I was young and alone in Paris on my birthday when I fell in love with whiskey sours.
This was longer ago than I care to recall but I do remember wandering down some small street on the Left Bank near midnight, the Seine just minutes away, desperately in search of a bar so I can celebrate the passing of another year.
Instead of finding a sophisticated wine bar or brasserie, however, I instead stumbled on a place that looked like a 1960s brothel except I could hear live music coming from inside. I took a deep breath and walked through the curtains only to see a hair metal band cranking out Van Halen covers to an oddball crowd lounging on red leatherette seats while a well stocked bar taunted me from the sideline. Since it was ten minutes to 12 and I didn’t think I’d find another bar in time, I ordered my very first whiskey sour.
I’ve had better (and worse) whiskey sours since then but I loved how the lemon’s sourness went with the smokiness of the whiskey and the sweetness of the sugar – and so my love affair began.
The whiskey sour isn’t the most noble of cocktails – some consider it to be a little rough or downmarket and it will never be a symbol of elegance and sophistication like the martini – but I still consider it a classic. And, as with many classics, there are debates on how to make it.
The recipe I personally use is this:
Prep Time: 5 minutes
- 2 shots of rye whiskey
- 1 shot of fresh lemon juice
- 1 shot of sugar syrup
- 3 dashes of bitters
- 1 sweet or maraschino cherry
Shake with ice and pour into a tumbler or old fashioned glass with ice. The cherry is essential.
Having said that, many people would argue with the above.
To start with, some would say an egg white ought to be added to the mix to create foam on the top and add texture to the drink.
I can’t argue with this since I’d probably be in the minority but I personally don’t consider it necessary. I absolutely love the aroma of citrus and while the smell of the egg white is almost negligible, I still think it interferes unnecessarily with the drink. Plus, and call me squeamish if you will, I just don’t like to mix raw egg with my citrus if I don’t have to.
Then there’s the question of what type of whiskey to use. After having whiskey sours with a variety of bourbons and whiskeys I’ve decided that, at least for me, rye whiskey is perfect. It has a taste – almost a tang – that stops me from liking it straight (unlike other bourbons and whiskeys) but that goes perfectly with the lemon in this drink. Having said that, whiskey sours are often made with various bourbons or even Irish or Canadian whiskey instead. Some people insist any upmarket bourbon, such as Woodford Reserve, will work for this drink.
You could arguably make this with less sugar to make it more sour but adding a cherry is, by most bartenders’ measures, necessary. The problem is finding a good one.
Although maraschino cherries have a lovely origin that involve hailing from the Croatian coast and being preserved in liqueur, their popularity in the beginning of the past century has led to less tasteful methods of mass production that involve blanching them of their natural colour, dyeing in some hideous neon shade and preserving in brine and calcium salts (however, in their defense, it is a myth that some are preserved in formaldehyde – even though they may taste like they had been).
Unable to find a better solution than glazed cherries in Sydney I’ve decided as a temporary measure to use jarred sweet cherries. Unlike maraschinos these are squishy rather than firm but at least they’re natural, taste great and add the needed touch of sweetness to the sour as well as an extra splash of colour.
Talking of adding colour, when I trialled my recipe on the Bar Zine Facebook page I received the kind suggestion that a New York Sour is worth trying. The basic difference between a whiskey sour and a New York sour is that the latter has a thin float of dry red wine on top. After researching this drink I have found other good reports on it but, to be honest, my own attempt failed miserably. I wouldn’t say the wine ruined the drink but it didn’t exactly add to it either, although the layer of red on top of the yellow was nice to look at until it all blended into a reddish slurry. But as I said, that’s just my two cents worth – if you have any thoughts then feel free to leave a comment below: