A whiskey sour recipe is the perfect blend of sweet and sour flavors; a drink enjoyed by bourbon enthusiasts and those new to bourbon alike. The popular cocktail has a very interesting beginning which can be traced back to the early 1800s as a medicinal tonic.. 

 whiskey sour cocktail ingredients

Over the decades, there have been many variations of this popular cocktail classic, including the New York sour, Southern whiskey sour, and scotch sour. Whatever variations you make to your whiskey sour, there's no denying it's a great way to enjoy bourbon

A Brief History of the Whiskey Sour Recipe

The first known published whiskey sour recipe is in "The Bartender's Guide" written by Jerry Thomas in 1862. However, we can accurately assume whiskey sours have existed for longer than what's been formally documented. In fact, its been said that "sours", which are made with any spirit or liquor, were created to keep sailors healthy while at sea. 

In the early days of sailing the open seas, the crew would sometimes run low on perishable food stores and would then have to survive on foods that had a long shelf life, but lacking proper nutrition. Some of those crew would suffer from scurvy, a disease caused by malnutrition, led to anemia, exhaustion, and random bleeding which leads to infections and possibly death. The sour drinks provided a healthy dose of vitamin C and were a healthier alternative to the water supply on board merchant ships.  

Decades later, doctors would discover that it was the vitamin C in sour drinks consumed by sailors aboard ships that ultimately prevented scurvy. Of course, a great source of vitamin C is citrus fruits, such as lemons, that are now a standard garnish in whiskey sours. Once sailors discovered citrus fruits could help keep scurvy at bay, many ships loaded up with lemons, limes, and oranges before setting sail.

In the 1700's and 1800's, sailors would bring rum, whiskey, or gin onto the ships as a way to drink fluids when water either became unsafe to drink, or started to run low. It was also a way to stave off boredom and insanity after being on the open seas for months at a time. Sometimes the water was abundant, but it would become toxic if it sat for too long or became contaminated with bacteria and parasites. Basic hygiene was not a common theme during that time. Rum and whiskey became the safer drink options because they were less likely to become contaminated. 

So, instead of having a ship of intoxicated sailors (drinking straight whiskey or rum), they added different ingredients to the spirits to help water them down. Eventually, a man named Vice Admiral Edward Vernon from England started to mix the citrus fruit with the spirits as a way to quench the thirst of his sailors while also keeping them healthy until returning home. As you may expect, the drinks became very popular with the sailors. "Let cocktails be thy medicine..." and with that, the whiskey sour recipe was born.

Standardizing The Whiskey Sour Recipe

Decades later, after being enjoyed by sailors on the seas, the whiskey and citrus fruit combination was brought ashore. It became so popular that Jerry Thomas included the recipe in his bartending guide book, bringing whiskey sours to bars and homes across the country. Jeremiah "Jerry" P. Thomas was an American born and widely famous bartender who owned and operated many saloons in early New York City. Jerry was a true pioneer in the field of bartending, and standardized many of the most popular cocktails enjoyed to this day. He is  considered to be "the father of American mixology" as well as a hero and role model to aspiring bartenders throughout the world.

To this day, the basic whiskey sour recipe remains simple; and includes liquor (usually whiskey, but bourbon is now just as common), simple syrup, and citrus fruit. Typically, the citrus fruit of choice is lemons, but it can also be limes or oranges or even grapefruit. Some bartenders get creative with the sweetness added to the drink and include ingredients like maple syrup or pure agave. 

Similar to a basic hard "punch" recipe, sour cocktail recipes need to have four common elements: one sour, two sweet, three strong, and four weak. Most punch recipes call for the elements to be added in this order and for the quantities to double when making more. With a whiskey sour, however, the ingredients are pretty much a 1:1 ratio. The weak ingredient included in a whiskey sour is typically ice.

In all sour cocktails, the base liquor should always be the most dominant flavor. Citrus fruit is then added to the drink. When the whiskey sour was first invented, regular cane sugar was used to cut the sour taste, but it was later substituted for simple syrup because it was easier to mix because it dissolves faster than regular sugar.. Once the ingredients have all been mixed in a shaker, the liquid is poured over ice and garnished with a slice or wedge of the sour fruit, or a complimentary fruit. 

The true original whiskey sour recipe contains bourbon or whiskey, lemon, and sugar. Modern whiskey sour recipes include maraschino cherries and a lemon or orange slice (or orange peel) for garnish. A Delmonico glass is the ideal choice for a whiskey sour pour. The Delmonico glass looks similar to a champagne flute but doesn't have a stem. It can also be referred to simply as a "sour glass" among bartenders A typical whiskey sour glass holds 5 ounces of liquid. 

Whiskey sour recipes remained a very popular drink in the United States until Prohibition hit in the 1920s. When Prohibition ended on December 5, 1933, and the 21st Amendment was ratified by president Roosevelt, liquor distribution and sales suffered once again because of World War II. It wasn't until the 1950s and 1960s that the whiskey sour returned to bar menus. Some companies have bottled whiskey sours as "ready-to-drink" preparations, but these are incomparable to the taste of a whiskey sour made while a thirsty patron awaits in anticipation while talking to the professional preparing it. It is the freshness and the experience that makes the whiskey sour special.

Variations of the Whiskey Sour Recipe

Slight variations to standard whiskey sour recipes are acceptable; but their relevance depends on your unique taste preference. Some whiskey sour purists disagree completely with the practice of altering the traditional cocktail recipe in any way. With that said, changing the core recipe sometimes warrants a name change.

When scotch is the spirit of choice, the drink becomes a scotch sour. If you include egg whites in the drink, it becomes a Boston sour. In the United Kingdom, whiskey sours are often made with either gin or brandy instead of bourbon or whiskey. A New York sour is prepared with a few spoonfuls of red wine placed on top. No matter what is added to the drink, it is almost always served shaken in a cocktail shaker cup

The New York sour is sometimes also referred to as the Southern whiskey sour or the continental sour. New York sours date back to the late 1800s but surprisingly  don't actually originate from New York City. It was a Chicago bartender who is credited with inventing the New York sour, which is made with bourbon, lemon juice, simple syrup, and red wine on top.  

Boston sours were invented just before the turn of the century in 1892 out of necessity, and the first published Boston sour recipe can be found in William Schmidt's "The Flowing Bowl." The reason is - during Prohibition, whiskey was bootlegged without any notion of quality control; it had a much harsher taste, so eggs were added to a traditional whiskey sour to keep the cocktail smooth tasting and easy to drink. The recipe for a Boston sour includes bourbon, lemon juice, simple syrup, fresh egg white, and a maraschino cherry for garnish.

No matter how you choose to make a whiskey sour, you can't go wrong - they are rich in history and universally enjoyed by the masses. It would be nearly impossible to happen upon a bar or bartender that was not only unaware fo how to make a whiskey sour - but also one who did not have his or her personal "twist" to the traditional recipe. 

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