You may remember a Whiskey Sour as that fairly terrible drink you had once at a dim but thrilling college bar, but as is the case with many cocktails, the Whiskey Sour lives and dies on its ingredients.
Whiskey Sours have been around for a long time, and at their simplest they’re made with just whiskey, citrus, and a sweet ingredient, like simple syrup. But add just one or two special ingredients to that recipe, and you have a very different drink entirely.
THE HISTORY OF THE WHISKEY SOUR
The recipe for a Whiskey Sour first appeared in print in 1862, in a book called The Bartender’s Guide by Jerry Thomas. But according to some cocktail historians, sailors invented the Whiskey Sour!
In the past, sailors were given an allowance for spirits (usually whiskey or rum, since water tended to go bad on long voyages) and citrus (because the vitamin C in lemons and limes helped prevent scurvy). Put them together; add a little sugar, and you have a Whiskey Sour!
It’s also possible that the Whiskey Sour is just a scaled-down version of a punch, designed to serve just one. Punches predate cocktails by quite a while, but if you look at old punch recipes, you’ll notice the basic structure of a Whiskey Sour: base spirit, citrus, and sweetener.
However the Whiskey Sour came to be, when you drink one, you can be sure you’re part of a long and proud tradition!
WHAT KIND OF WHISKEY SHOULD I USE?
The Whiskey Sour is a very versatile drink; you can make it with bourbon, rye, Tennessee whiskey, or even scotch. I like it best with rye whiskey for a little extra spice and edge to balance out the drink’s sweetness, but feel free to try this with whatever whiskey you happen to have around.
If you’re buying specifically for this drink, I wouldn’t go for anything too expensive, since the lemon and sugar will cover the complexities that set those whiskeys apart. For rye, Rittenhouse and Old Overholt are very nice; for bourbon, try Four Roses or Wild Turkey.
SHOULD I ADD A RAW EGG WHITE?
You can make a perfectly lovely Whiskey Sour by sticking to the original recipe of just whiskey, lemon juice, and sugar. These three ingredients balance each other beautifully.
But if you want to take your Whiskey Sour to the next level, add an egg white. This will not, in fact, make your cocktail taste like egg. Instead, the egg white will add texture, richness, and a particular creaminess that will make it seem almost like a whiskey milkshake.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: What about salmonella?
Your chances of getting salmonella from raw eggs are pretty low. The CDC estimates that only around 1 in 20,000 eggs are contaminated with the bacteria, and even if you do get a contaminated egg, as long as the egg is kept refrigerated below 45˚F, the bacteria will have no chance to grow.
If you’re still worried, you can purchase pasteurized eggs, which are heated for a period of time to eliminate bacteria. You can also use pre-packaged, pasteurized egg whites like Egg Beaters, which will also save you the trouble of extracting the egg white from the yolk.
HOW TO SHAKE A WHISKEY SOUR
One of the beautiful things about adding an egg white to your cocktail is the rich, creamy texture it imparts. To get a nice, foamy drink, try one of these shaking styles:
- A Dry Shake: Shake the cocktail first without ice, and then add the ice and shake again.
- A Reverse Dry Shake: Shake the cocktail with ice first; strain the ice out, and re-shake.
I prefer the texture imparted by the traditional dry shake, but if you want to get a truly ridiculous amount of foam, the reverse dry shake is the way to go.
ADDING BITTERS TO YOUR WHISKEY SOUR
Should you add Angostura bitters to your Whiskey Sour? Yes! Angostura bitters adds dimension to the flavor, and a little visual pizazz. Use a dropper (or a very gentle motion with the bottle) to drop bitters onto the top of your egg white foam, then use a toothpick (or a cocktail pick) to make patterns in the foam. The sky’s the limit!
More Whiskey Recipes to Enjoy this Fall:
- Manhattan Cocktail
- Penicillin Cocktail
- Boulevardier Cocktail
- Fall-Spiced Old Fashioned Cocktail
Whiskey Sour Cocktail | Wicked Good
My wicked good whiskey sour cocktail recipe is a fresh take on the classic cocktail, beloved by many for over a hundred years. This delicious whiskey drink has only three ingredients which makes it perfect to serve at your next dinner party.
This is a repost of my recipe from 2016 because the whiskey sour made the list of top 5 cocktails of 2017. But I&rsquom not surprised because it&rsquos a classic.
As the title says, this is a &ldquowicked good&rdquo. Even Christopher &ndash who is not a fan of whiskey &ndash loves it.
Say what? Who is that man standing before me, masquerading as my husband? Pod person, anyone?
So, what makes this recipe so yummy and so much better than any other whiskey sour cocktail I&rsquove tasted? The sour mix. It is homemade and better than sour mix from the store because you can control the quantity and quality of the ingredients.
