“In Morris’ Bar I ordered a pisco sour. It tasted like a pleasant soft drink and I ordered another, to which the bartender objected, informing me that one was usually sufficient. After an argument, he made another—from that time, events were not very clear… ”
—Dean Ivan Lamb, American aviator and soldier of fortune, in his 1934 memoir, The Incurable Filibuster
The Pisco Sour is the national drink of Peru, where the fourth Sunday of July is celebrated nationally as the Día del Pisco, or Pisco Day. Its main ingredient, Pisco, is a brandy with an alcohol content of 38-48% (76-100 proof) distilled from wine of grapes specific to the region. Its official inventor, Victor Vaughen Morris, was a pioneer stock native Utahn.
I would have never known had I not seen a huddle of middle-aged adults who turned out to be great-grandchildren of Victor V. Morris, photographing themselves holding the book, El Origen del Pisco Sour (The origin of the Pisco Sour), in front of our neighbors’ home—the adobe house where Morris was born in Salt Lake’s Marmalade district.
At the turn of the previous century, 30-year-old Victor lost his taste for Salt Lake City—and for mint juleps. The murder of Victor’s older brother Burton, a well-known florist and very particular mint julep aficionado, was the third time “justice was not being served” for a mourning Morris. The first was the murder of his uncle by a “drunken loafer.” The second, a cousin killed by a saloon and gambling house owner.
The story is that Burton, Morris’ brother, was shot and killed in a bar brawl Burton himself had started, which had evolved from an incident regarding poorly made mint juleps. The jury declared it “self defense” and the shooter went free.
Victor took over his deceased brother’s business, the B. C. Morris Floral Company, located in the McCornick Building, where the Gallivan Center now is. As a popular florist, Victor was active in community events, including parades.
But the death had soured him for Salt Lake City so, riding along on the coattails of a booming copper and railroad industry, Morris relocated to Peru to work as a cashier for the Cerro de Pasco Railway Company, an enterprise funded by Alfred W McCune (responsible for another famous home in the neighborhood, as well as an open pit copper mine in Peru for which the railway was necessary).
According to Victor, it was during the celebration of the final completion of the railway—a huge event—that they ran out of whiskey for the sours. An organizer of the festivities, Victor turned to the locally made Pisco brandy as a substitute.
Victor retired from the railway business, moved to Lima with his new family, and opened the Morris Bar, a popular spot among elite travelers and locals, and where he perfected the Pisco Sour. Mint juleps were not allowed in his bar..
After Morris’ passing in 1929 (of cirrhosis of the liver at age 56) Orson Welles and Ernest Hemingway are said to have visited the bar to enjoy the famous drink. A tale describes Ava Gardner having too many at a popular Lima hotel’s bar, then dancing barefoot until carried to her room by John Wayne. To Ava’s defense, Lima’s altitude is 5,080 ft. A friend tells me the altitude does make a difference—the Pisco Sour in Cusco, at 11,152 feet, is extremely potent.
Here in Salt Lake City, at a modest 4,226 feet, you can enjoy a Pisco Sour at the same place the Morris siblings steered me, Del Mar al Lago Cebicheria Peruana, across the street from RC Wiley. Even here, one is sufficient, but addictive. This cocktail is creamy and delightful, but sneaky. It packs a pleasant punch!
1/2 cup lime juice
1/2 cup simple syrup
(1:1 sugar water)
1 egg white
1 1/2 cups of Pisco (find it in the rum and/or brandy section at the liquor store)
Place in blender. Add about five ice cubes. Blend until frothy. Pour it into frosty glasses. Sprinkle three drops of Angostura bitters onto each and, if you like, a little lime zest. Enjoy! Yummy!
Anna Zumwalt lives in Salt Lake’s Marmalade
District. She is a CATALYST staffer.