from and how I’m how the ingredients shine through. They’re using the same types of grapes and the same arsenal, but how they’re put together can be different. The axis of going to Mexico for Americans is a lot easier. Until the last, I would say, eight years, you see more tourists going to Peru and bringing back bottles that are not just the one that’s in the tourist shop. Which is the black opaque bottle, and you don’t really know what’s in there. It’s been a long journey of seeing piscos hold strong and keep to who they are, and showing how beautiful the actual spirit is. It’s hard to start branching out of things that are just Quebranta, but you do now see the single varieties like Torentel and Moscatel coming into the market. Because people can understand now that they can have a range within this one spirit. I think it just takes that moment. What I love is that this generation of cocktail fans are really invested in where things come from, why they’re made, and stories go further. That’s given us a lot of opportunity to kind of preach the gospel of pisco.
T: One thing you mentioned there that’s very important is Peruvian cuisine and also tourism in general. I stopped working as a chef in 2015, and I was in Buenos Aires in Argentina. That seemed like the hottest destination in the world for chefs that I knew who wanted to go and learn. People wanted to go to Lima, and that definitely helps pisco and the Pisco Sour. But I guess it’s this thing, like you said, that’s happened in the past eight years. So it’s amazing.
L: Exactly. To your point, with the 50 best bars in Latin America, the largest percent of restaurants were from Peru. The range of styles are helpful, as you see all these really beautiful, cultural cuisines starting to become more honored and get these accolades. It’s not just French and Italian, we’re branching out. There’s that connection to these places, the stories, and then the food and drink. And the Pisco Sour originally was in a 1903 cookbook, and that’s very common. I’m Puerto Rican and I have the oldest benchmark cookbook. In the back is where you see your Coquito recipes. That drink section is so important to a Latin household and how you put together your whole meal. So the fact that the Pisco Sour was there is great. We’ve also seen the evolution of cocktail bars and restaurants, and how that has grown. As those two things have grown together, I think that has actually given access to more spirits types and just more flexibility with how people enjoy them throughout a meal. Because it’s different than being in a cocktail bar, right? Maybe the things you want at certain times are very different. The weather is important. It’s cold in New York right now, so we tend to be dark, brooding, warm, a wintery kind of stirred drink. But when you’re in a restaurant, you’re playing with so many different other things; the ambiance, music. You can kind of get transported to a place. The Pisco Sour does that in cocktail form.
T: This is a quick like sidebar here, but you mentioned the Pisco Sour being really part of the meal in a way. And also how cocktail bars are merging with restaurants. I just want to say, for the record, one of the great experiences I’ve had here in New York is at Llama San. I asked one of your bartenders if they could do paired cocktails along with the menu in half portions because it’s a tasting menu. Oh my God, that was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had in New York City.
L: We’re so proud of that, thank you. There is something interesting about where Pisco comes from. Dining in Lima, you have this really beautiful environment where people are very comfortable asking for a cocktail through a meal. Why I love the Pisco Sour and how we’ve reinvented in many different ways on our menus, is to think of how we can even make that even more food-friendly, how it goes with the menu, and how we’re playing with ingredients from the kitchen. Each one of the Llamas opened with its iconic Pisco Sour. Starting with Llama Inn when we opened in November 2015, I started with the Flying Purple Pisco, which was about thinking of the texture of a Pisco Sour and what I could do to add more velvety texture. I worked with a chef and I was like, “I want to make purple potatoes. I don’t know why. I want to add potato texture here, and I want to have this beautiful, smooth mouthfeel.” I worked on that and made this beautiful purple Pisco Sour with a gorgeous little white foam on top. And then we put nutmeg and the chuncho bitters on top, and it’s super visual. At Llama San, we really got into the Nikkei, which has influences from Japan as well, and was working with split-basing that cocktail with a green tea shochu and the coconut-infused pisco, and then adding matcha. There was a little bit of yuzu mixed in with our lime. So that’s a really fun way of, again, connecting it to the cuisine. It lowered the proof a little bit because the food is a little more delicate when you look at that. So we are really playing with ABV, textures, and all those different things.
Breaking Down The Pisco Sour
T: Wonderful. Let’s dive into the classic Pisco Sour, but also those riffs, too. What are you looking for from the perfectly executed version of the drink? What are you expecting from the glass?