In Search of the Ultimate Whiskey Sour
The Whiskey Sour has had an easy time of it during the craft cocktail revival. Though it’s just as famous as the Martini, Manhattan and the Daiquiri, it’s largely been spared the intense debates that swirl around those cocktails. Instead, it was allowed to hang back from the fray and stay its dependable, easy-going self, rarely featured on hip menus, but always there should it be needed.
The Top Three
Dan Sabo's Whiskey Sour
Erik Adkins' Whiskey Sour
Neal Bodenheimer's Whiskey Sour
That isn’t to say, however, that the Whiskey Sour is a case that was long ago cracked. While it is a simple drink—merely whiskey, citrus and sugar—it poses, like any sour, several questions of construction that must be addressed.
To get to the bottom of it, a PUNCH panel of tasters sampled 17 versions of the drink, submitted by bartenders from across the country. Which whiskey should be used—bourbon, rye or something else? Do you serve it up or on the rocks? What ingredient proportions are best? And, perhaps most critically, egg white or no egg white? And, if there is an egg white, how should you shake the drink? Dry shake the egg white, then shake all else with ice? Dry shake everything, then wet shake? Reverse dry shake? The panel tasted all possible combinations of the above.
Though the history of the Whiskey Sour is discussed less frequently than that of other classics, it is one of the oldest of mixed drinks to have remained in regular circulation throughout the years. Mentions of it begin to appear in newspapers in the 1860s a decade later it was fairly ubiquitous. After the repeal of Prohibition, it quickly rebounded to prominence, not just in its natural state, but in the form of bottled Whiskey Sours and in Whiskey Sour mixes. Commercial shortcuts like that helped to sully the drink’s reputation, as did the jettisoning of fresh juice in favor of sour mix. By the turn of the 21st century, the Whiskey Sour’s name was mud.
Modern bartending’s primary contribution to the Whiskey Sour’s current status (aside from bringing fresh juice back to the mix) was the return of egg white, an ingredient extra that, while not part of most early recipes, has come to be thought of in mixology circles as the “original” form of the drink. Order a Whiskey Sour in a craft cocktail bar today and, nine times out of ten, it will be an egg-white model. Indeed, of the 17 recipes submitted, 13 contained egg white.
The tasting’s two guest panelists, bartenders Tristan Willey (Booker & Dax, Long Island Bar) and Karen Fu (PDT, Donna), were split on their preferences regarding the egg white.
“It’s a good way to experience that texture and foam and mouthfeel that sours call for,” argued Fu. “It also tempers the whiskey.” Willey, meanwhile, prefers his Whiskey Sours sans egg white, but admitted their inclusion lent a visual snap to a drink that can otherwise have a dull appearance. “It’s really showy,” he says.
Regarding whiskey, both thought rye the stronger choice, as it carried more presence in the face of the flavor-subduing influence of the egg white. But each thought a high-proof bourbon could also do a stand-up job.
The judges were unswerving, meanwhile, in what ratios they thought resulted in the best Whiskey Sour: two ounces whiskey and three-quarter ounces each of lemon juice and simple syrup. Similarly, they both agreed that the preferred presentation is up and in a coupe, particularly if egg is part of the equation. “I think egg whites on the rocks are gross,” declared Willey. “They break down quickly.” Nevertheless, nearly half of the drinks submitted were served on the rocks, and many with an egg white.
In a blind tasting, the panel sampled 17 Whiskey Sours from today’s top bartenders.
In the end, the top three vote-getters all featured egg white and two solid ounces of whiskey. Dan Sabo of the Hotel Figueroa in Los Angeles took the top spot with his mix of two ounces Rittenhouse Rye 100, a half-ounce of rich simple syrup, egg white, one ounce lemon juice and the unorthodox injection of a half-ounce of orange juice. This take threw the panel (including me), which had agreed early on that it was “unquestionable” and “not even debatable” that lemon juice was the only suitable citrus in a classic Whiskey Sour. (A couple recipes that asked for lime juice were quickly 86’d during the first round of tasting.) The orange juice brought a subtle roundness and buoyancy to the flavor of the drink, as well a tiny boost of extra sweetness. Before learning of the orange juice’s inclusion, Fu had remarked that it was, “my favorite of the light-and-bright Whiskey Sours” in the contest.
In second place was Eric Adkins, of The Slanted Door and Hard Water in San Francisco. Composed of two ounces of Buffalo Trace straight bourbon, three-quarters of an ounce of lemon juice, an egg white and just one-half ounce of simple syrup, it was certainly on the tart side, but nonetheless balanced. “This is what you think of as a traditional Whiskey Sour,” said Fu.
