Ask the Expert: Where Did Whiskey Sours Start?

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Ask the Expert: Where Did Whiskey Sours Start?

The whiskey sour can be one of the most delicious cocktails out there or one of the most disgusting, depending on who’s making it. The whiskey sour recipe was originally written down for the first time in The Bartender’s Guide in 1862, but the cocktail was served long before the book was published, some estimate as far back as the 1600s.

That original whiskey sour recipe was also a lot different than what most of us are drinking today. Specifically, it involved taking a large teaspoon of powdered sugar and dissolving it in seltzer water, and then mixing that with the juice from half a lemon and “1 wine glass of bourbon or rye whiskey.”

I can’t say that I’ve ever consumed an entire wine glass full of whiskey, but we’ll just presume that they had smaller wine glasses back then, or a much better tolerance than I.

The drink was originally created for sailors. At a time when scurvy was common, limes and lemons typically made their way onto a ship as a tool in preventing the disease. On the boat, the cocktail was made with rum, with the fruit juice being used to mask the flavor of that rum (which wasn’t anywhere near as delicious as it is today).

Sailors brought the idea back to land, and the whole “sour” cocktail movement was born. In Europe, the preferred spirit was often gin or brandy, but in America we turned to whiskey. That whiskey sour recipe got tweaked a bit over time as well to make it what it is today (and what you should be getting at the bar rather than sour mix). Here’s a basic whiskey sour recipe:

2 oz. bourbon
¾ oz. fresh lemon juice
¾ oz. simple syrup
1 Orange Slice
3-4 Maraschino cherries

Directions: Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake, and pour into a glass. Garnish with orange slice and cherries.

Sometimes you’ll also see an egg white find its way into a whiskey sour, although arguably that makes it a Boston Sour. Both version have one thing in common: they’re delicious.