Food and Drinks

Whisky sour recipe

How to make a genuinely excellent whiskey sour

The whiskey sour is a great way to try different types of whiskey. Every kind of whiskey–rye bourbon, Irish whiskey, Scotch, and Scotch reacts differently to citrus. Some dusty bottles will take to the sour, while others won’t. A little experimentation goes a long way when perfecting your home sour.

I always use Bourbon for my whiskey sours. The roundness of Bourbon works well with the acidity of lemon juice. I like bourbons with some character but only a little. Buffalo Trace and Old Granddad Bonded are excellent choices, but I also like Old Forester and Old Granddad Bonded. When I’m looking for comfort food, Bourbon is my choice.

Staining and pressing the lemon juice as soon as possible is essential. The ideal time is 12 hours at maximum. Fresh lemon juice oxidizes quickly without preservatives and loses its tartness, brightness, and tanginess as the evening progresses. Too Fresh is better than not new enough, say many bartenders. Day-old citrus juice should never be used in a cocktail. Don’t buy the stuff from the store. Juice a lemon.

As for the sweetness, I recommend using simple syrup (a 1:1 mixture of water and white sugar blended and kept off the stove). The classic whiskey sours are made with fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, and water.

Egg whites or not egg whites?

When I train bartenders, I tell them to ask their guests a series of questions so they can quickly determine what they want from a whiskey sour. After choosing their whiskey, the guests decide whether they want their cocktail “up” or “on rocks” and if they would like an egg white. You probably know the group that isn’t allowed to consume raw eggs. I’ve heard some snotty comments about these options. There was a period when a particular version, with an egg white or more, was often considered the correct whiskey sour. If you look at the classic cocktail canon, any variation of this drink is perfectly acceptable. When drinking whiskey, I enjoy the texture and body of an egg yolk. Other times, I want something more like boozy limeade. Sometimes I even add a splash of club soda.

Potato Head, Mr. Potato Head

The word “balance” is overused when it comes to cocktails. However, when used correctly, it’s usually referring to a sour. The balance of sweet and sour tastes is achieved by combining the flavor and proof of a base liquor. This simple structure allows for a variety of different results. Changing the whiskey can be great for having fun with your whiskey sour.

We call this the bartender trick. Mr. Potato Head can change the taste of a sour drink in many ways. For example, a classic whiskey Daisy has been made sweeter by substituting sugar for orange liqueur. Try substituting raspberry syrup for a sweeter alternative. A quick look through old cocktail books will show you how many uses this can have.

It is a time-honored custom to add nontraditional spirits to a classic. This is done in contemporary mixology by “splitting base,” where a bartender will replace part of the spiritual core of the drink with a different distillate. This old favorite can be transformed with just a little bit of bitters. You can also do all these things, as I did with my Amethyst Sour.

It’s a tradition to experiment and have fun with this form. However, once you depart from the traditional whiskey, sugar, and lemon combination, the whiskey sour becomes something else, deserving of a new name. You can riff all you like but remember the classic. This classic has survived from the early days of mixing drinks until today’s revival. This classic drink is easy to make and only requires three ingredients. It can be made anywhere and probably has. One of the greatest culinary delights is the simple combination of sugar, lemon, and barrel-aged whiskey. Enjoy it.

Where did the whiskey sour come from?

Sours were already a thing when Jerry Thomas included them and their close cousin, the Fix, in the world’s first cocktail book, his 1862 Bartender’s Guide. (This is typical of the recipes in this foundational tome. The 19th century’s most famous bartender was better at cribbing drink recipes than he was at inventing them.

Thomas most likely viewed the two sours he mentioned–the brandy sour and the gin sour–as simple, streamlined descendants of punch, the family of drinks popularized in the late 18th and early 19th centuries whose recipes fill the pages of Thomas’s book and almost all of which cooperative spirit, citrus, and sugar. But while punch recipes are prone to complexity, sours are comparatively simple affairs.

That had stayed the same by the time the Bourbon Sour joined the gang in print for 1869’s The Steward & Barkeeper’s Manual, and it wouldn’t change much as the whiskey sour appeared with increasing frequency over the decades that followed. After Prohibition ended, many cocktails that had been part of the national canon of established mixed drinks started to slip away from the public consciousness. The gin sour and the brandy sour were relegated to the pages of dusty cocktail books, but whiskey sours had sticking power; they were made and served repeatedly. Eventually, we even invented bottled sour mix to make whiskey sours faster and more widely available, avoiding the prep of the freshly squeezed lemon.

As with many classic cocktails, the whiskey sour can vary from cocktail book to cocktail book. Thomas’s earliest sours included water, and many versions have called for a splash of soda. (Not too much, or you might have a whiskey fizz instead.) The type of garnish or the size of the ice in a given recipe might distinguish a whiskey sour from a whiskey fix. By 1908, bartender Jack Grohusko had left out the fizzy stuff entirely from the whiskey sour in his Jack’s Manual–a version that is mostly the standard today. Fellow New York cocktail Hugo Ensslin added lime juice in 1917’s Recipes for Mixed Drinks, while William Feery’s Wet Drinks for Dry People from 1932 introduced egg white for a more luscious texture. This latter trick would stick, showing up repeatedly until it became commonplace during the cocktail revival of the 21st century.