You may remember a Whiskey Sour as that fairly terrible drink you had once at a dim but thrilling college bar, but as is the case with many cocktails, the Whiskey Sour lives and dies on its ingredients.
Whiskey Sours have been around for a long time, and at their simplest they’re made with just whiskey, citrus, and a sweet ingredient, like simple syrup. But add just one or two special ingredients to that recipe, and you have a very different drink entirely.
THE HISTORY OF THE WHISKEY SOUR
The recipe for a Whiskey Sour first appeared in print in 1862, in a book called The Bartender’s Guide by Jerry Thomas. But according to some cocktail historians, sailors invented the Whiskey Sour!
In the past, sailors were given an allowance for spirits (usually whiskey or rum, since water tended to go bad on long voyages) and citrus (because the vitamin C in lemons and limes helped prevent scurvy). Put them together; add a little sugar, and you have a Whiskey Sour!
It’s also possible that the Whiskey Sour is just a scaled-down version of a punch, designed to serve just one. Punches predate cocktails by quite a while, but if you look at old punch recipes, you’ll notice the basic structure of a Whiskey Sour: base spirit, citrus, and sweetener.
However the Whiskey Sour came to be, when you drink one, you can be sure you’re part of a long and proud tradition!
WHAT KIND OF WHISKEY SHOULD I USE?
The Whiskey Sour is a very versatile drink; you can make it with bourbon, rye, Tennessee whiskey, or even scotch. I like it best with rye whiskey for a little extra spice and edge to balance out the drink’s sweetness, but feel free to try this with whatever whiskey you happen to have around.
If you’re buying specifically for this drink, I wouldn’t go for anything too expensive, since the lemon and sugar will cover the complexities that set those whiskeys apart. For rye, Rittenhouse and Old Overholt are very nice; for bourbon, try Four Roses or Wild Turkey.
SHOULD I ADD A RAW EGG WHITE?
You can make a perfectly lovely Whiskey Sour by sticking to the original recipe of just whiskey, lemon juice, and sugar. These three ingredients balance each other beautifully.
But if you want to take your Whiskey Sour to the next level, add an egg white. This will not, in fact, make your cocktail taste like egg. Instead, the egg white will add texture, richness, and a particular creaminess that will make it seem almost like a whiskey milkshake.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: What about salmonella?
Your chances of getting salmonella from raw eggs are pretty low. The CDC estimates that only around 1 in 20,000 eggs are contaminated with the bacteria, and even if you do get a contaminated egg, as long as the egg is kept refrigerated below 45˚F, the bacteria will have no chance to grow.
If you’re still worried, you can purchase pasteurized eggs, which are heated for a period of time to eliminate bacteria. You can also use pre-packaged, pasteurized egg whites like Egg Beaters, which will also save you the trouble of extracting the egg white from the yolk.
HOW TO SHAKE A WHISKEY SOUR
One of the beautiful things about adding an egg white to your cocktail is the rich, creamy texture it imparts. To get a nice, foamy drink, try one of these shaking styles:
- A Dry Shake: Shake the cocktail first without ice, and then add the ice and shake again.
- A Reverse Dry Shake: Shake the cocktail with ice first; strain the ice out, and re-shake.
I prefer the texture imparted by the traditional dry shake, but if you want to get a truly ridiculous amount of foam, the reverse dry shake is the way to go.
ADDING BITTERS TO YOUR WHISKEY SOUR
Should you add Angostura bitters to your Whiskey Sour? Yes! Angostura bitters adds dimension to the flavor, and a little visual pizazz. Use a dropper (or a very gentle motion with the bottle) to drop bitters onto the top of your egg white foam, then use a toothpick (or a cocktail pick) to make patterns in the foam. The sky’s the limit!