Improving a Whiskey Sour with a Designated Cocktail Syrup

In my Whiskey Sour experiment (and also in the taste of my last Whiskey Sours in the bar), I haven't
been fully convinced about the taste of the whiskey sours.

I did everything right: used quality bourbon, used proper ice, shook long enough, used fresh lemon...
yet the whiskey sour was slightly too lemony - it had enough alcohol, the right sweetness, the sourness - yet it was somewhat off. No - it was not somewhat off - let me rephrase it - I was not 100% satisfied with the results. It wasn't as good as the Whiskey Sour in front of my imaginary eye (or on my imaginary tastebuds).

Not that I tried a Whiskey Sour in another bar which has been better...

That sounds crazy to you? Welcome to my world...

The problem is that: as soon as I will change the ratios, the cocktail will also loose its balance... and to be honest, I don't really think, that solely tinkering with the ratios, will bring me anywhere...

I have been breaking down how to improve cocktails before on this blog. Look at every single ingredients and use the best suitable (that doesn't necessarily mean most expensive):


  • Bourbon: 
    • Yes for a proper Whiskey Sour, you need bourbon. Rye sour is not bad at all... but the sweetness and intensity of Bourbon works just better... there is a reason, why the Whiskey Sour is an evergreen and no other "sour" is overtaking it. 
    • You would need an intense Bourbon: best would be a bottle in Bond (about 50%) or similar stronger variation. My current favorites are Knob Creek (nutty, intense, cararmel'y, awesome), Elijah Craig (classic, classy, intense, typical bourbon aromas: vanilla, clove, hint of allspice, oak), Four Roses Small Batch (slightly fruitier, but also awesome, vanilla, cherry, spice).
    • It doesn't need to be a straight (barrel finish would be interesting) - but as most more unique Bourbons are only available in the US - you should be your own judge...
  • Lemon:
    • As much as I love the smell of Meyer Lemons, it just confuses the characteristics of the Whiskey Sour - try to stay classic.
    • Fresh lemon juice only - if pre-pressed - ensure, that it is not older than 8 hours (refrigerated). 
    • Be careful, not to get too much lemon oils from the peel into the juice/drink. Seriously, it doesn't seem to be a factor, but it certainly is. Lemon should give the sour its sourness and a slight fresh lemon'y edge - not a "lemon-drop aroma".
  • Ice:
    • Ensure that the ice cubes are full and that the ice doesn't carry a lot of surface water, which would over dilute the drink.
  • Rich syrup:
    • Yeah - should be rich - 2-to-1 ratio - which keeps the water (dilution) at bay.
    • White sugar (or at least light organic sugar) - no Demerara or other sugars.
    • And here - the real story starts...
As you can see - there is not much, what you could do with the Bourbon (the "flaw" of the Whiskey Sour was not, that the Bourbon was not right...) or the lemon... and it was for sure not the rich syrup. 

However while it is (at this stage?) difficult to procure some specific lemon-subspecies with lower lemon'iness. There seems a lot of opportunity to tinker with the syrup.

At this stage people are just using maple syrup, sugar or Demerara sugar instead of normal rich syrup. This is obviously also a way - but it will distract from the whiskey and ultimately make a different cocktail.

This new "opinionated-alchemist" concept (you have seen, what I did here?) is, to augment the typical aromas of Bourbon and make a syrup, which just "tingles" specific facets out of the distillate:

  • Vanilla - one of the most recognizable aromas in bourbon is vanilla - which derives directly out of the virgin heavily charred barrels. no other spirit has this bold aroma - not even rye. 
  • Caramel - this goes hand in hand with vanilla. It is the charred oak. And let's face it - a lot of people love Bourbons, which are just caramel'y. Especially when they are slightly older.
  • Dried fruits - these facets are less prominent. Yet especially dried apricot, peach and cherry aromas are often found. They just mustn't take over, as otherwise the spirit drifts into other categories (other oak aged distillates often also carry dried fruit aromas).
  • Baking spices - Off course - this is also often found in other spirits - however maybe even more than dried fruits, baking spices are making bourbons complex. you can find usually notes of nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, allspice aromas in rum. Again - it never should be too much, otherwise the aroma distracts and goes towards other spirits.
  • Nuts - similar to baking spices nuts are emphasizing on the aged oak character.
  • Dried coconut - this might surprise, but whiskey experts know, that there is always a hint of dried coconut in Bourbons - which derives also from the charred white oak barrels. Obviously the coconut mustn't be really noticeable - only a trace should be there.
As you can see, in theory it seems not especially difficult to replicate a syrup, which emphasizes on the characters of a Whiskey Sour.

The question though is, should the syrup be especially concocted for a specific Bourbon (or: is this even possible?) or should it be a generic Whiskey Sour Syrup?

To directly start with a base which has more X-flavor, I would start with a fermented rich syrup (based on Water-Kefir).

Furthermore - I will for sure add some citric acid to the syrup. It sounds slightly awkward, but it has a very important reason: you can reduce the lemon juice, without loosing sweet/sour balance. And as an additional benefit, the syrup would stay longer.

Now it is just for you to wait, until some experiments are conducted (and probably, I will sleep out my upcoming hangover...). So- stay tuned.
















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