The Whiskey Sour

by Will on February 5, 2011

This is rightly a classic. Our friend Zach complains that he often orders it at bars out of desire to be holding an “old man drink,” (which certainly the Whiskey Sour is) and finds it a rude awakening when he discovers himself subsequently holding a rather effeminate-looking yellow drink with a cherry in it. The drink thus presents itself as a paradox.

The Whiskey Sour:

1 1/2 oz. Bourbon or rye whiskey

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 oz. lemon juice

Muddle the sugar and lemon juice at the bottom of a glass, then add whiskey and stir on ice. Serve either on the rocks in an old-fashioned glass, or straight up. Garnish with a cherry.

The name that this drink has retained, the whiskey sour, points to an important truth about the historical development of mixology. Early on, before the vermouths and elixers and liqueurs entered the picture, there were two basic classes of mixed drinks: cocktails and sours. Cocktails were spirit + sugar + bitters. The Old-Fashioned, formerly called the “whiskey cocktail”, is the only drink of this class to have survived to the modern day. Sours were spirit + sugar + lemon or lime juice. So one could have a gin sour if one wished, or a brandy sour, or a tequila sour. The whiskey sour is the only one to have held on to the old name, but most of the popular cocktails that reign still are variations on the basic sour recipe: think Margaritas, sidecars, and even the gimlet!

As a variation, one can use equal parts Cointreau and lemon juice. I tried calling this the “General Grant” for awhile, but the name didn’t really work. Alas.

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