The Whiskey Sour is a classic whiskey cocktail that’s easy to make at home. This is a sour cocktail for Whiskey lovers, because the flavor and character of the whiskey shines through. If you’re not a whiskey lover, think of it as a whiskey-based Margarita. You might surprise yourself with how much you love this cocktail.
I spend summer evenings sipping Daiquiris on the patio, but when the seasons begin to change I reach for the whiskey and make Whiskey Sours instead. The whiskey base provides warming hints of vanilla and caramel that get me in the mood for colder weather and fall flavors.
History of the Whiskey Sour
The Whiskey Sour is an American classic, originating in the mid 1800s as Americans developed a taste for whiskey from the Midwest. It rose to nearly universal popularity and dominated bar menus for nearly 100 years, both before and after prohibition.
“When American meets American then comes the whisky sour.” Thus declared the Atlanta Daily Constitution in 1879, and it wasn’t wrong. From roughly the 1860s to the 1960s, the Sour, and particularly its whiskey incarnation, was one of the cardinal points of American drinking and, along with the Highball, one of the few drinks that could come near to slugging it out with the vast and aggressive tribe of Cocktails in terms of day-in, day-out popularity.David Wondrich. Imbibe! 2015.
Over time, the popularity of the Whiskey Sour was eclipsed by another sour drink: The Margarita. The Margarita is now the most consumed cocktail in America. The two are very similar – swap the whiskey for tequila and the lemon for lime and you have a basic Margarita.
Whiskey Sour Recipe
- 2 oz Whiskey
- 3/4 oz Lemon Juice
- 3/4 oz Simple Syrup
- 1 Lemon wedge, maraschino cherry, or other garnish
- Add lemon juice, simple syrup, and whiskey to a cocktail shaker
- Fill the cocktail shaker with cubed ice
- Shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds
- Double-strain the cocktail into a serving glass
- Garnish the cocktail with your selected garnish
- Juice your lemon when you make the cocktail. Citrus juice begins to oxidize when it’s exposed to air, so don’t juice your lemons until you’re ready to make the cocktail.
- Fill the shaker with cubed ice. Don’t use crushed ice, as it will add too much dilution to the cocktail. Shake really hard for 15-20 seconds and get that cocktail so cold that you can barely stand to touch the metal shaker.
- Double-strain the cocktail through a fine mesh strainer to remove all the fruit pulp, seeds, and ice shards when you pour it into the serving glass.
Detailed instructions and notes
Juice your lemon when you make the cocktail. Citrus juice begins to oxidize when it’s exposed to air, so don’t juice your lemons until you’re ready to make the cocktail.
Fill the shaker with cubed ice. Don’t use crushed ice, as it will add too much dilution to the cocktail. Shake really hard for 15-20 seconds and get that cocktail so cold that you can barely stand to touch the metal shaker.
Double-strain the cocktail through a fine mesh strainer to remove all the fruit pulp, seeds, and ice shards.
You can serve this cocktail straight up (without ice) in a coupe, or over ice in an Old Fashioned glass.
Garnish with a lemon wheel, Luxardo cherries, or nothing at all. The garnish in this cocktail is more decoration than ingredient.
I like to really taste the whiskey in my Whiskey Sour, so I used my 3:3:8 Home Cocktail Craft Ratio. If you want to mute the whiskey a little more, or change the balance of sweet and sour, experiment with the other Golden Ratios for sour cocktails.
Is there egg white in a Whiskey Sour?
In the classic recipe, no – there is no egg white in a Whiskey Sour.
However, in the 1920s, European bartenders began adding egg whites to sour cocktails to create a creamier texture and the signature white foam on top. This practice was adopted by American bartenders who fled to Europe during prohibition, and brought back to post-prohibition America in the 1930s.
It was not universal, however. In the 1948 classic, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, David Embury presents a Whiskey Sour recipe and ten variations, only one of which uses egg whites – and then only 1/2 an egg white per drink.
The egg white sour is popular – almost ubiquitous – on Instagram and Pinterest because it looks amazing in pictures. We love the look of layered cocktails, and the egg white foam gives a beautiful appearance and acts as a palette for balancing flowers or drawing hearts with bitters. However, looks are only part of the enjoyment of a cocktail. Texture and taste are much more important.
Add egg white if you enjoy drinking it. Leave it out if you don’t.
Best Whiskey for a Whiskey Sour
If you’ve read the blog before, you probably know what I’m going to say here. The best whiskey is the one you like to drink.
If you don’t know what you like, most people prefer the sweeter taste of bourbon to the spicier notes of rye whiskey. Here are a few major brands of bourbon that I recommend: Old Forrester, Four Roses (especially the Small Batch), Buffalo Trace, and Bulleit Frontier Whiskey.
Need a Cocktail Shaker?
If you’re in a pinch, you can use anything with a lid as a cocktail shaker. Surely you have a mason jar, Thermos, or travel mug in the kitchen. If you’re really desperate, you could use tupperware!
If you want to upgrade to a pro-level shaker, check out the Barfly weighted tins. I got the stainless steel finish because it’s dishwasher safe.