Whiskey Sour

The Whiskey Sour is another venerable whiskey based drink with a disputed past and a wealth of variations.  Whilst its sharp initial strike of lemon juice can be off-putting to some, it really comes in to its own as an after dinner drink on your summer holidays, and with a slight leniency that reads lemon juice as water, it still fits with our four key ingredient principle.

The sours are a whole family of early cocktails that predate their oft-confused but by no mean close relations the Sourz.  Sours are categorised, perhaps unsurprisingly by their use of a sour juice (lemon or lime) instead of the water of our traditional Bittered Slings, and other famous sours include the Margarita (tequila, triple sec and lime), Sidecar (brandy, triple sec and lemon) and Daiquiri (rum, sugar and lime).

The legend of the Whiskey Sour takes us back to the then Peruvian, now Chilean port town of Iquique in 1872 where Elliot Stubb an English sailor decided to jump ship and open a bar.  Stubb experimented with a range of local ingredients and settled on a most agreeable range of aperitifs based around the limon di Pica which he added to any liquor he had to hand.  After adding a liberal splash of whiskey and a strong dose of sugar to his limon one day, Stubb hit upon a delicious sweet and tart concoction which he dubbed the Whiskey Sour.

As is usual among drinks of a late Victorian vintage, the official recipe (should such a thing exist) is subject to intense debate.  In the absence of Elliot Stubb’s limon di Pica though, the classic method is as follows:

  1. Shake a large measure of whiskey, the juice of a lemon, a tablespoon of sugar syrup, half an egg white and four dashes of bitters with ice.
  2. To get the frothiest results, shake first with ice (twenty seconds) and then dry shake (without ice) for ten seconds.
  3. Strain into a rocks glass with fresh ice and garnish with a twist of lemon peel.

One of the key variants of this recipe is to omit the egg white, which is only recommended if you find yourself in a Whiskey Sour emergency (who hasn’t?), or if you’re like me and can’t be expected to separate an egg white at a crowded cocktail party, or don’t expect to need a whole bottle of egg white in your fridge.  Ultimately however, the drink is much the poorer for the absence of egg white, so this is strictly to be approved for emergency use only.

A far better variant can be obtained by using camomile infused bourbon for a Camomile Sour.

Old Fashioned

Photo by ReeseCLloyd, some rights reserved.

Legend has it that the Old Fashioned was one of the first cocktails ever created. The story is that it was conceived at The Pendennis Club, Louisville, Kentucky in the late nineteenth century, and having been popularised by local bourbon distiller Colonel (of course!) James Pepper, it was taken to New York to be enjoyed by such luminaries as Sterling Cooper’s own Don Draper.

There is much to support the Old Fashioned’s claim to be one of the oldest known cocktails. You will see from my Bittered Slings post that it neatly fits the early criteria of a bittered sling or cocktail, as it contains just the liquor (in this case whiskey), bitters, sugar and water (in this case frozen).

Whatever its vintage, however, the Old Fashioned is a punchy cocktail for those who hold no truck with paper umbrellas and sparklers getting in the way of their imbibement. The exact composition is something that enthusiasts can argue about for days. Does an Old Fashioned require rye or bourbon? A muddled orange? A cherry? The earliest known recipe (dating from 1895 no less) instructs:

Dissolve a small lump of sugar with a little water in a whiskey-glass; add two dashes bitters, a small piece ice, a piece lemon-peel, one measure whiskey. Mix with small bar-spoon and serve, leaving spoon in glass. – Kappeler (1895). Modern American Drinks: How to Mix and Serve All Kinds of Cups and Drinks.

Now aside from running the risk of poking your eye out with a bar spoon, this recipe neglects the now expected hint of orange. For that reason, my preferred method is as follows:

  1. Place a sugar cube (or a teaspoon of sugar syrup or sugar), three dashes of bitters and a dash of water in a mixing glass.
  2. Muddle (i.e. mush up) until the sugar dissolves and you are left with a syrupy paste. Don’t scrimp on the muddling, the sugar needs to be fully dissolved before the whiskey is added or it won’t bind properly.
  3. Add a two ice cubes and a measure of whiskey.
  4. Stir gently (thirty times).
  5. Repeat steps three and four.
  6. Strain into a rocks glass (also known as an od fashioned glass) with or without ice (your preference).
  7. Garnish with a twist of orange or lemon peel or a cherry.

Finally, by no means even consider adding soda water or *gasp* lemonade.

What you are left with is a small glass of pure cocktail history: spirits, sugar, water and bitters.