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The Whiskey Sour Through Time | 3 Recipes Spanning 150 years

Hi, Friends of Cocktails! The Whiskey Sour is a true classic cocktail that has it all: boozy, sour, sweet, and silky - if you add the foaming agent of course. So today we’ll go over the long history of this King of Sour Cocktails, then we’ll make three very different, but fun Whiskey Sour recipes. First a Whiskey Sour that is stirred, then one that has a sugared rim and finally a modern 2023 version (a Super Whiskey Sour, if you will). Do I expect them all to taste amazing? Not really, but I find and try out some of these old recipes so you don’t have to.

Booze aint’ cheap these days, and afterall we are able to make content because of your support, so thank you. Now if you’re ready for some whiskey sours, It’s Cocktail Time! The first known written recipe for a Sour appears in Jerry Thomas' 1862 The Bartender's Guide, which has recipes for a Brandy Sour, a Gin Sour and a Santa Cruz, which is rum sour. No whiskey yet, but the Professor did suggest putting the lemon skin in the glass for sours, and the first time a Whiskey Sour is mentioned in print was on January 4th 1870, in the Waukesha Plain Dealer in Wisconsin.

On page 2 we find a story of a man who has a drink just taken out of his hand, so he quickly ordered another whiskey sour. Even then it had become popular enough that this sentence needed no explanation, and according to David Wondrich, the popularity of sour cocktails, especially the whiskey version, would continue to grow from that point on. With their growing popularity, there were also many new variations of the Sour with bartenders adding different spirits, syrups, liqueurs, floats, whole eggs and even cream.

The most famous of them was a Whiskey Sour with a float of red wine, first named the Continental Sour, then the Southern Whiskey Sour, and finally the New York Sour - but that’s for another post. Looking through old cocktail books, there were plenty of Whiskey Sour recipes to choose from, made in many different ways, so I could easily make more than 3 today. But I learned what happens if you go a little too far from the famous Hollywood actor and the star of Bounty Law, Rick Dalton: “8 f-ing Whiskey Sours! I couldn't stop at f-ing 3 or 4? I had to have 8! Why?!”

So three it is, and the first one will actually be stirred. It comes from the Twentieth Century Guide for Mixing Fancy Drinks published in 1900 by James C. Maloney. The original recipe calls for Hermitage Rye Whiskey, but a bottle online will run you about $22,000, so I’ll go for Rittenhouse Rye which has the same ABV. Cool? Cool.

1900 Whiskey Sour

● 60mL (2oz) Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey

● 1 tsp gum syrup

● 1 tsp lemon juice

● A dash of soda

Start with filling the mixing glass two-thirds full of fine ice and to that add the syrup, lemon juice and whiskey. The earliest Whiskey Sour recipes call for sugar, as you’ll see later, but bartenders around the turn of the century would often use gum syrup, which I’ve shown you how to make on the channel, but I also recommend Liber&Co’s syrups for an easier approach. They say their classic Gum Syrup is the most versatile cocktail syrup, using gum arabic to add sweetness, silkiness and blend all ingredients in a cocktail. Perfect for a Whiskey Sour with no egg white.

Regardless of which gum syrup you go for, give your cocktail a good stir and strain into a claret glass with fruit - I’m guessing lemon is meant here, for a little extra citrus aroma.

Then dash with seltzer water, serve and give it a taste. You get rye and citrus on the nose, and the sweet and sour components are balanced, but a little lost with the whiskey and soda water. Because of the way we made it it doesn’t have the texture and body you’d expect when ordering this drink, but things might have been different in 1900. Safe to say it’s not exactly the Whiskey Sour we’re used to seeing nowadays.

So when was egg white first added to a Whiskey Sour? In 1922 Robert Vermeire wrote in his Cocktails: How To Mix Them: “A few drops of white of egg improve all Sours”, although bartenders were adding egg whites into cocktails long before, even before the Whiskey Sour finally appeared in the 1887 reprint of the Bartender’s Guide. Four years before that, in 1883, Patsy McDonough published his Bar-keeper's Guide the Frosted Sour, which is made with sugar, water, lemon juice, the white of an egg and bourbon whiskey.

1883 Whiskey Sour (Frosted Sour)

● 60mL (2oz) Yellowstone Bourbon

● 15mL (0.5oz)lemon juice

● 15mL (0.5oz) water

● 1 tbsp fine white sugar

● 1 egg white

Let’s start by preparing the frosted glass, so moisten the rim with lemon juice and dip it in powdered sugar, tap off the excess and start making the cocktail. Fill a large bar glass one-third full of cracked ice, followed by the sugar, water and lemon juice. It’s not written in the recipe, but David Wondrich tells us that an educated opinion preferred to stir the sugar directly into the citrus juice. Then we add the white of an egg, careful not to break any shells into the drink, and finally, a pony-wine-glass of Bourbon whiskey.

Yellowstone became the World's First National Park just 11 years before this recipe was published, so I think it’s fitting to use the Yellowstone Bourbon. So now give the cocktail shake as hard as you can, since the recipe doesn’t call for a dry shake, and strain into the prepared frosted glass. For garnish, use sliced fruit in season, as it is said to improve the flavors of Sours, and since we already have a sugared rim I’m not going overboard here, so a lemon will do.

The lemon is more than enough to give the drink a lovely citrus aroma, and the texture from the egg white is nice and rich, but the sweetness cuts through it. Even the 93 proof Yellowstone Bourbon has a difficult task of holding up to that. The lemon is in there, but overpowered. Maybe I should have added more lemon, but preferences have changed and evolved since 1883 - there have been 25 US presidents since this recipe was published - and I am glad they have. So let’s see how far the Whiskey Sour has come in that time.

Modern Whiskey Sour

● 60 mL (2 oz) Maker’s Mark Bourbon

● 22.5 mL (0.75oz) Super Lemon

● 22.5 mL (0.75 oz) Super Syrup

● 2 drops saline

Begin by chilling the shaker and placing a large clear ice block to temper in your serving glass. Now add all the ingredients to your shaker and give it a hard shake with ice first to chill and dilute, then discard the ice and follow with a dry shake. This works best when using Super Syrup and creates a really nice and stable foam. Finally double strain the cocktail over a large ice block and garnish with a small coin of lemon peel.

The Lemon Super Juice will give our cocktail an extra kick of freshness, and super syrup combines the sweetener and the foaming agent, so there’s no need for egg white and no need to mask the egg white smell. All the flavors on this Whiskey Sour are perfectly balanced, the foam doesn’t just look good but gives the cocktail the silky texture we’ve all come to love when sipping on a well-made Whiskey Sour. Like I said in the beginning, boozy, sour & sweet. What’s not to love?

Of the three cocktails, the Modern Whiskey Sour is of course the best, but I’d love to hear how you make your whiskey sour. Do you make it with rye or bourbon? Do you add egg white? Or do you just go for the New York Sour? And if there’s a cocktail you’d like to see old recipes from, let me know in the comments of the YouTube episode. Cheers, Friends of Cocktails!

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