The "perfect" Whiskey Sour

After the high popularity of my Mojito post - as well as the also well liked post about the Diablo, I would like to highlight here, another bar staple: The humble Whiskey Sour.

Also: if you can make a proper Whiskey Sour, you can do a lot of other Sours - basically you can take any distillate and make a Sour out of it...

I call it the "perfect" Whiskey Sour to be obviously a bit provocative - but also, as you get often a less than perfect drink, when you are ordering one.

So what are the ingredients of a Whiskey Sour?

  • American Whiskey [yes - I say it: definitely no Scotch, also for sure no Canadian, no Irish and obviously no Japanese]
    • Truth has to be told - there is definitely something like an adequate Scotch Sour. But it should simply not be called Whiskey Sour, as the character is totally different. Period!
  • Lemon Juice
  • Sugar
  • Optional egg white
Additional to the ingredients, these features are also important to consider:
  • Balance between sweet and sour
  • Ingredient proportions
  • A proper alcohol content
  • A very low temperature
  • Texture [on the rocks or neat, a WS makes only a lot of fun, if there are a lot of ice shards from shaking]
And finally these are things, which you don't want to see in a Whiskey Sour
  • Again: any other Whiskey than American Straight.
  • Any fruit except of lemon
  • Fruit flesh
  • Any herbs or other botanicals
  • Any syrup or cordial other than gomme, rich or simple syrup.

No lets dive in deep:

Whiskey: The whiskey is essential in a whiskey sour. You need a bold one; great, highproof bourbon. You can use rye - but bourbon is better. It just kicks like a mule and is tamed by the other ingredients. It is just the right thing to do. A proper American straight whiskey has 90º [this would be 45% abv] or more. Look on your Jim Beam or Jack Daniel's: 40% abv? So you know, what you should not use!
A tip: one of my favorite bourbons are Elijah Craig [of Heavenhill]. I just love this bourbon - it comes at 97º [which is your 47% abv], it has the character of really classic bourbon. And it is even not expensive [Jack Daniel's "poor" No.7 is more expensive]. A perfect mixing [as well as drinking] bourbon. Knob Creek [small batch collection of Jim Beam] is also a great one. Very nutty and toasty, it even has 100º [50% abv] - you really cannot do wrong with this one. But there are also other good whiskeys around. Just don't get hooked up, by the big liquor companies and their calamitous brand marketing.
Rye makes also good Whiskey Sours [again a fine line - you might want to call it a Rye Sour, then].
However the result has a spicier, more complex character...

For other sours, you can choose another spirit. High proof works also here very good. Just try it out - there is nothing wrong with a Tequila Sour or Brandy Sour... or if you wish even a Scotch Sour...

Sweetener: a classic Whiskey Sour uses sugar. No aspartame, no stevia, no sugarcane juice, no turbinado sugar and no honey. Good ol' white sugar.
However you have different choices: Caster sugar - is the natural [and very classic] choice. However it doesn't dissolve that fast, and you have to make an extra effort to dissolve it, before you shake the drink with ice. However you are rewarded with a much more concentrated drink. If you would like to go this way [which takes usually a bit longer, than if you would use syrup], use baker's sugar or fructose - both have smaller crystals and dissolve much faster. Rich syrup [Dumb people would buy a commercial sugar cane syrup, which happens to be at least 10 times more expensive, than the simple home made version] works also very good - this is 2 parts of sugar and 1 part of water. It needs less of an effort, to use syrup, as it will be directly ready and doesn't need to dissolve. Gomme is a special incarnation of "sugar syrup" - there is some added gum arabica, which improves much the mouthfeel. Monin has one on offer [so you can save the effort and mess, to make it yourself].
Simple syrup is not that good, as it dilutes the drink too much [with its own water as well as the effect of "adding addition" water, results in far more dilution.
Agave syrup? Yes you can use it - it is pretty neutral. However it is sweeter, is much more expensive [but don't have major advantages], and for my taste too ethnic [except you are settling to a Tequila Sour, in which agave nectar makes perfect sense...

Lemon: It is simply fresh lemon juice. Ok - you can "age " your lemon juice to perfection [aging means just let it partially oxidize for around 6-8 hours] - Dave Arnold made  an experiment and everyone in the focus group, voted, that hours-aged lemon juice taste better. But on the other hand it is not really practical [as older lemon juice is pretty nasty]. No - you should not use limes. Meyer lemons [who has the luck, to live, where Meyer lemons are available] would be the farest option.
Again - a non traditional Whatever Sour, can use also other citrus fruits. But again, this is not he classic version then.
One option [a labor intensive one] - is to make your own sweet & sour mix. It can make a sour more lemony and bright - but a bit less classic: zest some lemons and squeeze the juice. Put everything together with some sugar. Dissolve the sugar and refrigerate for one hour. Strain the zest out of the "lemon juice syrup" and you will have a very zesty, breathtaking sweet & sour mix. Separate lemon juice and sugar are definitely more versatile. You don't want to use your mix in drinks like a Side Car or White Lady, as it makes them too sweet [you can't skip the bitter orange liqueur for those drinks] - this said - for a Whiskey Sour, this mix is more than welcome...

Egg White: I said it before: egg white is great for volume of a drink. And it is trendy - and after only a couple of minutes your Sour smells like wet dog. If you have sensitive guests forget about the egg white [at least as long, as there is no explanation or solution to get rid of the smell]. But you surely don't need egg white, unless your a foamy head fetishist.

Bitters: No - in a classic Whiskey Sour, there are no bitters. On the other hand, you cannot really go wrong with bitters. Lets keep it like that: it is worth a variation.

Definitely it makes a lot of sense to make a variations of a Whiskey Sour. Exchanging the sugar with honey or maple syrup make damn tasty drinks. Also adding [carefully] other flavors is tasty fun. To add bitters - why not? 
However, what is a sour and what isn't? There is a fine line and everyone will have a different opinion. Important is, that you know how a classic Sour is made - and absolutely - how does it taste.

Proportions: In my bartender life, I came across the strangest proportions for a whiskey sour. I usually keep it simple: 4-2-1 or 5-3-2  [whiskey-lemon juice-sugar syrup] are popular versions, which both taste great. Rich syrup should rather have a 5-3-1 - as it is more concentrated. Taste the different proportions and decide, which is your favorite one. And stay away of too sweet versions like 4-2-2...

Preparation: Dry shaken or not [if you use egg white, you can first of all shake without ice to increase the froth], you have to shake a whiskey sour very long and strong - basically until your arms fall off.
The drink has to reach at least -5ºC, but even might be colder. This means also, that the glass should be pre-chilled...

The Classic Whiskey Sour

5 cl higher proof Bourbon
3 cl fresh squeezed lemon juice
1.5 cl rich syrup
optional: half a egg white [if you don't smell the wet dog - or don't mind] 

Add all ingredients into a shaker filled with a lot of ice cubes. Shake until it hurts and strain the drink into a pre chilled tumbler with ice cubes [but no melted water]. Garnish with an amarena cherry, half lemon and orange wheel. Make a victory dance around the drink, as you know, that this will be damn tasty!


  1. Perfect recipe, thank you. My hands were very cold during shaking.. Are gloves allowed?

  2. we made the best whiskey sours fresh lemons and some fresh juice of orange instead of the sugar...


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