whiskey sour recipe

Whiskey Sour Recipe: A Timeless Classic

Few cocktails have the historical pedigree of the Whiskey Sour. This beloved libation, with its perfect blend of sweet, sour, and spirit, has been sating thirsty drinkers for over one and a half centuries. Its origins are obscured in the mists of time, but we do know that the first printed recipe appeared around 1862 in the esteemed “Jerry Thomas Bartenders Guide.”

The classic Whiskey Sour recipe has always been a simple yet elegant combination of whiskey, lemon juice, and sugar. An optional addition is egg white, which gives the drink a richer, smoother texture, and tames the tart flavor. This recipe includes both a traditional Whiskey Sour and a variant including the egg white, referred to as a Boston Sour.

How to make a Whiskey Sour


  • 2 ounces of whiskey - we suggest Fat Baby Bourbon!
  • 3/4 ounce of fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 ounce of simple syrup
  • Orange wheel and maraschino cherry for garnish


  1. Combine the bourbon, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker.
  2. Fill the shaker with ice, cover, and shake vigorously until the outside of the shaker is very cold, about 20 seconds.
  3. Strain the cocktail through a Hawthorne strainer or a slotted spoon into an old-fashioned or rocks glass filled with ice.
  4. Garnish with an orange wheel and a cherry.

The Whiskey Sour has inspired countless variations over the years. A popular riff is the New York Sour, which adds a touch of red wine on top, and other recipes incorporate other fruits, juices, and sweeteners. One of the best things about this classic refreshment is its adaptability.

Remember that the key to an excellent Whiskey Sour is getting the balance right. The bright, bracing lemon juice, warming, floral bourbon, and sweet simple syrup should complement each other without any single element overpowering the rest. Using freshly squeezed juice is essential—store-bought doesn't compare. If you're out of lemon, feel free to swap it for lime or use a mixture of both.

When served on the rocks with an orange wheel and a maraschino cherry speared neatly on a cocktail pick, the Whiskey Sour isn't just a cocktail; it's a small celebration in a glass. So, whether you're a seasoned mixologist or a cocktail newbie, give this classic a try. Cheers!

Ingredient Substitutes

If you're looking to mix up your whiskey sour recipe or replace some of the ingredients due to allergies, preferences, or what you have on hand, here are a few substitutes you might consider:

For whiskey

Rum: If you're out of whiskey, rum can be a good alternative. This will create a variant known as a Daquiri.
Gin: If you prefer a more botanical flavor, try gin. This makes a gin sour.
Tequila: Tequila can replace whiskey for a Margarita-like flavor.
Non-alcoholic whiskey: If you're avoiding alcohol but still want the flavor of a whiskey sour, there are several non-alcoholic whiskey alternatives on the market.

For lemon juice

Lime juice: Lime juice can be a good substitute for lemon juice, offering a different yet equally refreshing citrusy note.
Grapefruit juice: If you want a sour cocktail with a slightly bitter twist, try grapefruit juice.
Orange juice: For a less tart and sweeter version of the cocktail, you could use orange juice.

For simple syrup

Honey syrup: This is made by diluting honey with an equal amount of water. It provides a sweeter, richer flavor than simple syrup.
Agave syrup: A popular vegan sweetener, agave syrup adds a touch of sweetness without changing the cocktail's flavor too much.
Maple syrup: It's a natural sweetener and brings a nuanced flavor to the drink.

A Whiskey Sour is a classic cocktail dating back over a century and a half. Its simplicity, balance, and depth of flavor have cemented its popularity across the years.

Related: Bourbon Cocktails

What is a Whiskey Sour?

The classic Whiskey Sour consists of three key ingredients:

  1. Whiskey: While any type of whiskey can be used, bourbon is a common choice for its robust and slightly sweet flavor profile.
  2. Lemon Juice: Freshly squeezed lemon juice adds a bright, tart counterpoint to the whiskey.
  3. Sweetener: This is typically simple syrup, which is a mixture of equal parts sugar and water, boiled until the sugar dissolves. The sweetener helps balance out the tartness of the lemon juice and the strong flavor of the whiskey.

The traditional method of preparation involves combining these ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, shaking well, and then straining the mixture into a glass. It's usually served "on the rocks" (over ice) in an old-fashioned or rocks glass, and often garnished with a slice of orange and a maraschino cherry.

An optional addition to the classic recipe is an egg white, which when shaken vigorously with the other ingredients, creates a creamy, foamy top layer. This version is known as a Boston Sour.