L: I would start with the challenges. The biggest challenge is the citrus note. Here in the U.S., we’re not getting the perfect little sweet limónes that you would get in Peru. Those are like limes, but they’re almost a little sweet; they’re tiny, they’re delicious. We’ve always adapted to doing a split-base of lemon and lime, and that’s something that I learned back at Flatiron. It kind of has traveled through the cocktail culture. As everyone was trying to replicate these drinks from the old books, we all kind of aligned that it was half lemon, half lime to try to achieve this perfect limóne. Then the second thing would be the sugar, which comes into play when you’re working with the citrus. That one thing is the biggest thing; are you going to do a lemon or lime? And I think we’ve branched out of just half-half lemon/lime and have started playing with things. Well, OK, what if I’m using a key lime? What if I’m using, like we do, a little yuzu? What if I’m using Mandarin? Or what if I’m using Meyer lemons? It’s a way of playing with that citrus to get that perfect taste. I’ve been dreaming about a Mandarin Pisco Sour. It’s the perfect citrus season, so all the different variations that you can work with are out there. Check out all the beautiful fruit right now. I think there’s that one balance. Working at Llama San, I have a bigger range of things like satsuma and all these different citrus fruits to work with to balance. So that’s the first place I start, what that balance is going to be. It’s important to taste those. Then the second part is our sugar. That makes a big difference. If I’m using a one-to-one simple that is more equal parts water and sugar, it’s not going to stand up to all the elements in the same way. So I like to use a rich simple. We actually use a lot of cane sugar that we make in house with them. Or sometimes like this summer, when I was doing something really fun and fortifying a rich simple with eucalyptus to bring out this mintiness that you would have. I’m embracing the high altitude of Peru, like what would you have if you were like hiking up Machu Picchu and needed a Pisco Sour to revive you? Maybe you’d want it with some beautiful eucalyptus that opens everything up. So playing with that sugar source. There was a point where a lot of people were using gum syrup to work with it. I don’t necessarily think you need it. It’s always great if you have it. But you can achieve the same thing with a good quality sugar that’s rich.
T: What is gum syrup giving you? For those that aren’t aware of it, for those who haven’t worked with it before, what is that giving you that you might not get from a standard like simple syrup or other sweetening agents?
L: Gum arabic gives you silkiness. When I was talking about that silkiness that I wanted to get with potato, you can also get that with the gum arabic. You can buy gum syrups out there. A fun thing to play around with is Small Hand’s Pineapple Gum and making yourself a Pineapple Pisco Sour with that. It’s delicious.
T: That sounds wonderful.
L: You can do that at home. You can actually research some recipes if you want to make gum arabic at home. You just have to go online and get the stuff that you need for it. But for simplicity, like I said, cane sugar will do a really good job with that. It’s about balancing the recipe. In Peru, they do 3 ounces of pisco, 1 ounce of the limónes, and 1 ounce of sugar. So it’s definitely a hotter drink. Where I’m like, we need a tone that goes down a little bit. Let’s get to 2 ounces and play with that. Then the last part is choosing what kind of pisco I want. Typically, I’ll reach for actual Acholado first. I’m just kind of bringing that mixture of the different varieties. I am going to do Quebrante or I’m going to do Moscatel, which has caramel-y sort of notes.
T: These are the names of the grapes, since pisco is a grape-based distillate.
L: Yes, exactly.
T: And these are the names of the grape varieties. Say folks are approaching a bottle of pisco for the first time, or they’re not that familiar with it and they know what pisco is. What are some things they should be looking out for on the label? And what do they signify?
L: Great. I use the word Acholado, which means “mixed.” So that’s going to be one that uses all of the different grapes. Pisco goes through a very lengthy process. There are, I think, eight different grapes you can use. We typically will see the Acholados and the Quebranta in the U.S. Luckily, because people have started to see that we are enjoying more spirits, you see Italias come in, you’ve seen Torentel, you’ll see Muscatels. So you see these aromatic grapes coming in. You have to taste them and see what really speaks to you. Traditionally, if you look for a good Quebranta, that’s going to be your starting point. There are some really cool brands out now. Certain brands will have an extension, like Barsol and 1615. Macchu Pisco always has their La Diablada, and sometimes they’ll have the marks of Italia. All these are, like wine, based on the availability of grapes. Sometimes you’ll see that Cappuro also has their vintages labeled. We actually have a beautiful collection that we’ve amassed from being able to taste piscos from different years, and see how they’ve evolved in bottle. You’ll be comfortable if you get a Quebranta or an Ancholado. Suyo Pisco just recently launched a single-origin pisco. They are trying to really work on this idea, which I really like what they’re doing. They’re meeting the farmers and working in this way that I feel like agave has done with mezcal, where you want to know who these smaller producers are. They bring them together and work in a co-op model to get their grapes into bottles and then get them to the consumer. That’s been really cool to see how they have been working and that method, which is going to start bringing some really cool distillates here.
