Anyone familiar with common whiskey cocktails has likely heard of the whiskey sour. This simple drink adds a powerful punch of flavor to an otherwise straightforward whiskey. 

 best whiskey for whiskey sour

While sipping whiskey neat is a great way to savor the complexities of the liquor, opting for a whiskey sour provides you with an intriguing alternative that will keep things interesting. If you enjoy whiskey and want a great go-to bar order for warm days, the whiskey sour may be just what you're looking for. Find out how to craft the best whiskey sour out there for a truly satisfying sipping experience.

What Is a Whiskey Sour?

The whiskey sour is a time-honored drink that dates back to at least the 1860s. As the name suggests, this drink features a whiskey base with a few added ingredients to give it an extra kick. The traditional whiskey sour features lemon juice for sourness and a touch of sugar to make it more palatable. 

Drink connoisseurs seeking the very best whiskey sour may change up the ingredients somewhat to give this beverage a little more intrigue. However, at its core, nearly any whiskey sour will include a whiskey base spirit, some type of citrus juice, and the drink maker's sweetener of choice.

Bartenders typically serve this drink in a Delmonico glass, also known as a sour glass, rather than a traditional whiskey or bourbon glass. This rounded glass has a short stem that allows you to hold the drink without warming it, allowing you to preserve the chill crispness that's desired with citrus drinks.

The History of the Whiskey Sour

The whiskey sour, as it's known today, was first mentioned in print in Jerry Thomas's 1862 book titled simply "The Bartenders Guide." However, historians contend that the idea of the whiskey sour predates this mention. The drink likely originated aboard seafaring vessels where sailors were in dire need of beverages. Sailors struggled to come by clean water, so spirits often stood in. Whiskey and rum were among the top contenders.

Along with a lack of clean water, sailors also struggled with a potentially fatal disease known as scurvy. This disease causes fatigue, severe leg and joint pain, bleeding gums, and easy bruising. Sailors with poor nutrition, particularly a lack of vitamin C, were most susceptible. For this reason, ships began carrying massive stores of citrus fruits. Thus, sailors found themselves in possession of ample whiskey and lemons, forming the rudimentary makings of a whiskey sour.

After its first mention in "The Bartenders Guide," the whiskey sour appeared in a Wisconsin newspaper in 1870. Two years later, a former ship steward by the name of Elliot Staub claimed to have invented the drink in a bar in what is now Peru. In the intervening years, many bartenders have tried their hand at making the best whiskey sour, giving rise to a vast range of tasty options.

The Best Whiskey for a Whiskey Sour

Traditionalists usually argue that the best whiskey sour base is either rye whiskey or bourbon. Bourbon is a type of whiskey made with at least 51% corn and no additives. Bourbon makers must age the drink for at least two years in new charred oak barrels. Bourbon is distilled at no more than 160 proof and barreled at no more than 125 proof. The tasting notes for bourbon typically feature hints of caramel, oak, and vanilla. This lends a natural warmth and sweetness to the whiskey sour.

Those who contend that the best whiskey sour features rye whiskey typically prefer a spicier flavor profile. A product like Rabbit Hole's Boxergrail Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey does the job well. This product features 95% rye and 5% malted barley in the mash bill. This delivers a bright, citrusy palate with herbaceous notes. Boxergrail finishes with sweet, spicy flavors and a hint of black tea. This adds welcome complexity to a simple drink like the whiskey sour, making Boxergrail a top contender as the best whiskey for the job.

The Best Whiskey Sour Ingredients To Add

Once you've chosen the whiskey for your drink, it's time to add those little extras that make the whiskey sour so special. The original 1862 recipe calls for seltzer or Apollinaris water to cut the whiskey. It also includes juice from half a lemon and a teaspoonful of sugar. Bartenders shake the ingredients in a glass of shaved ice, strain it, and serve the finished product over ice with berries as an ornamental garnish. 

In place of sugar, some recipes call for simple syrup, tonic syrup, or honey. You can even use flavored honey to enhance the drink further. Nearly all recipes include at least some lemon juice, but drink makers can add other citrus juices as well, such as orange or grapefruit.

The Best Whiskey Sour Variations

The popularity of the whiskey sour gave rise to many variations that now compete for the honor of being the best whiskey sour drink. The New York sour features red wine on top, creating a lovely layered look that's captivated drinkers who enjoy an artistic beverage. 

For more texture, bartenders often whip up an egg white to give the whiskey sour some foam on top. This creates a frothier drink known as a Boston sour that's sure to catch your eye sliding across the bar. The Rattlesnake includes egg white as well with maple syrup as the sweetener and a dash of bitters to complement the lemon juice.

If your idea of the best whiskey sour features a blend of citrus juices, try the Ward 8, which includes lemon and orange juices as well as grenadine syrup. The Ward 8 features either bourbon or rye whiskey as the base liquor. 

The whiskey sour has long delighted whiskey lovers with its straightforward ingredients and refreshing flavor. Grab a bottle of Boxergrail Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey or change things up with a wheated bourbon like Rabbit Hole's Dareringer straight bourbon whiskey. The whiskey sour is such a well-loved classic that it's hard to go wrong with this mixed drink. 

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