The Whiskey Sour is a classic cocktail for a reason. Here’s what you need to know — an easy Whiskey Sour recipe, the best whiskey to make it with, and more.
The Whiskey Sour, often also known as the Bourbon Sour or Boston Sour, is one of the world’s favourite cocktails. It has spawned dozens of variations and been enjoyed by people all over the world — both on land and at sea — for over 150 years.
So, what is a Whiskey Sour, and how has it evolved from a sailor’s remedy (more on that later) to the classic cocktail that is loved around the world? A Whiskey Sour is, as the name suggests, is an American whisky cocktail commonly (and some would argue traditionally) made with earthy bourbon or rye whiskey.
Wondering what’s in a whiskey sour? Part of the sour cocktail family, it typically involves lemon juice, a sweetener, and egg white (although not all “sour” cocktails necessarily have egg whites).
The so-called father of American mixology Jeremiah P. Thomas officially cut the ribbon on the Whiskey Sour in 1862 after he wrote it into his Bar-Tender’s Guide. The original Whiskey Sour cocktail was a no-nonsense cocktail that served an important purpose. Since safe, drinkable water was hard to come by on naval vessels, sailors relied on alcohol to quench their thirst (and cope with the job, probably). The presence of a little sugar dissolved in soda offered some sweet dilution to the strong liquor, and the juice of half a lemon added a sour kick whilst also keeping the dreaded scurvy at bay.
Over the years, little additions were made to the Whiskey Sour ingredients to improve both flavour and appearance — egg white for froth, bitters for a touch of spice.
In terms of the spirit, rye whiskey has become another popular option for this cocktail, and Rittenhouse is one of the best whiskeys for a whiskey sour. A Tennessee whiskey (basically bourbon that is filtered through maple charcoal) like Jack Daniel’s is also a great choice for a smoother, more mellow cocktail.
A few especially bold bartenders took this classic cocktail and added their own flair to it. For instance, the Ward 8 swaps sugar syrup for grenadine and adds a splash of orange juice in addition to the lemon juice, for a brightly coloured cocktail.
Then there’s the New York Sour, which tops a standard Whiskey Sour with a red wine float, giving the cocktail an exotic look. The aptly named Rattlesnake swaps bitters for absinthe for an extra bite with a herbal flourish.
Another common riff on the Whiskey Sour is to add jam or marmalade — orange marmalade or blackberry jam work really well, as in this Blackberry Ginger Whiskey Sour.
Adding spices like ginger or herbs such as rosemary also help to enhance the whisky’s nuances. You can get creative with other flavours too — just look to the tasting notes of your whiskey bottle for inspiration.
The modern Whiskey Sour is a deliciously layered and balanced drink that enjoys its place on classic cocktail lists and in the pop culture spotlight. And it is delightfully flexible so you can make it your own.