T: I really love what they’re doing as well. If you want to talk about making any spirit for a moment here, it’s such a difficult undertaking in itself. But imagine not being based in the U.S., then trying to get into the U.S. as a market. And even just trying to understand the different system of distribution we have here, it’s absolutely insane. I think what they’re doing is amazing. Their first release actually featured in our Top 50 Spirits list last year, so we’re big fans here at VinePair. Suyo Pisco, check them out.
L: I love their stories. They’re young Peruvians who want to bring their national spirit to a new audience. In general, that’s kind of where you’re seeing the gastronomy with all of it. If you go into our restaurants, you see people who are drinking Pisco Sours, it’s everybody. It’s not a particular type of person. It is so friendly, and everyone can really enjoy it. You’ll delve into it. Personally, I love Italia Pisco Sour because I love the Italia grape. I like how it gets a little greenness, it brings some brightness. It has this beautiful florality. If you look at Mosto Verde, which you’ll see on certain bottles, that is a green must if you’re looking at it. Those can have a little more roundness and a perceived sweetness to your palate. If you want something less dry, those would be ones you would look at. But I really respect the pisco producers who have been working so hard for so long. To your point, at Bar Convent Brooklyn last year, being able to see them all in a room, taste through the different varieties really gives you a perspective. Like, what kind of styles people want, the grapes used. That’s a huge part of it. I love when you can look at a product that is so based in agriculture, and then tasting the vintages from year to year, how the yields are. How it’s working, again, to support farmers who are doing the right things. I respect when I see those kinds of practices happening. I hope that more people try pisco and more people support this spirit. It really is something that, once you get into it, you can start to really geek out. And its subtleties of flavor, right? It’s not going to hit you on the head with distinctions between them; you have to start training your palate. But you’ll start noticing that there is this beautiful uniqueness between them. And that’s what I think is really special.
T: Amazing. Just one final question for folks who are trying to get into it and start to geek out. Would you say that for folks approaching it from a wine perspective, it’s therefore a better idea to taste the difference between varieties rather than start looking at vintages or whatnot? Because there’s going to be more differences there.
L: 100 percent. Start with your grapes. A good comparison is to try the Mosto Verde version of the same grape. You can kind of see how the different ways of distilling is going to give you that subtle difference. So it’s about how it’s produced. And I think that’s really cool. Some people will keep them in bottle longer. Nothing’s barrel aged, that’s one of the Peruvian rules, so people often will age and bottle. Some people feel that pisco doesn’t even hit its prime until it’s been aged in a tank for six years.
T: So we’re seeing some evolution when it comes to even being in an inert container, like glass?
L: Yes, 100 percent. You’re seeing this interesting kind of evolution of this spirit. There’s some incredible piscos that you can try that are maybe $100 for a 500-milliliter bottle, and they are gorgeous. They are using pounds and pounds of grapes to make this one bottle. The flavor, the richness, the aromatic, and all the things that you want out of it are captured there. So it’s pretty incredible.
T: Like you said, if you got into mezcal, the profiles are different, but this is the next frontier to really geek out over. I think there’s a lot of similarities there.
L: To your point, it’s a little more subtle, right? But when you’re tasting it, you will get things like those vegetal notes, you’ll get cut grass. And then you’ll taste another one, like that Moscetel that blew my mind. It has that hint of beautiful caramel toffee, and it’s from grapes. And you’re like, “How does this flavor come out of this?” It’s just really beautiful. I was like, oh, that’d be great with the dessert on our menu. So that’s the fun part. But I think, in the next few years, it is going to be about playing around with the single varieties and even working in styles of drinks that are not sours. With the sours, you’re putting a lot of other things in, so you can mask up a lot of the flavor. Depending on which one you have, that’s where you’re balancing your sugar and your citrus to really bring out its characteristics. We have a variation on a Vesper at Llama Inn that is pisco and reposado tequila. So changing out pisco for the gin, the reposado for vodka — but not really — and it’s a great drink. That’s a fun thing. So we’ve been doing a lot with split-basing pisco with other spirits, and they play well together, and they both bring something to the party.
