Since the beginning of recorded cocktail history in America, the Whiskey Sour has remained a staple. Once again Jerry Thomas' 1862 book The Bartender' Guide is the first published book to mention this sour concoction. Similar to the ebb and flow of the river, this cocktail has periods of popularity and obscurity. In the time before over saturation of branded pre-mixed drinks and 'sour' formulas, the recipe had America's favorite spirit mixed with fresh juices, and refined sugars. As soon as you stray away from the original ingredients though, and start adding juices with preservatives the quality of the drink quickly diminishes. The 80s and 90s can be considered the dark times for this classic. Not all innovations to this drink are for the worse though, for instance, the egg white was not originally part of this recipe but has since helped improve its overall mouth feel and consistency.
Even before the 1860s the combination of citrus and spirits were commonplace. Ships sailing over the Atlantic didn't have the luxury of refrigeration and needed a way to get the sailors a healthy amount of vitamins. Water also at this time was not very clean so the consensus was to drink alcohol. Sailors were left with these two health obstacles and when life hands you lemons and whiskey, you make whiskey sours! I am not saying the ships had a resident mixologist shaking up sours for the whole crew but the original intent was there as they simply added the two ingredients while in the galley. Fast forward to pop-culture of the late 2010s and you can see the Whiskey Sour in almost every scene that Leonardo Decaprio is in during the movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood... For cocktail enthusiasts this drink is not just a prop in the movie but an actual character of the film that entices Rick Dalton (Leo's character) into alcoholism from which he has to overcome. The scenes are utterly hilarious and Leo proves he knows how to whip up some strong sours.
The recipe that I have come to adore the most is also the simplest. Eggs and lemons can be found in your fridge quite often and the simple syrup is easy to make if you have virtually any type of sugar laying around. To make the simple syrup, bring equal portions water and sugar to a simmer, turn off heat and let cool. In a mixing glass, add 1/2 ounce simple syrup, 1 ounce lemon juice, 2 ounces bourbon or rye and 1 eggwhite. Add ice and shake the piss out of it quickly. Strain into a rocks glass or some badass custom glassware. If you want to get fancy and dash a couple of bitters on top, you are sure to get a smile from whoever you serve it to. For a more perfect and less diluted cocktail, shake all the ingredients in a shaker without ice first, then add ice and quickly shake. This is for less dilution of the egg white which helps the overall consistency and flavor.
I would recommend enjoying a Whiskey Sour before or after your meal. The sour aspect is great for opening your palate and the whiskey is great for tying on a quick buzz before your dinner too. Although it is not unheard of to drink Whiskey Sours during your meal, just be aware it might over power lighter flavored foods. Enjoy this amazing cocktail responsibly.
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Maggie Kimberl is one of the most respected and prolific writers in American whiskey, and her journey into the bourbon industry is one-of-a-kind.
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