Coming in third was Neal Bodenheimer, owner of Cure in New Orleans, who combined two ounces of Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon, a three-quarter ounce of lemon juice, a three-quarter ounce of simple syrup, an egg white and Angostura bitters served on the rocks. Despite its being served on the rocks with egg white, Willey still termed it, “very classic.”
The top three were among only four of the recipes that made it to the second round. This was a far smaller percentage than was the case in previous PUNCH tastings of Manhattans, Martinis, Negronis and Daiquiris—the latter the only other sour that has been put to the test. Fu had a theory as to why. “I think there are more combinations that can be made with the Daiquiri, in terms of sugar and rum,” she explained. “In the range we’ve seen with the Whiskey Sour, there are not as many drink deviations that are going to taste good.”
Given the apparently tight window for perfection allowed by the humble Whiskey Sour, then, perhaps it’s as worthy of careful execution as more revered drinks. It may not be called for often in the haute cocktail bars of Manhattan, but there are other bars in the world.
“When I go outside of New York,” said Willey. “I see ten times more Whiskey Sours ordered. I think it’s a go-to for a lot of people.”
The French 95 is a whiskey take on one of my favorite all-time cocktails, the French 75. This specific recipe comes from Difford’s Guide, which adapted it from the original 1977 French 95 cocktail recipe, which comes from Stanley M. Jones' book, Jones Complete Barguide. To make it, you’ll add all of the ingredients, except the Champagne, to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake. Then strain into a ice-filled glass, and top with Champagne, garnishing it with a lemon peel.
Cocktail Hammers’ Amazing Whiskey Sour Recipe
November 6, 2020, 5:01 am updated March 29, 2021, 7:59 pm
In 2020, the pandemic known as Covid-19 struck, and bars around the world had to close their doors. If there was one thing I missed during that time, among many things, was walking up to the bar and asking the barman for my favorite cocktail ever, the whiskey sour. After a couple of months staying in, I took matters into my own hands, bought a cocktail kit off of amazon, and all of the ingredients. How hard could this be right?
Actually, not that hard at all. I quickly learned my preferred recipe for the whisky sour. That would be the first cocktail that would start my journey into writing about cocktail recipes on a website so that I could help inform others on how to make simple and awesome cocktails from home. That website would go on to be the Cocktail Hammer that you see in front of you today. If you’re a history buff like me and what to know more about the history of the whiskey sour, click here. So without any more delay, let’s move onto the cocktail that started it all.
The key to an excellent whiskey sour? Getting the balance just right. This whiskey sour recipe has all the right proportions of bright, bracing lemon juice warming, floral bourbon and sweet simple syrup to deliver a refreshing cocktail that’s neither too cloying nor too biting. Using freshly squeezed juice is essential—the stuff that comes out of fruit-shaped squeeze bottles doesn’t even compare. If you don't have any lemon on hand, you can swap it out for lime (or a mixture of the two). Serve on the rocks with an orange wheel and a Maraschino cherry arranged neatly on a drink spear (optional but recommended!), and enjoy. Cheers!
All products featured on Bon Appétit are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through the retail links below, we earn an affiliate commission.
The Classic Whiskey Sour Recipe
- 3 fingers of Bourbon
- 2 fingers of lemon juice
- 1 finger of Gomme syrup
- Sugared rocks glass
- A lemon rind
- A maraschino cherry
- An orange slice
Combine all of the liquid ingredients in a cocktail mixer, add the ice, and shake until well-blended. Strain the mixture into the ice-filled glass and garnish with the lemon rind, maraschino cherry and orange slice.
A Brief History of The Whiskey Sour
The Whiskey Sour officially dates back to the 1860s, but sailors in the British Navy had been drinking something very similar long before that. On long sea journeys, water was not always dependable, so to combat that, spirits were often used. Scurvy, too, was another danger on these journeys, so lemons and limes were consumed to help prevent the disease (incidentally, this is also one of the reasons why British folk are called ‘Limeys’). Finally, sugar and water were added for taste. At this point, the drink is probably starting to sound familiar. (Grog, the rum-based favorite of pirates across the seven seas, is made from the same components, substituting whiskey for the sugar cane-based spirit.)
When it comes to the official record, there are three main points of reference for the Whiskey Sour. The first written record comes in the seminal 1862 book The Bartender’s Guide: How To Mix Drinks by Jerry Thomas. The original recipe reads:
Original Whiskey Sour Recipe
- (Use a small bar-glass.)
- Take 1 large tea-spoonful of powdered white sugar dissolved in a little Seltzer or Apollinaris water
- The juice of half a small lemon
- 1 wine-glass of Bourbon or rye whiskey
Fill the glass full of shaved ice, shake up and strain into a claret glass. Ornament with berries.
(This recipe differs from the modern-day version in the style of glass and the type of ice used, but the prototype was there.)
