The Story Behind The Chilcano

The Moscow Mule and its many siblings have taught us how ginger beer and a little bit of lime can brighten up almost any spirit. But truth be told, the Mule wasn’t the first highball to bring that holy trinity into the public consciousness. Back in the late 1800s, over 50 years before the Mule came along, folks down in Peru coined the combo via the Chilcano, a refreshing blend of Pisco, ginger ale, and lime juice.

As with many cocktails that predate the 20th century, the Chilcano’s origins aren’t clear-cut. The general consensus, though, is that the drink is an evolution of the Buongiorno, an Italian cocktail made of grappa, fermented ginger, and lime juice. Allegedly, Italian immigrants in Peru began swapping grappa for Pisco in the 1880s, and ginger ale eventually took the place of homemade fermented ginger. And just like the Buongiorno, which translates to “good morning,” the Chilcano is commonly enjoyed as a hangover cure. It actually gets its name from chilcano de pescado, a Peruvian fish head soup believed to have restorative properties for those who may have had a bit too much to drink the night before.

While the Chilcano may not be a household name yet in the States, it’s a big deal in its homeland. Since 2010, Peru has been hosting a national Chilcano Week every January, giving small- to mid-sized Pisco producers a platform to showcase their newest products, often in the context of a Chilcano. Most of the festivities take place in Lima, but Chilcano-themed events pop off all over Peru during that week, and range from Chilcano-themed parties and Pisco master classes to wine and food tastings.

If a trip to Peru isn’t in the cards, we encourage anyone to pick up some Pisco and host a Chilcano get-together of their own. A quality bottle of Peruvian Pisco will only set you back $20 to $40, so we urge you to pick up a few different expressions to get acquainted with the spirit. After all, while the laws around Peruvian Pisco distillation techniques are fairly strict, the spirit can be made with any combination of eight different grape varieties, so there’s a fair amount of diversity within the category. To get started, we recommend getting a bottle of Torontel Pisco (a distinctly floral and citrus-forward variety) as well as some Quebranta Pisco (a more neutral but more common form of Pisco). Either way, you can’t go wrong, and each Pisco brings something a little different to the Chilcano formula.

As for the other ingredients in this drink, fresh lime juice is always preferred, as is ginger ale over ginger beer. Unlike Mules, which typically make use of the latter, the Chilcano is designed to showcase the nuance of Pisco, so the less assertive of the two popular ginger sodas is the one to reach for. If Angostura bitters don’t make it into the equation, the drink will still hit the spot, but a couple dashes keep the cocktail’s inherent sweetness at bay and give it a lovely blush pink hue.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces pisco
  • ½ ounce lime juice
  • Ginger ale, to top
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • Garnish: lime wheel

Directions

  1. Add pisco, lime juice, and Angostura bitters to a highball or Collins glass.
  2. Fill with ice.
  3. Top with ginger ale.
  4. Stir, no more than five rotations, to combine.
  5. Garnish with a lime wheel.

Rate This Recipe:

(1 votes)

Yield: 1
Calories: 178
Updated: 2024-07-03

The Chilcano