How to make a real whiskey sour

If I say “whiskey sour” and you picture a glass filled with ice and syrupy neon green liquid, then I’m about to introduce you to a whole new world!

This is not your mother’s whiskey sour (unless it is, in which case, good on her!)


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Super Quick History of the Whiskey Sour

For real, I’ll be brief. The cocktail is first named in an 1862 book, the Bartender’s Guide. Tragically, pre-made “sour mix” eventually co-opted this drink, making it both popular and worse. And so it continued, until the craft cocktail boom led bartenders and mixologists to revisit this classic and do right by it.

What is a “Sour” anyway?

Any cocktail made of a spirit, a citrus and something to sweeten things is a member of the sour family. Knowing that, you can see that it’s possible to have a brandy sour or a scotch sour or a rum sour (AKA a daiquiri).

But a true (and wonderful) whiskey sour ISN’T just hooch, lemon and sugar. It has one final, wonderful ingredient – egg whites.

You might be thinking “what? egg whites?! in a drink? Why?!?!”

The answer is froth.

Classic Whiskey Sour Recipe with Egg White

Ok, enough hype. Here’s how to make a whiskey sour with a egg white foam

  • Whiskey – bourbon or rye is traditional – 2 ounces
  • Fresh squeezed lemon juice – 1 ounce
  • Simple Syrup – 3/4 ounce (don’t buy simple syrup,  you can whip up a batch in minutes)
  • Egg White – 1 large or two medium (don’t throw those yolks away, freeze them for later!)
  • Angostura bitters

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How to Make a Whiskey Sour With an Egg White

Combine the whiskey, lemon juice and simple syrup in a dry shaker. A dry shaker means there’s no ice in the shaker, just the liquids.

  • You need a good shaker for this cocktail. This is the shaker I  recommend. It seals well and pours nicely, plus it’s easy to handle.

Give the contents a quick stir.

Add the egg white. Put on the shaker lid. Shake the whole thing vigorously for at least 20 seconds.

  • by dry shaking without ice first, the egg white becomes frothy and emulsifies with the other ingredients.

Gently add two cups of small ice cubes. Shake very briefly to chill the cocktail. Do not shake vigorously. If you like a lot of froth, you can even just lightly stir the sour and the ice to chill and dilute without flattening the foam.

Pour immediately into a rocks glass, preferably one that’s been chilling in the freezer. Marvel at the beautiful, foamy head.

Finish off with a dash of Angostura bitters.


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How to Tweak a Whiskey Sour Recipe

One of the best things about sours is how easy it is to play with the components. It’s so simple to customize a whiskey sour and develop your own personal recipe.

Here’s just a few ideas:

  • Use half lemon, half lime juice
  • Substitute honey for the simple syrup (stir it into the spirit and citrus thoroughly before adding the egg white!)
  • Slice the lemon, grill the slices briefly, then juice

It’s really easy to try different spirits. Nearly any brown liquor works great in a sour, but try different options to see what you like. You can also adjust the amount of sweetener. I personally like mine a bit tarter than the listed ratios, especially if I’m using a sweeter whiskey.

Use an infused simple syrup to give your whiskey sour a hint of floral or herby flavors.

You can also get really wild and use a whole egg instead of just the white. Doing so will create a thick, foamy drink. It’s sweet and sour and boozy, with a heavy mouthfeel. If you use the whole egg, scramble the yolk and white together before shaking.


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What kind of whiskey do you use in a whiskey sour?

There’s no wrong answer to this. The traditional whiskey for a sour is rye or bourbon. Rye is typically less sweet than bourbon and can have a wonderful grassy notes. Bourbon usually has a more oaky finish and is often sweeter.

As a basic budget rye, you can’t go wrong with Bulleit. For bourbon, consider Old Forester 100 Proof. Both are reasonably priced and easy to find, and they hold up well in this cocktail. While you can use any whiskey to make a whiskey sour, I think it’s best to save your really smooth, complex or expensive/interesting spirits to drink straight or in a spirit heavy drink like the Manhattan.