T: Amazing. When it comes to approaching the classic Pisco Sour, not the riffs, is there anything you would like to add here in terms of your considerations when selecting which pisco to use first? Is that your first consideration? Or is it actually the citrus and sweetener, like you mentioned before? Where are you going first when you’re building this cocktail classically?
L: Well, I usually have a really good benchmark, my workhorse, in every category. Usually an Acholado or Quebranta are the two that I would have as my benchmarks for building cocktails with. I decide which one of those I want, and then I play around with them from there. Every brand has a different style. So I start there first, and then I’m layering in that citrus and the sugar element. Like I said, I really have gone completely the other way. I used to be like, It’s fine, simple, you just kind of balance it out. But I really think that a two-to-one or a cane really is the way to go to perfect this cocktail, because I do think you need all that texture from the sugar. And again, the citrus has to be as fresh as it can be. That is my biggest key. Whether using half lemon, half lime, or a little more lime, maybe you need three-quarter lime, one-quarter lemon, whatever your balance and whatever you prefer, it has to be as fresh as can be. When they make ceviche, for example, they squeeze the limes with tongs to get no white pith. So it’s super pure and sweet. Think about that, how you’re extracting your juice. Maybe a hand press is best if you’re doing it a home. If you’re doing in the bar, I know it’s not practical. We don’t hand-press our juice for sure. But that’s where I balance between the lemon and lime to try to achieve a profile. And that’s where the rich cane actually helps me in a high-volume setting, to balance. And then, we can’t forget bitters. Bitters are very important. The Chuncho Bitters, which are the Amargo bitters that you get in Peru, are really hard to find. Sometimes you can find them on Amazon or someplace. But if you can’t find them, Angostura is a perfectly fine substitute.
T: We’re using this as the garnish on top?
L: The garnish on top, but it also adds flavor. It’s bringing something to the party. You can always take Angostura bitters, too, and blend that with some whiskey barrel-aged bitters to get a slight touch of what you want from the Amargo bitters. The aromatics are slightly different, but you’ll be OK. Nothing will be lost or ruined just by using traditional aromatic bitters.
T: The last component of the drink here, and a very important one, is egg white. This is a shaken cocktail. I really want to dive into this with you. I forgot who said this to me, it was a bartender. They said that, with the exception of the Pisco Sour, they felt like drinkers across the board and bartenders, too, are kind of moving away from egg whites for various different reasons, with the exception of the Pisco Sour. It has to be in there all the time. Let’s chat about it. Tell me everything I need to know about egg whites in this context.
L: Egg whites are so important to this drink. It’s that velvety texture you get. It’s binding all those ingredients. I think it makes this cocktail a culinary cocktail. If you look at those drinks, it was in cookbooks, this is where it started, and that’s where its DNA aligns. At the restaurant, we separate them for the shift, because if we were cracking an egg per cocktail, we’d be very slow and we’re pumping out way too many Pisco Sours. With something like that, if you are preparing it for an event or are having a few friends at home, you want to set it up for them as fresh as possible. Break them for the day, put them in a little squeeze bottle. I use about three-quarters of an ounce to an ounce of egg white per cocktail. That sounds like a lot to people. They’re like, “Oh my goodness.” It’s actually quite balanced with my two-one-one recipe. Two parts pisco, 1 part of my citrus blend, 1 part of my sugar, and then I have that three-quarter to 1 ounce of my egg. That really depends on how thick your eggs are. Egg whites are just as temperamental as everything else you get. So I don’t like using the egg whites that are pre-separated or pasteurized. I have used the Modernist Pantry Egg White Powder. I have used it and actually I’ve been very successful reconstituting those. If you’re a little bit afraid or you want to have “good eggs,” that’s the key. But the Modernist Pantry does constitute really nicely, I recommend using a hand blender to make it. That’s more if you’re doing an event and you’re like, “I don’t have time to crack 40 eggs,” that’s a good way. I was really happy to see that that works so well. There’s a whole bunch of things about blender, no blender, milkshake machines, no milkshake machines. You can use a hand blender if you want to, if you’re making them in large batches. I think that really works.
T: For whipping it?
L: For whipping the egg white, yes.
