Whiskey Sour

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This classic Whiskey Sour is made with whiskey, fresh citrus juice, and a touch of sweetness from simple syrup. It’s fresh and flavorful without being too sweet, and it’s a classic cocktail you should definitely add to your menu.

2 whiskey sours in rocks glasses.


 

The unofficial history of the whiskey sour undoubtedly started with sailors. The vitamin C in fresh lemon juice helped fight off scurvy, a problematic disease to which sailors, without access to fresh fruit, were prone. They combined the lemon juice with not just whiskey, but any kind of alcohol they came across including tequila, gin, or rum because water was usually unreliable. Add sugar to taste, because even sailors love a little sweetness.

The first official mention of a Whiskey Sour happened in 1862 in the Bartender’s Guide: How to Mix Drinks by Jerry Thomas. Just a few years later, an 1870 issue of the Waukesha Plain Dealer has the earliest sighting of this vintage bourbon cocktail: “‘Amen,’ says the Methodist, as he ordered another Whisky Sour.” Waukesha is my hometown, so I just love that little nugget of history.

Even if you aren’t partial to the taste of whiskey, there’s something appealing about this spin on adult lemonade that you will probably enjoy, immensely. The bright citrus flavors pair so well with the dark, smoky flavors of whiskey.

Recipe ingredients

Labeled whiskey sour ingredients.

At a Glance: Here is a quick snapshot of what ingredients are in this recipe.
Please see the recipe card below for specific quantities.

Ingredient notes

  • Whiskey: Rye whiskey or bourbon whiskey are both fine. Rye has a little bit of spice to it and bourbon is a little sweeter.
  • Lemon juice: Fresh lemon juice is best, or substitute lime juice.
  • Simple syrup: To make it yourself, combine 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved (do not boil). Remove from heat and cool before adding to your cocktail shaker with the other ingredients. You could also substitute maple syrup or your other preferred sweetener (the flavor will change).

Step-by-step instructions

  1. In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add whiskey, lemon juice, and simple syrup.
Liquor being poured into a martini shaker.
  1. Cover and shake vigorously until chilled, about 30 seconds. Strain into an old fashioned glass filled with ice and garnish with a cherry.
An overhead shot of two whiskey sour cocktails garnished with cherries.

Recipe tips and variations

  • Yield: This recipe makes 1 Whiskey Sour cocktail.
  • Big batch: To make a batch of 8 cocktails, combine 16 ounces (2 cups) whiskey, 6 ounces (¾ cup) lemon juice, and 6 ounces (¾ cup) simple syrup in a pitcher. Have ice, glassware, and garnishes on hand so guests can help themselves.
  • Glassware: The traditional glass for a whiskey sour is an old fashioned glass or rocks glass.
  • No cocktail shaker: Fill a large glass with ice. Add the drink ingredients, then stir with a long spoon to get it all mixed and chilled. Strain through a small mesh strainer or use a slotted spoon to keep the ice in the shaker as you pour the cocktail.
  • Old Fashioned: A classic old fashioned cocktail is also made with whiskey and simple syrup, but it uses angostura bitters instead of fresh citrus juice.
  • Brandy Old FashionedThe most popular supper club drink in Wisconsin has brandy instead of whiskey, and its sweetened with maraschino cherry juice and grapefruit soda.
  • Gold Rush: Substitute honey syrup for the simple syrup: Combine ¼ cup water and ¼ cup sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until honey is dissolved (do not boil). Remove from heat and cool. Garnish the cocktail with a lemon peel instead of the orange slice and maraschino cherry.
  • Boston Sour: This version of the drink has a layer of white foam on top from a raw egg white. This adds a silky body and foamy texture to the drink, and it’s usually served in a coupe glass. If you want to try this, first give the ingredients a “dry shake” (without ice) to emulsify them. Then, add ice to the shaker and give everything a second shake to chill the cocktail. For a vegan Boston Sour, or if you are concerned about salmonella, use aquafaba (the liquid from canned chickpeas) instead of the egg white.
  • New York Sour: After straining the cocktail into a rocks glass with ice, float 1 tablespoon full-bodied red wine on top (or serve straight up, without ice).
  • Amaretto Sour: Substitute 1 ½ ounces amaretto for the whiskey and top with lemon-lime soda if desired. Garnish with a cherry.
  • Pisco Sour: Inspired by the Peruvian version, the frothy Pisco Sour cocktail is made with Pisco brandy, lemon juice, simple syrup, and an egg white garnished with orange bitters.
  • More citrus cocktails: If you love drinks made with fresh lemon juice and lime juice, try a classic Margarita, Long Island Iced Tea, Daiquiri, or Gin Fizz.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s a whiskey sour made of?

The basic whiskey sour ingredients are whiskey, lemon juice, and some sort of sweetener. You can substitute lime for the lemon and these days, bartenders usually use simple syrup because it blends easily even when cold.

What is the best whiskey for a whiskey sour?

Out of the 17 types of whiskey (including rye whiskey, bourbon whiskey, Irish whiskey, Scotch whiskey, and more), rye and bourbon whiskeys are classic. This is an American-born cocktail, so American whiskeys are king. Choose the type with the flavor you prefer. Rye has more spice, bourbon has more sweetness.

More classic cocktails

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A whiskey sour in a rocks glass.

Whiskey Sour

This classic Whiskey Sour is made with whiskey, fresh citrus juice, and a touch of sweetness from simple syrup. It's fresh and flavorful without being too sweet, and it's a classic cocktail you should definitely add to your menu.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes
Servings 1 cocktail
Course Drinks
Cuisine American
Calories 239
5 from 15 votes

Ingredients 

  • 2 ounces whiskey (¼ cup, see note 1)
  • 3/4 ounce lemon juice (1 ½ tbsp, see note 2)
  • 3/4 ounce simple syrup (1 ½ tbsp, see note 3)
  • 1 maraschino cherry for garnish
  • 1 orange slice for garnish

Instructions 

  • In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add whiskey, lemon juice, and simple syrup. Cover and shake until chilled, about 30 seconds.
  • Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with cherry and orange slice.

Recipe Video

Notes

  1. Whiskey: Rye whiskey or bourbon whiskey are both fine. Rye has a little bit of spice to it and bourbon is a little sweeter.
  2. Lemon juice: Fresh lemon juice is best, or substitute lime juice.
  3. Simple syrup: To make it yourself, combine 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved (do not boil). Remove from heat and cool before adding to your cocktail shaker with the other ingredients. Store leftover simple syrup covered in the refrigerator for 3-4 weeks.
  4. Yield: This recipe makes 1 Whiskey Sour cocktail.
  5. Big batch: To make a batch of 8 cocktails, combine 16 ounces (2 cups) whiskey, 6 ounces (¾ cup) lemon juice, and 6 ounces (¾ cup) simple syrup in a pitcher. Have ice, glassware, and garnishes on hand so guests can help themselves.

Nutrition

Serving: 1cocktailCalories: 239kcalCarbohydrates: 26gProtein: 1gFat: 1gSaturated Fat: 1gSodium: 17mgPotassium: 72mgFiber: 1gSugar: 25gVitamin A: 33IUVitamin C: 18mgCalcium: 13mgIron: 1mg
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Meggan Hill is a classically-trained chef and professional writer. Her meticulously-tested recipes and detailed tutorials bring confidence and success to home cooks everywhere. Meggan has been featured on NPR, HuffPost, FoxNews, LA Times, and more.

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Comments

  1. Yea Wisconsin!
    WI drinks and food are awesome and from the heart.
    We also make Old Fashions – to die for 😀
    Love Culinary Hill just as much.
    Thank you for all the fantastic recipes.