Few drinks are as iconic as the whiskey sour. Perhaps owing to its three-ingredient simplicity—whiskey, lemon and sugar—the whiskey sour recipe has remained a mainstay in American drinking culture for over 150 years.
While variations exist, the sour as we know it today is thought to have been codified around the same period as the old fashioned, during the mid-1800s.
What Is a Whiskey Sour?
There are many subcategories of cocktails, but the two main groups are spirits-forward and sours. Given the cocktail’s name, you (hopefully) know the whiskey sour falls into the latter group.
The History of the Whiskey Sour
The first written mention of the whiskey sour dates back to the early 1800s. According to The Oxford Companion of Spirits and Cocktails, there aren’t any more mentions of it until the 1860s. It then spent the next 100 or so years as one of the most popular cocktails in America.
However, the whiskey sour’s fortunes waned in the latter half of the 20th century as pre-bottled ingredients rose in prominence, and the timeless combination of fresh lemon juice and sugar was replaced by packaged sour mix. Instead of a whiskey sour, drinkers were far likelier to order a margarita in the 1960s.
However, since the turn of the last century, as bars have reverted to well-crafted versions of classics, the whiskey sour has once again regained its position at the top of the classic cocktail pantheon. It’s an all-season drink and a consistent crowd pleaser for both those new to whiskey and aficionados.
You’ll see countless variations of this drink in cocktail books and recipes across the globe, but it’s hard to beat the simple beauty of the easy, three-ingredient whiskey sour recipe.
How to Make a Whiskey Sour Without Egg Whites
Early recipes for the whiskey sour largely did not use egg white, though you’ll find it listed in many formulations. If you choose to forgo the egg, simply omit it. No need to add a substitute. Egg white will create a creamier, richer cocktail with a frothy head, while eggless sours will tend to have a cleaner, zestier, more refreshing profile.
What Are Popular Variations of the Whiskey Sour?
There’s also the Amaretto Sour, which, like the New York version, uses bourbon. (It was also invented in Chicago, not New York, but that’s another story for another time.) It also includes amaretto liqueur, which adds a nutty note.
For a smokier twist, try the Penicillin. This boozy concoction mixes two types of Scotches and adds honey syrup.
Last Updated: September 19, 2023
Whiskey Sour Ingredients
How to Make a Whiskey Sour
Combine whiskey, lemon juice and simple syrup in cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously for 10–15 seconds. Strain into rocks glass over fresh ice. Garnish with thick cut lemon twist and cherry, if desired.
This article was updated on October 27, 2022.