T: Before we jump into building it, I want to ask you a question. You mentioned three-quarters to an ounce of egg white. How much, roughly, in terms of volume are we looking at from a standard egg white? If you are putting that into a plastic squeezy bottle, like you say, are you ever so slightly incorporating the egg whites, or do you not want to do that because it might start breaking down the structure of them? What’s the process there? This is fascinating.
L: We just kind of get a big old container and we separate them out. It’s approximately one normal size, not jumbo, egg per cocktail. That comes out to three-quarters to an ounce.
T: OK, so that’s like one egg white.
L: Yeah, approximately one egg white. I do like being able to separate them out. I’ve been converted to that, because you can actually have better quality control of your eggs. Sometimes, the white congealed part can be tossed out, and keep a nice, pure, easy-to-measure product. And you’re not dealing with potentially getting eggshell in your drink.
T: This harks back to my days of poaching eggs for brunch in restaurant service. People have all these techniques with vinegar. Should you salt the water, is it going to break it down? Ultimately, you just need fresh eggs, right? If you crack an egg, you will see this with older eggs, you will get water literally going off, and then the rest of the egg white will hopefully hold together. I find it interesting because they do hold together in structure.
L: It can be intimidating. When people are trying to separate the egg and go back and forth with the yolk to get the white out, it terrifies people. But don’t worry about it, you get used to it. If you’re doing it at home, save those yolks, there are lots of recipes that you can use with those later. But I do find that it’s actually very zen work to separate.
T: Also a tip. I don’t know how hygienic this is, so take it with a pinch of salt. But you can use the, if you get some yolk in there, the shell is the best thing to take things out with.
L: Fair, because the shell is intact. Obviously, wash your eggs before you do all these things. It’s pretty simple.
T: Keep them in the fridge if you’re here in the U.S.
L: Exactly, which is so bizarre. This is where we’ll go into conversation about temperature and getting the eggs to bind at certain temperatures. Obviously, we have to keep our egg whites completely cold.
T: Which is not ideal.
L: It’s not ideal. This is where we get into dry shake versus reverse dry shake. I’m definitely a dry shake first type of person, because I hit my alcohol and everything while that’s still room temperature. Before it gets to the ice component, because I do think it needs just to chill down the temperature of that egg, let it really emulsify. If you’re building rounds of drinks, it makes it a lot easier to dry shake that Pisco Sour while you’re building your stirred drinks and all of that. Because you can sit there and take plenty of time to shake it. It’s light, you can go with your non-dominant hand and shake away, get it as frothy as you want. When you’re ready, then you’re going to add the ice, shake it and serve it. I’ve tried all the different ways, and I’m just stuck on dry shake. It’s just the way I’m going to be.
Lynnette Marrero’s Take on the Pisco Sour
T: Love it. So talk us through that build for your classic Pisco Sour from start to finish, from build to serve.
L: I’m going to start, obviously, with my two tins. If you’re not using a cobbler shaker, which is all in one, I have my two tins. I’m going to build in my small tin with my big tin in the back. I’m going to go ahead and start in the small tin. I’m going to add my two-to-one cane sugar syrup, which I prefer. I do an ounce of it because I do think it needs enough of that to bind. Then, I’ll have a half-ounce of fresh lemon juice, half-ounce fresh lime juice. I’m just doing it’s very standard. So now that’s one-to-one, which Peruvians might think is a little too sour; they prefer more sugar. You can always adjust for guests and add a little more sugar if you want. I would lean into trying Mosto Verde if someone wants a floral kind of Pisco Sour that will kind of trick your mind into thinking it’s sweeter. I put that in there, and then I’m going to add in 2 ounces of my pisco, Acholado or Quebranta, typically. And then in my back tin, I’m going to go ahead and separate my egg on its own. I put that in the back tin, because I’m doing it by hand with the yolk. If I actually get yolk in, either I can use a shell to pull it out or I can just start with another egg and I’m not messing up the rest of the drink. When we’re building in a bar, or even if you’re at home, and you’re making drinks while you’re also cooking and getting anything done, I don’t want that egg white to react with everything else until I’m ready. Putting it in that back tin gives me time until I get everything else needed done. Then, I will go ahead and combine those two together and dry shake. With the dry shake, for me, it’s mostly about getting air on it. I don’t think it necessarily takes more time or less time. It’s really just about getting enough aeration. Sometimes, the size of your cocktail shaker will be your nemesis with this. I like using the tin on tin, because I do get more air going through. If you have a cobbler, then you have to hard shake it a bit more. Or, try a wider cobbler that has more surface area. I’m not a scientist, but I feel like it just needs that action with the more space it has to interact within. I’ll add my ice and then I’ll go ahead and shake that again and get it nice and frothy. After I shake it, I pour some. I let it sit for just a quick couple of seconds to let it settle again, and then I keep topping off and getting the rest of that beautiful, foamy, wonderful Pisco Sour out. Some people will do a double strain. If you can close the gate on your Hawthorne strainer well enough, I prefer not to. If you get a cup of little ice chips, I don’t think it’s bad for it, but I want to make sure I’m getting enough of the foam that’s coming out onto the top of the drink. And I feel like sometimes, a double strainer takes away some of the things that I want.
