The Whiskey Sour is a Classic That Continues to Inspire

The Spruce
  • 3 mins
  • Prep: 3 mins,
  • Cook: 0 mins
  • Yield: 1 serving
Ratings (33)

The Whiskey Sour is one of the most popular sour drinks and rightfully so, it is a great cocktail! It is a classic recipe that has been around for years and is very easy to mix up.

It is sour, yes, but the sweetness of some whiskeys and the simple syrup will offset and certainly complement the tartness. Balance is key, so it is best to stick to the pours suggested in the recipe, give it a taste, then adjust your next drink to suit your taste.

If you add soda to this drink (or any sour) you will have a collins. To be precise, the whiskey version is a John Collins.

Just in case you need a reason to drink a Whiskey Sour, National Whiskey Sour Day is August 25th.

What You'll Need

How to Make It

  1. Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice cubes.
  2. Shake well.
  3. Strain into a chilled sour glass or over ice in an old-fashioned glass.
  4. Garnish with the cherry.

Tips for Making the Perfect Whiskey Sour

The Whiskey. The style and brand of whiskey you choose will create a different cocktail. Most drinkers prefer bourbon though a good rye whiskey will make an excellent Whiskey Sour as well. You may need to adjust the sweet and sour elements for each different whiskey you pour.

The Canadian Club Sour, for example, picks up the citrus when mixing with Canadian Club 12.

If you choose a Scotch whiskey, you have a Scotch Sour. It's a little different than the Whiskey Sour and often skips the sweetener completely. Yet, scotch also makes an appearance in the  UK Sour in which cinnamon syrup and apricot liqueur sweeten the drink.

  • A fun and very popular variation is the Frisco Sour which uses Benedictine as the sweetener and employs both lemon and lime for the sour.
  • In the Old Thyme Sour, we see Irish whiskey in a very complex mix. The ingredients include St. Germain, Green Chartreuse, cinnamon, and thyme. It's quite fascinating.

The Sour. The key to a great Whiskey Sour is to use fresh lemon juice.  Bottled lemon juices are either too sweet or too sour and they will significantly affect the quality of your drink.

Sour mix is a popular shortcut for the sweet and sour elements of this drink. While this is an easy option and many sour recipes opt for it, you do lose a bit of control. If you do opt for a sour mix, make your own because it is very easy and better than most commercial brands.

If you would like to play around with the sour ingredients, the Whiskey Sour 101 is a fun example. In this recipe, grapefruit and lime are paired with honey and a honey liqueur.

Add Egg White. A traditional recipe for a Whiskey Sour includes an egg white. This tends to tame the sourness of the drink and make it a bit smoother. The use of raw egg is a matter of personal choice and has fallen out of favor for many drinkers because of the potential for salmonella (which is minimal).

When using egg, it is generally preferred to serve the drink on the rocks. You will also need to shake the drink for at least 30 seconds and put some serious effort into the shake.

How Strong is the Whiskey Sour?

Assuming that we pour an 80-proof whiskey into a Whiskey Sour, it is a relatively mild 14% ABV (28 proof). This is about half the strength of a Manhattan, so in comparison, the sour is a light weight.

History of the Whiskey Sour

Written by Lance Mayhew 

The Whiskey Sour has a long history in the world of cocktails. It made an appearance in the first published cocktail book, Jerry Thomas' "The Bon Vivant's Companion" or "How to Mix Drinks" (published in 1862).

The sour evolved from the practice of adding lime juice to rum rations to prevent scurvy among sailors in the British Navy in the 1700s. As fresh fruit was perishable, the juice would be doctored with rum, gin, or sometimes whiskey. This would preserve the juice and ensure the health of the sailors.

It didn't take long to figure out that citrus and spirits that were enhanced by a bit of sugar made a rather palatable and delicious cocktail. And so, the sour drink was born and it's been a favorite ever since.

Remix Your Sour Without the Whiskey

Almost every distilled spirit in the bar has made it into a sour cocktail at one time or another. It's quite simple and all you really need to do is switch out the whiskey for gin, rum, tequila, or vodka. Just as you would with different styles of whiskey, adjust the sweet and sour to suit the new liquor and your taste.

When it comes to brandy, flavored brandies like apricot are popular in sours.  The Pisco Sour is another brandy version that is very common and it almost always includes the egg white.

Liqueurs are not strangers to the sour formula, either. They act as the base liquor and produce some very interesting drinks. Because these spirits have sugar, it's often best to reduce or eliminate the sweetener. 

While many liqueurs can work in a sour, the most popular are amarettoGrand MarnierKahlua,  and Midori (this makes the Grinch Cocktail). Though it's not sweet (or technically not a liqueur), absinthe makes a nice sour drink as well.