How the Whiskey Sour Became a Maligned Cocktail, and How You Can Make a Great One

Categories: Drink This

Whiskey Sour Ingredients.jpg
That's the old-school 45-percent ABV Makers in the background.
If you go into a random bar and order a whiskey sour, chances are the drink you receive will be terrible. The sour mix is usually the culprit. A similar pre-made concoction of sugar and artificial flavoring has ruined margaritas and other cocktail classics, mostly because bartenders are under the impression they're easier to work with.

Look at the ingredients in a sour mix:

Thumbnail image for Whiskey Sour mix.jpg
Just say no.
Sugar, Citric Acid (Provides Tartness), Lemon Juice Powder (Lemon Juice Dehydrated with Corn Syrup Solids), Sodium Citrate (Controls Acidity), Dried Egg Whites, Calcium Phosphate (Prevents Caking), Lemon Oil, BHA (Prolongs Freshness).

Unless you're at a high-end cocktail den (or The Windmill Lounge), the original recipes that were used to fashion these drinks have long been forgotten. Mixes like these, in either powdered or liquid forms, have become the standard way of preparing cocktails at most bars. Which is weird, because making a whiskey sour the right way takes no more time than methods that make use of pre-made mixes.

Here's how to make a whiskey sour, perfectly suited to you, without the BHA, calcium phsophate and dried egg whites.

Juice a single lemon. Squeeze it right into the shaker and use your fingers to catch any seeds. As long as it's not a terrible piece of fruit they always seems to yield about an ounce of juice. The exact amount won't matter though, because you're going to taste this drink as you go.

In a cocktail shaker, mix the lemon juice with 2 ounces of whatever whiskey you prefer. Start with a tiny squirt of simple syrup (everyone keeps this in their fridge, right?), stir with a spoon and give it a taste. I like mine super tart, so I usually stop there, but it's your drink. Add as much simple syrup as you like till you get the flavor that suits you.

With the drink properly balanced, add a tumbler's glass worth of ice and shake like you've never shaken before. Fancy dance moves, hip gyrations, bouncing and other body undulations are completely unnecessary -- a simple up and down motion will do just fine. Just be thorough. Now pour the mixture back in your tumbler and garnish with a cherry.

It's that easy. Just be warned: the whiskey sour you're used to ordering at your neighborhood bar will never taste the same.

Whiskey Sour Finished.jpg
It's that easy

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My Voice Nation Help

I've never minded whiskey sours with the pre-mix sweet & sour, until I ordered one at a bar in the Palazzo in Las Vegas, and noticed the bartender grabbing a lemon and a lime and heading for his manual juicer!  I wondered what he was going to make!

It was the best version of the sour I'd ever had, and now I'm spoiled against the pre-mix crowd.


i can definitely do this - i can even do this everyday. i might even give our nearby bar a run for its money - of course I might be over-imagining things. I have my own copper whiskey still and I can make my own whiskey and this whiskey sour - and it has none of those crazy additives. neat!!!


Windmill Lounge: the Observer's most overrated bar in town. Can someone explain why, other than the obvious discount?

everlastingphelps topcommenter

If you want it really good AND classic, you need an egg white.  Add the egg white in, and dry shake everything for 10-15 seconds.  THEN add the ice, and shake it like a Polaroid picture for about 30 seconds, until it is thick and frothy.  That's a REAL whiskey sour.


I have switched my "go to" bourbon from Makers Mark to Bulleit..i think it makes a superior Manhattan and  WS.  And it costs about the same.

scott.reitz moderator

@everlastingphelps All an egg white adds is froth and viscosity. It's a nice touch, but fussy. This drink tastes great and is a cinch to make.


@JustSayin Likely another bogus claim of "racism"  in an attempt to shake down owners for money....Jessie Jackson became a very wealthy man doing the same...

One of his sons got a Coke Distribution license out of his father's shakedown.


@CitizenKane Switching from a Beam product to a Diageo product is like switching from Budweiser to Miller. Same shit, slightly different corporate ownership, different bottle. Did you change your scotch from Macallan to Johnnie Walker while you're at it?

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