This September, the cocktail of the month at La Villa de Mazamet is the whisky sour. In this article, we’re going to explore the sour family of cocktails and find out how they came to be. Then, we’ll go over the recipe and method for our cocktail of the month: the whisky sour.
The perfect combination of citrusy freshness and mellowing sweetness, backed by the rich warmth of alcohol, Sours are one of the earliest cocktail types on record (Brandy Sours were big in the 1850s), and their modern cousins (Cosmos, anyone?) are still holding their own.
The beauty of the Sour is its simplicity: mix together a base liquor, a sour ingredient – usually fresh lemon or lime juice – and a sweetener, and you’re good to go.
So where does the whisky sour come from?
The Sour tends to be thought of by cocktail historians as an individualized version of that matriarch of all cocktails, the Punch, which is basically a combination of base spirit, citrus, sugar and water. You can see how it’s the predecessor to basically every cocktail which doesn’t fall into the old-fashioned category (Sours, Collins’, Daisies etc.)
As is the excuse with many cocktails, the Sour was originally born out of medical necessity. Navies often didn’t have access to safe drinking water and beer would spoil on long journeys so sailors received a ration of spirits, usually rum. To try and combat scurvy, they would mix their spirits with lime juice and a primitive sour was born. They then took this concoction to shore with them where it was refined somewhat, and generally the spirit used there would be whatever was most widely available in the country. For instance, in England it would be more likely to be gin, and then in America American whisky was the go-to.
In Jerry Thomas’s 1862 ‘Bartenders Guide’, he includes recipes for brandy, gin and rum sours, and whisky sours started to appear around the same time. In the 1870s, they’re mentioned in newspaper articles in a manner which tends to indicate that they needed no introduction, so Americans were certainly drinking plenty of them by that point. Egg whites started popping up around 30 years later, probably to mask the inferior bootleg booze during Prohibition.
The choice of whisky
Good news! You can use any kind of whisky for your whisky sour! If we want to dig deeper however, the choice will boil down to either Rye Whisky or Bourbon.
I personally use a standard Jack Daniel’s as I quite enjoy its smokiness brought by their charcoal filtering process, and it’s very easy to source.
A great alternative is Bulleit: you’ll get a good amount of spice with your smooth and rich base, and the best of both worlds because it’s a high-rye content bourbon.
The cocktail triangle: strong, sweet and sour
We’re going to use our golden cocktail ratio: two parts of the strong (the booze), one part of the sour and half a part of the sweet.
Ingredients & method:
60ml (2oz) Jack Daniel’s / Bulleit Bourbon
30ml (1oz) lemon juice
15ml (1/2 oz) simple sugar syrup* – I use Trois Rivières Sugar Cane syrup which my dad kindly brought me back from La Martinique
15ml (1/2 oz) egg white – that’s a bit less than one egg
2 Dashes Orange Bitters (optional)
Maraschino cherry (optional)
* to make simple syrup, add equal parts granulated sugar and water to a small saucepan over medium heat.
There’s no end to the possible permutations of a recipe so simple as base spirits, sweet and sour. Complex cocktails will use a liqueur as the sweetener.
- New York Sour: whisky sour + red wine layer on top
- Amaretto Sour: Disaronno amaretto, lemon juice, simple syrup, egg white
- Daiquiri: rum, lime juice and sugar
- Tom Collins: gin, lemon juice, sugar, and carbonated water.
- Margarita: tequila, lime juice and Cointreau
- Sidecar: cognac, lemon juice and triple sec
- Kamikaze: vodka, triple sec, and lime juice, mixed in equal parts. It is also served as a shot.
What about you? What is your favorite variation? Cheers!