Whiskey Sour

While I generally prefer my whiskey neat, or in a good boozy cocktail, I do get a taste for a whiskey sour every once in a while. The whiskey sour is about as classically simple as you can get: whiskey, citrus, sugar, bitters. However, there are a few variations on the drink, and it might depend on where you are ordering your cocktail what you might get. Order in a high volume college bar and you are going to get the Daily’s neon sweet and sour mix with whiskey. Order in a nicer establishment known for simple classic cocktails, you’ll likely get the original combination of whiskey, fresh lemon juice, and simple syrup. Find a trendy bar or restaurant known for their craft cocktails, and chances are high that you’ll receive a fluffy, egg white cocktail served up, with bitters drizzled on top.  And it will be delicious.

The whiskey sour with the addition of the egg white has become what many people claim to be the authentic, pre-prohibition era recipe. But in reality, the recipe was originally penned by Jerry Thomas in 1862, without egg white. Jerry Thomas was the world’s first celebrity bartender, or at least the first we have any record of. This is his recipe for a whiskey sour in his 1862 The Bartender’s Guide: 

Whiskey Sour by Jerry Thomas

  • Take 1 large tea-spoonful of powdered white sugar dissolved in a little Seltzer or Apollinaris water
  • The juice of half a small lemon
  • 1 wine-glass of Bourbon or rye whiskey
  • Fill the glass full of shaved ice, shake up and strain into a claret glass.  Ornament with berries. 

Apollinaris was the Pellegrino of Jerry Thomas’s day, and a claret glass is a type of wine glass. Kind of awkward instruction, but the basics: whiskey, sugar, citrus. No egg white.

Maybe it wasn’t part of the original whiskey sour, but the addition of egg white adds wonderful dimension to the cocktail.  Think of the fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth texture of a lemon meringue pie. If you haven’t already tried it and loved it, you have to give it a taste. 

The important step not to miss for any cocktail with egg white is the dry shake. A dry shake is simply shaking the cocktail ingredients before the addition of ice for cooling and diluting. Essentially, the proteins in the egg white need a little extra shaking time to break down and take up more space – that’s what creates the “fluffiness” texture. Adding ice too soon with dilute the drink too much and not give the fluffiness enough time. So you have to take a little extra time and start dry.

Following is the recipe I personally use when mixing up a whiskey sour.

  Whiskey Sour with egg white

  • 2 oz. Bourbon or rye whiskey
  • ½ oz. lemon juice
  • ½ oz. lime juice
  • ¾ oz. simple syrup
  • 1 egg white

Dry shake all ingredients for about 20-30 seconds, or until the egg whites are frothy. Add ice and shake again until chilled. Double strain into a coupe or martini glass, such as Clink Barware’s Twist Martini Glass. Top with lines of bitters, then use a garnish stick or toothpick to drag through the bitters to create fun swirls or designs. Garnish with a brandied cherry. 

If you prefer no fluff, simply leave out the egg whites and add a few drops of bitters to the mix. Without egg white, a whiskey sour is best served on the rocks, in a glass such as Clink Barware’s Brilliance Rocks Glass. A glass made in the USA, just like the Bourbon going into your cocktail. 

Following is the simple recipe for this version. 

Whiskey Sour

  • 2 oz. Bourbon or rye whiskey
  • ¾ oz. lemon juice
  • ½ oz. simple syrup
  • 2-3 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake ingredients with ice, strain into Brilliance Rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with lemon and brandied cherry.

Ernest Hemingway introduced F. Scott Fitzgerald to whiskey sours, according to Philip Greene’s To Have and Have Another. Hemingway’s whiskey sours likely consisted of scotch, lemonade, and a splash of Perrier water, yet another variation, and was simply built in the glass as opposed to being shaken.  According to Greene, the two authors met at the Dingo Bar in Paris for the first time, and immediately spent time traveling to Lyon, France together. Interestingly, the trip was to retrieve a car that had lost its roof, and the trip back to Paris consisted of a lot of rain. Ever the dramatic hypochondriac, Fitzgerald felt that the dampness from traveling in the rain had congested his lungs, and insisted he was dying.  Hemingway, already knowing the character of his new fellow writer, introduced him to the whiskey sour to nurse him back to health. I wondered how each would have preferred their whiskey sours in today’s bar scene. I can only imagine Hemingway would double the whiskey in the recipe, and Fitzgerald would be too frightened to try an egg white for fear of Salmonella.   

Enjoy National Whiskey Sour Day everyone. Cheers!

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