T: All that effort you just put into getting this incredible texture is gone.
L: I’m a big fan of using the fine strainer for lots of other cocktails. Just use your Hawthornes the proper way. For anyone out there who doesn’t know, the Hawthorne strainer is the one that has the coils on it. You have the handle, and then there’s a piece of metal that’s sticking up. You can use your index finger, put it on the top of your shaker, and then just keep pressing that forward. You’ll see that the metal will come out over the springs. So you have the springs holding on to the rounded curvature of the shaker. Then, that metal piece comes out, and that’s helping you get the best strain. So you’ll be able to get really good straining; you just have to practice closing the gate.
T: So you’re completely closing that?
L: I’m going all the way, and then I can release it as I need to, if I have more foam that’s waiting. It’s the way of using that tool to the best of its abilities.
T: Are you straining into a coupe glass? And talk us through the bitter application as well, because that’s something I struggle with. I turn my Angostura and it’s either that nothing comes out of it or all comes out. How do you control that?
L: You’re straining into a coupe. We like to use these sour glasses that are a little more curved. They’re really very pretty. Then you’re going to put your bitters on top. I like using those more control dashers, like Japanese dashers, because it is a little bit of a finer line, to your point. Every other dasher is different. The Angostura, specifically, has its own style than any other aromatic bitter. It’s flat and round, you just can’t get it the same, in my opinion. It’s funny, because a few years ago, Angostura started actually selling caps that fit on their bottles.
T: So they’re acknowledging it.
L: Yeah, they know. They’re like, “OK, we need a uniform dasher.” I like to start off to one side of my glass and prepare myself to do a line across. It’s a very quick flick of your hand across the top, and you try to get a line. If not, it’s much easier to do three dots, and then you can take those dots and use a toothpick and turn them into a little fleur-de-lis. You can have fun with your bitters. If you really want to, you can get a sprayer on your bitters and get a little cut out and play with your bitters. Maybe you can make a Wu-Tang sign on your Pisco Sour.
T: Two things that go very well together. That motion, watching you do that one-line motion, made me think that maybe if you’ve started making a lot of sourdough during the pandemic and you do the whole bread cut thing. That’s the motion you had going there.
L: It’s the motion. It’s a very quick flick of your wrist. You have to be very quick, fast, and be confident. Do it on a surface that you’re OK mopping up, because bitters do stain. Maybe like a dark cutting board.
Final Thoughts on the Pisco Sour
T: Well, amazing. That’s a wonderful overview. Actually, it’s more than an overview. It’s a deep dive on the drink. I’m just wondering if you have any other thoughts on the Pisco Sour to share with us today. If not, I have another question that’s quasi-related.
L: Yeah, I’m just kind of giving you the perspective of using the machines to make it happen. I think that this is an important part. If you have a sour on your menu, or you’re making it at home this summer and you don’t want to be hand-shaking every single one, I like those milkshake whipper machines. They have that little handle on it that’s going to emulsify your eggs. You can even use those little cafe whippers, which also make your life easy. It’s just about getting that emulsification. You can build in those tins quite a bit. Now, this is the one time when I’m using those that I will put a little bit of crushed ice in. If we’re building in a milkshake tin, and we’re doing this for volume, I want to be able to have three Pisco Sours in that 16-ounce metal tin. So I build them, and I put about probably a quarter-cup of crushed ice. That’s going to emulsify into the drink. And I do that because, for one, it’s a very wet type of ice. It kind of disappears, so it’s OK, at that point, to have that coldness meeting the egg all at one time. It’s really great, because you can just put them up there. It does its magic, and then you strain them off and garnish. I highly recommend it if you have a high-volume situation. But also the hand stick blender would also work, one that you use to purée soups, etc. Just as long as you have a large enough container and you have ice, that’s what I would do.
