Make it all Peruvian, from top to bottom.
SERENATA BEVERAGE DIRECTOR and co-owner AJ Johnson had one goal for her Pisco Morada: “Make it all Peruvian, from top to bottom.” Serenata is Spanish for serenade, and drawing on that idea, the Washington, D.C. bar makes authentic Latin cocktails, but with their own signature style. “You come in, you ask for a margarita,” Johnson says. “We're going to ask you, ‘Do you just want a classic margarita or do you want to try our best-ever margarita?’”
Of course, the Pisco Morada, their best-ever pisco sour, begins with pisco, a clear-to-golden brandy made from any of eight sweet grape varieties. Johnson’s experience as a sommelier informs all of her spirit selections. She recommends Quebranta pisco for the base alcohol. “It’s not necessarily neutral, but the flavors are muted,” she says. “It has a really nice mouthfeel. And I love the sort of floral nose that you get.” She also includes a Spanish wine to make sure the Pisco Morada stays balanced. “So the medium-dry sherry is just to bring back a little bit of texture, but also to create a little bit of oxidation and dryness on the mouth,” she says. “So something that could be super sweet ends up being a little drier.”
The Pisco Morada gets its beautiful purple color from chicha morada, a drink made from dried Andean purple corn steeped in a blend of fruits and spices. If pisco is Peru’s national spirit, then chicha morada is the country’s non-alcoholic counterpart. You can find chicha morada in Latin grocery stores, but it’s also easy to make. Johnson says Serenata's version uses apples, cinnamon, star anise, clove, and pineapple skin. They bring it to a boil on the stove, then leave it to steep for 45 minutes before straining. There's little if any alcohol in chicha morada — unlike Peruvian chicha beer, which requires the maker to chew the purple corn, using saliva to break down the corn's sugars.
Johnson adds Pacharán to the chicha morada, a Spanish liqueur made of sloe fruit and anise. “It really does help keep that really nice purple color as well, and it adds to that sugar content that you're getting without having to add actual sugar to it,” she says. Regular sloe gin works as well — it plays a small part in this serenade to Peru. “At the end of the day, my job is not to present as someone from any of these countries,” says Johnson. "My job is to respect them and try to tell the most honest story that I possibly can through cocktails.”
- 1 ½ oz Quebranta pisco
- ¾ oz lemon-rosemary simple syrup*
- *Sprigs of rosemary
- *Four lemons, cut in half
- ½ oz Pacharán Las Endrinas (or a sloe gin) / Chicha morada blend
- ¼ oz medium-dry sherry
- ¼ oz lemon juice
- 1 egg white
- Dash of Angostura bitters (garnish)
- Dehydrated lemon wheel (garnish)
- Prepare the simple syrup: combine equal parts sugar and water in a medium saucepan on a low heat setting. Stir to dissolve all sugar particles. Add lemon and several sprigs of rosemary and bring to a boil, then turn back down to a medium to low heat setting and let simmer covered for 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat then strain into a glass container. Refrigerate.
- Dry shake (shake without ice) all ingredients in a shaker tin. Open shaker tin and add ice. Shake vigorously.
- Strain up into martini glass. Once the foam settles, garnish with Angostura bitters and dehydrated lemon wheel.
Jessica Suarez Writer
Jessica Suarez is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York.
Grant Cornett Photographer
Grant Cornett is a photographer and director based in Upstate New York. He likes to take pictures of pristine detritus and austere moments.