The beauty of the Whiskey Sour lies in its perfect balance of flavors – the sour lemon, the sweet syrup, and the warming, complex notes of the whiskey combine to create a refreshing yet satisfying drink.

Cocktail history

The Whiskey Sour, with its smooth blend of sweet and tart, is a staple in the cocktail world. This classic cocktail's roots are deep, reaching back to the mid-19th century.


The precise origin of the Whiskey Sour is unknown, as with many cocktails. However, the concept of mixing spirits with water, citrus, and sugar has been around for centuries. This combination was particularly popular among sailors in the British Navy in the 1700s to prevent scurvy and make the often harsh spirits more palatable. This practice eventually made its way to American shores, where it evolved over time into what we know today as the sour cocktail.

The Whiskey Sour as we recognize it today first appears in written records in 1862. The cocktail was listed in the famed "Jerry Thomas Bartenders Guide", marking its formal entry into the cocktail canon.

19th Century – The Birth of a Classic

During the 19th century, the Whiskey Sour was a simple mix of whiskey, lemon juice, and sugar. Whiskey was the preferred spirit, particularly in America where it was widely produced and available. Lemon was the citrus of choice, and sugar helped balance the tartness.

Early 20th Century – The Egg White Addition

The early 20th century saw the introduction of egg white into the recipe. This addition, which creates a smooth, frothy texture when shaken with the other ingredients, is attributed to bartenders in Boston. Hence, a Whiskey Sour with egg white is often referred to as a Boston Sour.

Mid-20th Century – The Dark Age of Cocktails

The mid-20th century was a difficult period for classic cocktails, including the Whiskey Sour. The Prohibition era in the U.S. (1920-1933) saw many skilled bartenders leave the country, and the quality of available spirits plummeted. Post-Prohibition, the cocktail culture that flourished was more focused on novelty and convenience than on quality and tradition. This led to the popularization of pre-mixed, artificially flavored sour mixes, often overly sweet and lacking the balance and nuance of the original Whiskey Sour.

Late 20th Century – The Craft Cocktail Renaissance

Fortunately, the late 20th and early 21st centuries saw a resurgence of interest in classic, well-crafted cocktails. The craft cocktail movement, with its emphasis on high-quality ingredients, traditional techniques, and flavor complexity, breathed new life into the Whiskey Sour. Bartenders returned to making sours with fresh lemon juice and real sugar, often in the form of simple syrup. The use of egg white also saw a resurgence.

21st Century – The Whiskey Sour Today

Today, the Whiskey Sour is recognized as a fundamental cocktail, beloved by bartenders and drinkers alike. It serves as a base for numerous variations and experiments. Whether it's replacing the simple syrup with a flavored syrup like maple or honey, adding an aromatic component like bitters, or even changing the spirit altogether, the Whiskey Sour continues to inspire and evolve.

Despite its numerous iterations and the vagaries of cocktail fashion, the core of the Whiskey Sour remains the same: a perfectly balanced blend of spirit, citrus, and sweet. Its enduring appeal is a testament to the wisdom of this simple, classic formula. From its maritime origins to the craft cocktail bars of today, the Whiskey Sour has sailed through history, securing its place as a true cocktail icon.

Related: Bourbon Cocktails

Why You'll love it

The Whiskey Sour is a beloved cocktail for many reasons, appealing to a variety of tastes and preferences:

  1. Balance of Flavors: At the heart of the Whiskey Sour's appeal is its perfect balance of flavors. The sourness of the lemon, the sweetness of the sugar or simple syrup, and the complexity and warmth of the whiskey combine to create a harmonious and deeply satisfying cocktail. Each sip delivers a delightful mix of sweet, sour, and a hint of bitter.
  2. Versatility: The Whiskey Sour is incredibly versatile. It's a perfect fit for any season and occasion, whether you're enjoying a summer evening on the patio or cozying up by the fireplace in winter. Its combination of refreshing citrus and warming whiskey makes it suitable for virtually any scenario.
  3. Customizable: This cocktail is also highly customizable. For those who prefer a sweeter drink, adding a bit more simple syrup can soften the sourness of the lemon. If you prefer a stronger whiskey flavor, you can adjust the proportion of whiskey. You can also experiment with different types of whiskey to change the flavor profile.
  4. Elegant Simplicity: The Whiskey Sour exemplifies elegance in simplicity. Despite being composed of just a few ingredients, it delivers a complex and sophisticated taste experience. The Whiskey Sour demonstrates that a great cocktail doesn't need to be complicated; it's about how well the ingredients work together.
  5. Historical Charm: Drinking a Whiskey Sour connects you to a rich and fascinating history. Every sip is a nod to the generations of bartenders and enthusiasts who have enjoyed this cocktail for more than a century. There's something special about enjoying a drink that has stood the test of time.
  6. Variety of Variations: Beyond the traditional Whiskey Sour, there are numerous variations to explore. The Boston Sour adds an egg white for a frothy, silky texture. The New York Sour tops the drink with a float of red wine for an extra layer of complexity. The versatility of the base recipe invites creativity.