T: All of your ingredients in there, quarter-cup of ice. Is that a quarter-cup for three drinks?
L: It depends on how wet the ice is. It’s about a half-cup to three. A quarter-cup is for a single drink. I know it seems strange, but from one to three is a different volume, because it tends to be a little more wet. But yeah, you want to use very wet ice. If you’re using a Vitamix blender, it’s a very different thing if you’re doing your Piña Colada, because we don’t want that texture. Unless you want a frozen Pisco Sour, which is also delicious, then we’re not working on that. I still want this to come off as a deliciously handshaken-style sour cocktail, so the temperature should be great, but not freezing. But frozen Pisco Sours are also really good.
T: That’s something I need to explore imminently. I couldn’t care less if it’s 17 degrees Fahrenheit outside. I have one question for you. Before we get into our final section, which is where we get to know our guests more, there is one thing that bridges both of those conversations. In terms of running Llama Inn and Llama San, you mentioned you started out at Flatiron Lounge. I was wondering, from a bartender’s perspective and creating cocktails, is it more restrictive to be quite focused on a cuisine as opposed to more ambiguous? Or does that really help, because you have those guiding stars? Are those almost parameters to work within?
L: Yeah, I’ve been very fortunate. I started at the Flatiron Lounge, and they had really beautiful foundations. I learned the mother sauces. I was really fortunate. We had Dale DeGroff, Audrey Saunders, and all these people walking in every day and imparting knowledge. Dave Anderson wanted to share his cocktail knowledge with young bartenders. So I really got a very good schooling on the history of cocktails, making them, and then trying new things with them. Then, I moved on and worked at Freemans restaurant, and I love that bar program, Aaron Reese runs it. That place was classic cocktails in a very high-volume, rustic gastropub space. And we were turning and burning, making sours and all this stuff. Obviously, the drinks there were thought in that style. There were lots of whiskey drinks and things that would go with the food. I realized how much I really like the idea of working in an environment where food is presented, because it gave context to the drinks. You have range; you can play around. I love a good concept. I think it helps to bring focus with everything. I love problem solving how I’m going to incorporate trending drink styles and bring them to the space. With Chef Eric, we kind of talked a lot about it. He worked at Eleven Madison Park and great kitchens all over Philly with Stephen Starr and Michael Isabella, so he had this very classic foundation. But then he wanted to give it the creative direction, working with the food he grew up with, and bringing that here in a New York style. And I feel like that’s a great way to look at the programs, and I’m very focused on that. When Natasha and I opened Llama San, I was really tough on her with what kind of drinks we’re making. When a new idea came up I’d be like, “No, that ingredient just doesn’t work with that; this one does.” Really sticking to our focus created some things I would have never thought about, and that was really exciting. On that opening menu, there were things I would have never dreamed of putting together. We were so focused on what the creative concept was and going with Nikkei and bringing this Peru style. Not that it felt like we’re just doing infusions, or not doing trite combinations, but deeply investing into what that meant and what the DNA of that would mean and how Nikkei would really show itself in cocktail form. At Llama Inn, we were really thinking about how we’re presenting Peru and Latin America in a certain way of gastronomy, and really thinking through that. So this summer, I delved in on the roof with a menu that really did look at ingredients from Peru and at different altitudes. That is so important when you’re looking at that. When we look at spirits, it’s obviously about where the ingredients are grown, what altitude, where they’re from, and that makes a real difference. I personally love it, and it’s actually so much better for me. I don’t know if I could ever go back to just working in a classic cocktail bar. Of course, I miss it sometimes. And obviously, it’s harder in a restaurant to branch out. At restaurants, your menu guides 90 percent of the choices that the guests are coming in for, or at least that style. And that’s OK. We’re not getting as many dealer’s choices and those kinds of things, but those are fun when guests do ask for them, and you’re able to kind of guide the team into it. It’s fun and it makes me have to think deeper.
T: Amazing. That’s fascinating. Thank you so much for sharing. Just hearing you speak there, too, some of those combinations you mentioned earlier like pisco and shochu or green tea, matcha infusions, all of these things would feel out of place on other menus. Or they would maybe make a great combination, but what the hell is it doing here? But it makes so much sense there. The upshot for drinkers and diners like myself is just that it’s out there and you get to have these in a setting that makes sense. And they work so well.
