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Drink Of The Week: Whiskey Sour

It might not sound like a very exciting drink this week, but chances are you have never had this drink properly prepared. A well-executed Whiskey Sour has the perfect balance of sweet and sour and highlights the wonderful flavors of good whiskey. It has a silky texture so it goes down easy and it's topped with a wonderful meringue. If that's not how you would describe a Whiskey Sour then you must be making it wrong.

The sour is an important cocktail classification. There are many examples. A typical sour cocktail consists of a base spirit, a souring agent and a sweetener. In this case, the base is bourbon, and the souring ingredient is lemon juice. Sugar (or simple syrup) is the sweetener. Did you think I was going to use a store-bought sweet and sour mix? You must know better than that by now!

Sour mix itself probably started with fresh ingredients that were pre-mixed behind the bar to save time, but like many bar products, it evolved into a bottle of chemicals and artificial flavors. I suppose it only makes sense since so many cocktails follow the basic sour formula. A margarita, for instance, is a tequila sour—lime is the souring component and triple sec is the sweetener. A daiquiri is really just a rum sour. You get the idea. The problem with the bottled mix (besides the fact that it isn't freshly squeezed juice) is that various sours call for different souring agents and sweeteners. You could compromise and make a mix that has both lemons and limes, but that's the whole point—you compromise. The better cocktail is one made to order with fresh ingredients. Oh, and there's one more thing: egg white.

Whiskey Sour
2 oz bourbon
1 oz simple syrup (1:1)
.75 oz lemon juice
egg white

Add bourbon, simple syrup and lemon juice to a cocktail shaker. Crack an egg and separate the yolk, reserving the white. Add the egg white to the shaker, seal and "dry shake" (without ice) vigorously for several seconds. Open the shaker, add lots of ice, seal and shake again until very cold. Strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice. Garnish with a cocktail cherry.

I used Maker's Mark bourbon for this recipe, but you can use any brand. Actually, you could use any whiskey you like, but I think a nice bourbon works the best. Don't be afraid to experiment. If you want to use rye, give it a shot. Do you like Jack Daniels? Why not? It's your drink, and you should drink what you love.

The simple syrup here is a basic one-to-one ratio of sugar and water. I always have a small bottle of simple syrup already mixed and stored in the refrigerator. If you are following along week to week, you probably want to make a batch of your own. As long as it's not being served to minors in lemonade or something, you can add a splash of vodka to make it last longer.

Once again we have fresh lemon juice. Don't use the bottled stuff, and don't use sour mix to save time. Trust me on this. Your best cocktails deserve the best ingredients. Fresh lemons are the way to go.

The Egg
It's not like we are turning all Rocky Balboa with this drink. Eggs have long been used as a protein in cocktails to add body and to create a beautiful, foamy meringue. Besides, we are not using the whole egg here—just the white, and you really only need a teaspoon at that. By adding a protein and giving it a dry shake before adding ice, you are starting an emulsion that will build up to a lovely espuma to top your drink. It will also create an amazingly smooth texture that you can't get without it. Before you turn your back on this part, you really should to set aside your concerns about raw eggs and consider this. Studies have shown that the chance of you getting a bad egg is about 1 in 30,000—not very likely. Second, you are adding this to liquid that contains alcohol which by it's very nature kills bacteria. Finally, the concentration of citric acid in this cocktail is not making it easy for anything to survive in the glass. If you are still worried about salmonella, you could wash your egg with warm soapy water first in order to minimize contamination from the outside of the shell. You could also use pasteurized eggs. It's certainly an optional component and the risks are extremely low, but if for some reason you cannot have eggs or you have a compromised immune system, you can skip this ingredient. Otherwise, try it at least once before you decide you don't want the egg white.

Separating the white from the yolk isn't as hard as it sounds. One popular method involves cracking it in two and pouring the egg back and forth between the half shells. Done properly, you catch the yolk with each pour and allow the white to slip by and into the cocktail shaker. You could also crack the egg and open it into a bowl, then remove the yolk with a spoon, or just pour out some white into your shaker. The method I prefer is to crack the shell down over the edge of a shaker tin. This opens a slit in the side of the egg. By holding the egg above your shaker, you allow some of the white to slip out through the crack. The idea is to keep the egg shell "closed" so it acts a bit like a strainer holding back the yolk while gravity draws out the white. It takes a few seconds for the white to slip out, and you may need to open the crack a little, but with a some finesse, it's possible to add the egg white and discard the rest without even getting your fingers dirty.

The Mime Shake
The mime shake, or dry shake as it's often called, involves shaking the ingredients without ice. This step is all about the egg white. It's a lot harder to build up a good protein emulsion with ice, so we want to give the process a head start. You need a good seal on your shaker to pull this off since pressure tends to increase inside. After a vigorous shake, open the tin, add lots of ice, seal it and really give it all you got. You are chilling the drink now and creating the perfect meringue at the same time. When you finally strain it over fresh ice, a thick foam will come out last. This is important to remember if you are making a double and pouring two drinks at once. Be sure to reserve space in each glass for the foam at the end.