In short, the Whiskey Sour is more than just a cocktail; it's a timeless classic with a rich history and a myriad of flavors, making it a true connoisseur's delight. Whether you're a whiskey aficionado, a lover of classic cocktails, or simply someone who appreciates a well-crafted drink, the Whiskey Sour has something to offer.

Recipe final thoughts

Whether you're an ardent whiskey enthusiast or a cocktail connoisseur just beginning your journey into the world of spirits, the Whiskey Sour is a classic drink that has stood the test of time. Its balanced blend of sweet and sour, complemented by the warmth of whiskey, creates a flavorful and versatile cocktail that is universally loved.

As we've explored, this drink is as much about the choice of whiskey as it is about the artful balance of its simple ingredients. The right whiskey can transform your Whiskey Sour from good to unforgettable.

This is where Fat Baby Bourbon steps into the spotlight. Handcrafted and full-bodied, Fat Baby Bourbon infuses every sip with smooth, rich undertones. It delivers a unique flavor profile that enhances the classic Whiskey Sour, adding depth, warmth, and a hint of spice that beautifully complements the tartness of the lemon and the sweetness of the syrup.

So, why not elevate your next Whiskey Sour with Fat Baby Bourbon? Not only will you be treating yourself to a taste of tradition, but you'll also be embarking on a new flavor journey. Experience the distinctive notes of Fat Baby Bourbon and discover how it can transform your favorite classic cocktail. Cheers to exploration and the simple joy of a well-crafted drink!

Whiskey Sour Cocktail FAQs

What's a whiskey sour made of?

A traditional Whiskey Sour is made of whiskey (usually bourbon), fresh lemon juice, and simple syrup. It is often garnished with an orange slice and a cherry. Some variations include an egg white for a creamy texture and a frothy top.

What is a substitute for simple syrup in whiskey sour?

If you don't have simple syrup on hand, you can use maple syrup or honey as a natural sweetener. These alternatives add a different flavor profile but maintain the balance of sweet and sour.

Is sour mix the same as whiskey sour mix?

Yes, generally, a sour mix and a whiskey sour mix are the same. They are both combinations of a sweet component (like simple syrup) and a sour component (like lemon or lime juice) used to make various cocktails, including the whiskey sour.

How much alcohol is in a whiskey sour?

The amount of alcohol in a Whiskey Sour depends on the quantity of whiskey used. A standard Whiskey Sour recipe calls for 2 ounces of whiskey. Given that whiskey is typically around 40% alcohol by volume, this equates to about 0.8 ounces of pure alcohol per drink.

Why does whiskey sour have egg?

The addition of egg white to a whiskey sour, known as a Boston Sour, creates a richer, creamier texture and a frothy top. The egg white helps to tame the tartness and provide a smoother drinking experience.

What is the closest thing to simple syrup?

The closest thing to simple syrup would be other liquid sweeteners, such as honey, agave nectar, or maple syrup. However, these sweeteners have unique flavors that can slightly alter the taste of the cocktail.

What can I substitute for a Whiskey Sour?

If you're looking for a different cocktail with similar characteristics, you could opt for a Daiquiri (rum, lime juice, and simple syrup), a Margarita (tequila, lime juice, and triple sec), or an Amaretto Sour (Amaretto, lemon juice, and simple syrup).

Can I use lemonade instead of sour mix?

Yes, you can use lemonade as a substitute for sour mix in a pinch. Keep in mind, lemonade is usually sweeter than a traditional sour mix, so you may need to adjust the other ingredients to maintain the balance of flavors.

Can you buy sour mix for a whiskey sour?

Yes, you can buy pre-made sour mix at most grocery or liquor stores. However, making your own sour mix at home with fresh ingredients is often recommended for the best flavor.

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