The next reference comes from, of all places, an 1870 edition of the Waukesha Plainsdealer, a Wisconsin newspaper. The final reference to the drink comes two years later, in 1872. A former ship steward, Elliot Staub, “invented” a drink — the whiskey sour — in a bar in Iquique (then part of Peru). Through these three origins, we come to, more or less, what we have today–a cocktail that mixes a spirit, a sour, and a sweet.
Now that you’re read up and prepared for the day, it’s time to dive in. Check out George Dickel’s version of the original, then a few other takes on this iconic drink.
Whiskey Sour Recipe Variants
George Dickel Whisky Sour
Method: Shake and strain ingredients into an ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with a lemon wedge or cherry.
Dewar’s Sour Rouge
(Created by Cyllan Hicks, New York City)
- 2 oz. Dewar’s 12 Blended Scotch Whisky
- 1 oz. Lemon Juice
- 1 oz. Rosemary Honey Syrup (1:1 honey and water with rosemary)
- ½ oz. Lillet Rouge
Method: Shake and pour over rocks. Add Lillet Rouge as floater. Garnish with lemon wheel and rosemary sprig.
Jeff’s Redneck Sour
- 1.25 oz. Bulleit Rye
- 1 oz. fresh lemon sour
- 5 oz. fresh grapefruit juice
- 2 dashes grapefruit bitters
Method: Shake and strain ingredients into an ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with a grapefruit half wheel.
Basil Hayden’s Summer Sour
(By San Francisco Mixologist Matt Grippo)
- 1 ½ parts Basil Hayden’s Bourbon
- ½ part Fresh Lemon Juice
- ¾ part Sweet Vermouth
- ¼ part Tonic Syrup
- 2 dashes of Angostura Bitters
- Orange Twist (for garnish)
Method: Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously for ten seconds. Strain into an iced filled rocks glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
- 1 ½ parts Knob Creek Bourbon
- ½ part Lemon Juice
- ½ part Simple Syrup
- 2 parts Orangina Soda
- 5 sprigs Thyme
- 1 Egg White
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“I love grapefruit cocktails year-round, but the rye and sage make this one especially wintry.” —Alison Roman, senior associate food editor
The hot toddy is not simply a mixture of hot water and booze. It’s a miracle worker, a doctor, and a life coach in a cup. And although it does seem to do the trick for everything from a sore throat to a cough, it’s just as good when you’re healthy. This version—from Damon Boelte, bar manager at Prime Meats restaurant in Brooklyn—omits the usual honey or sugar and plays up the herbal and spicy notes instead.
How to Make a Whiskey Sour
This is a great drink, because there’s not that much you can do to screw it up.
There are a lot of recipes out there, and frankly any one of them could be great.
My sister for instance, makes her whiskey sours with egg white. Which gives it an awesome froth, and a fantastic texture. For my recipe here, I’m not going to suggest that since I know a lot of people just starting out with cocktails feel pretty worried about cracking egg white into their drinks.
But if you’re feeling adventurous, give her recipe below a try, or get even more unique and try this Union Club cocktail.
My recipe? I keep it really simple, and use the same ratio I use for my classic daiquiris.
Sidenote: Check out the book Cocktail Codex to learn about some of these ratios and recipes. I’m not sure I’ve found a better book for teaching you enough of the basics to help you feel comfortable experimenting on your own. Here are some other favorite cocktail books as well.
Where was I? Oh yeah, ratios.
Super simple, super delicious.
I love the fact that this drink is great for both whiskey and non-whiskey drinkers.
If you know someone who says they don’t like whiskey? Make them one of these.
It cuts out all of the harshness often associated with whiskey, and allows you to taste the spirit without tasting straight alcohol.
And then once you’ve got them hooked on the whiskey sour, then you can slowly graduate them to a peach old fashioned.
Before you know it, they’ll be downing shots of Jamison like its nobody’s business.
Oh wait, we’re adults now. We don’t do that? Right. We don’t do that.
This drink is also great because you can serve it basically however you want.
If you do go with egg white, a coupe is best, but when you leave out the egg white? You can do a coupe, or you can serve it over a big cube in a rocks glass, or even get super pretentious and go nick and nora.
As for whiskey? I like bourbon in this, but use whatever you’ve got. This is not a pretentious drink, so anything goes.
I wouldn’t even judge you if you used the crappy bottled lemon juice.
Ok, that’s a lie. I’d judge you a little bit. But hey, I’m not going to pretend like I haven’t done it in a pinch.
But trust me, fresh lemon juice makes a BIG difference.
Regardless, you’re the boss.
Let me know what you think of my recipe, and how it turns out!
If you’re looking for another “beginner friendly” bourbon cocktail, consider making a mint julep as well. Only 3 ingredients, and super tasy!