Whiskey sours are typically garnished with a cocktail cherry, but I like to use Amarena Cherries. Otherwise, I will often skip the garnish altogether and enjoy the foamy top as-is. Give this one a try and you won't be sorry. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

11 comments to Drink Of The Week: Whiskey Sour

  • John

    Greetings RH --

    Every once in a while the stars align and tonight was the night. We've been in a bit of a rut -- enjoying a Twelve Mile Limit nearly every evening for a week. Wonderful drink!

    But last night the homemade grenadine ran out. Very sad.

    As luck would have it Mrs. H. was making homemade butterscotch ice cream and had several unused egg whites until I saved them! I remembered you once told me the correct way to make a whisky sour and was happy to find this recipe.

    It worked exactly as you described. (Including the part about the egg whites building up pressure in the shaker -- shake over the sink!)

    As you suggested we used fresh lemon juice and simple syrup. A very nice drink indeed.

    Thanks so much!


    P.S. We also tried a great homemade eggnog over the holidays. Let me know if you'd like the recipe.

  • John,
    I'd hardly call nightly 12 Miles a rut! It sounds like you really enjoyed the homemade grenadine! Another blogger friend over the pond infuses hers with hibiscus flowers. I want to try that.

    As for the egg whites, I am glad you were finally able to try this. Remind me to tell you about the Riviera cocktail: it's an egg white miracle of pineapple-infused gin with Campari and maraschino. I know, as soon as one thing grabs your attention there's something else to try. It never ends, and that's why it's so fun!

  • Also, I've been drinking whiskey sours like this in a whiskey goblet without ice. If your glass is chilled and your drink is cold, it's nice not dealing with ice cubes so you can really enjoy the meringue.

  • John Healy

    Speaking of ice -- I know, technically you were speaking about omitting ice -- I had another moment of clarity last night while enjoying the whisky sour...

    I broke down and purchased both the regular and large silicone ice cube trays. Our water tastes good and our ice maker makes decent ice. But I NEED to see how the other half lives!!

  • I assume you are talking about the Tovolo trays. I don't have the big ones, but I suppose my spheres make up for that. We have good water too, and I am surprised by the clarity of our ice cubes made the old fashioned way. They look great and they melt slower. It also feels really old school when you smack a cube in your hand with the bar spoon to get some nicely cracked pieces. If you stir Manhattans or Martinis, it's nice to have a few cracked pieces in the mixing glass in order to speed the cooling and dilution before you strain. I wouldn't mind having an ice maker, especially for crushed ice, but I think I will always be making good cubes and spheres with trays.

  • JC

    Going to try Whiskey sour tonight w/ the egg whites. I think it sound great, however I dont think April will be participating. Bill is here so we will talk him into one and will let you know later.(i don't think it will take too much convincing)

    Summit Sips is great, keep up the good work!

  • JC,

    You can always start with a fraction of egg white. Get a little froth that way and build from there. Also, drops of bitters on top, or some oil sprayed from the lemon zest will help scent the foam which sometimes smells eggy. Once the novelty of drinking egg whites wears off, you recognize that the whole point is to establish a thick texture that is impossible without introducing protein to the drink. Egg whites represent the easiest way to get there. Cream works in other cocktails, but of course, here, it would mess up the flavor. Whiskey Sours made this way have a luscious mouth-feel that is pretty luxurious. Click the "egg white" tag at the end of the post for other recipes that use them!

  • JC

    Whiskey Sours have always been my drink of choice(usually a 7sour). I have to say that I loved it! By the time I mixed my 5th drink I had the whole process down pretty well(I only had 3 of the 5 I made).
    I put half of a small strawberry in the bottom of the glass(the Cilantro leaf was for presentation).
    Thanks for the great website!

  • The egg white aside for a moment, absolutely nothing even comes close to the flavor of fresh sweet and sour. No mix will ever taste as good as fresh lemon juice and simple syrup. There's also no reason you couldn't have tossed a whole strawberry into the shaker, muddled that with the simple syrup, and finished making the drink for a flavored twist.

    On deck for next weekend--branch out with a little mint and the Whiskey Smash (the next Fresh Post here). No egg white for that one, but using whole lemon wedges adds both juice and oil from the peel. You need a muddler, but you can use a thick handle of a spoon or something (just make sure you press out all of the juice). Enjoy!

  • James R. Coplin

    A little Licor 43 added to a Whiskey Sour takes it to a wonderful place as well!

  • wildbill

    For a smokey twist, try using a single malt islay scotch, a laphroiag, or perhaps a 16yr lagavulin. Goes wonderfully with a cuban cigar.

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