Whiskey Sour – Classic Recipe & History

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Whiskey Sour

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Course: DrinksCuisine: American






Total time



Learn how to make a classic Whiskey Sour.


  • 2/3 oz 2/3 Lemon Juice

  • 1/2 oz 1/2 Simple Syrup

  • 2 oz 2 Bourbon


  • Technique: Saxe Soda Shake
  • Combine all ingredients into a cocktail shaker.
  • Add one medium or two small ice cubes to the cocktail shaker and shake until the ice fully melts.
  • Without a strainer, pour the chilled and aerated drink into a glass.
  • Garnish:
  • Maraschino cherry


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The Origins Of The Whiskey Sour.

While the standard American style sour is likely as old as the country itself, it traces its origins to the Age of Exploration. In the mid-1500s, the Spanish Navy began preserving concentrated lime juice in high-proof spirits that could last on long voyages as medication to fight and prevent scurvy. These medications were known for being super sour and not tasting good. In the early 1800s, there were attempts at improving these into actually good drinks. Along with crustas and daisies, the sour was one of these attempts. The sour cocktail is simple and follows a structure of 2 oz base spirit, 1 oz citrus, and 1/2 oz simple syrup. This standard recipe still has its roots in the overly sour medication, and I find this ratio a bit too acidic. By reducing the citrus to 2/3 oz or 20 mLs, I have found you end up with a tastier drink that most people find pleasant. Please enjoy this early whiskey sour pulled from the 1862 edition of the Bar-Tenders guide by Jerry Thomas. Jerry Thomas’s sour recipes stayed unchanged until the 1950s when cocktail books said you could add egg whites for a more velvety texture. The books stressed that adding egg whites was optional and not traditional.

To Add Egg Whites Or Not To Add Egg Whites.

This has been the single most challenging cocktail to document, and I try to keep my sources to only published books. Sometimes I use newspapers, but I don’t give them much weight. The conclusion I have come to is a traditional whiskey sour; all sours, for that matter, do not have egg whites. Yes, there were cocktails like the clover club or pink lady that had egg whites, or you can go back even further to the Fizz-style cocktails from the 1880s that had egg whites. But not until the early 1950s am I able to find anyone using egg whites in a cocktail labeled a Whiskey Sour. Sour cocktails before the 1950s that used egg whites in this way all seemed to have fun names and were presented as cocktails for the ladies. In the 1930s or 40s, if a man ordered a whiskey sour and were handed one with egg whites, he would probably be offended or think the bartender mixed his drink up with some women’s at the bar. I looked through maybe 100+ books ranging from the 1880s to the late 1960s, which was pretty consistently what I found.

The earliest use of egg whites in a standard sour I could find was from King Cocktail by Eddie Clark. In 1947 Eddie Clark was the successor head bartender to Harry Craddock at the Savoy. The 1955 official British Bartenders union cocktail book, The UKBG, also mentions using egg whites in sours, but both books say they are optional and not traditional. Assumedly egg whites were added upon request and not the usual way a whiskey sour was made. Keep in mind Harry Craddock, 1920 – the 40s, did not make his sours with egg whites. All those cocktails had different fun names. Eddie Clark even grouped those fun cocktails in his book’s “For ladies only” section.

Use The Right Kind Whiskey For A Whiskey Sour.

The most essential ingredient in the whiskey sour is the kind of whiskey. First off, don’t use scotch. While great for sipping, it’s not great for mixing, and the lemon and sugar are so strong they overpower the more mellow, smooth flavors of most scotches. Second, Don’t use Irish whiskey. The smoky, mossy flavor doesn’t pair well with the sweet and tart lemon flavors. The two whiskeys to consider are bourbon and rye. Bourbon is the more common and traditional choice. Its corn, vanilla, toasted oak, etc. flavor pair well with the other two ingredients. I like using rye for mixing, though, and I think a nice rye whiskey is perfect for this drink. Rye is spicy and sharp, and when it’s combined with sugar and lemon, the combination is excellent. I feel rye is awful to sip (I’m not too fond of the spiciness of most rye whiskeys straight), but when it’s used to mix, it makes excellent drinks.

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