L: You can get cocktails everywhere. I feel like it does really help to know what your style is, and then you build on your repertoire. I love that, because all the classic cocktail training I had has just made it better for me. You learn all those rules, and then you learn how to break them in the right way. And that’s been really great. I actually follow that entire ethos. We’re going to tell you to make drinks this way, everyone’s going to tell you how to make them, but then you really just toss all that information out and start learning to do it on your own. So, I expect you to play around and experiment with your Pisco Sours. Try new citrus, try different sugar sources, and see how that works for you. And be playful with it.
Getting To Know Lynnette Marrero
T: Perfect it, then tear it up. I love it. Let’s get into that final section of the show and our five recurring questions that we ask every guest. How are you feeling heading into it?
L: I feel confident. I was like, “Oh, is that the first question?”
T: That’s an easy one. There are no wrong answers. Now let’s jump into the first question here. Which style or category of spirit typically enjoys the most real estate on your back bars?
L: Oh, wow. Rum has always been a big one, historically. It’s the first spirit that I really started to delve into. Obviously, I have a big pisco back bar, but rum has a good place, when I can find really cool rums that work. We have beautiful Japanese rums at Llama San that are so cool to play with and pair with the Nikkei vibe. They have these beautiful tropical notes because they’re mostly from Okinawa and the warmer parts of Japan. So I would pair those with pisco.
T: Wonderful, love it. Question No. 2: Which ingredient or tool do you think is the most undervalued in a bartender’s arsenal?
L: I’m all about a good bar spoon; a good bar spoon can make or break you. It has to have the right weight to it. We got to this point where everyone was getting those bar spoons that were just so tall. For me, I’m not a super-tall person. I’m a very average-height woman, and those are too big for me. I felt like I was drowning in these bar spoons, and the weight of them just didn’t work well for me. I have small hands, too. So now I have the right teardrop spoons with the right weight, and then I can be ambidextrous if I have the right spoons. If one’s weighted a little bit differently, then my non-dominant hand can’t stir, and I can’t be a one-handed bartender. I’ve got drinks to make!
T: Amazing, that’s the extension of your hand right there. Question No. 3: What’s the most important piece of advice you’ve received in this industry?
L: Be accountable, and I give that one back to lots of people. It wasn’t even said to me in that way. It was the expectation of, if you say you’re going to do something, you do it and you follow through. I realized that that was something that is so important. We are an industry that is a community, and everyone has to hold up their end of the bargain for us all to complete the task. You could see that as little microcosms in bars and restaurants every day. If someone doesn’t show up, we’re all behind on prep, behind on serving, behind on getting everything out to our guests.
T: Wonderful piece of advice right there. Now for question No. 4, penultimate question. If you could only visit one last bar in your life, past or present, what would it be?
L: Oh, the bar from Casablanca. I just want to say, “Play it again, Sam” and have a fabulous Martini. I want to be in that place that is the epitome of the best bar. Everything about it, you walk in, and there’s a tone. There’s a little danger, a little excitement, romance. It’s really the bar that just makes you feel like all dreams come true.
T: Would you like to experience it in black and white as well?
L: Oh, that’d be fabulous. With everyone kind of dressed in the right theme. I would love that.
T: Amazing. Final question: If you knew that the next cocktail you drank was going to be your last, what would you order or make?
T: Very nice, olive and a twist. Have both, have your cake and eat it, too.
L: I’ll probably have three olives, because it’s my last one. I love a beautiful Gin Martini. There’s something very comforting about it when you get it right. It’s a drink where texture comes in: how it’s stirred, how it’s presented, the choices of the gin, what vermouth is being used. It is a really elegant cocktail. And it comes in a great glass, and you’d probably have it at Rick’s in the 1940s in Casablanca. So there you go.
T: Sounds fabulous. Lynnette, thank you so much again for joining us. Let’s go grab a Pisco Sour.
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Now, for the credits. “Cocktail College” is recorded and produced in New York City by myself and Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director and all-around podcast guru. Of course, I want to give a huge shout-out to everyone on the VinePair team. Too many awesome people to mention. They know who they are. I want to give some credit here to Danielle Grinberg, art director at VinePair, for designing the awesome show logo. And listen to that music. That’s a Darbi Cicci original. Finally, thank you, listener, for making it this far and for giving this whole thing a purpose. Until next time.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.