Whiskey Sour: What To Know

When it comes to cocktails, we enjoy going back to the basics with classics. And, with only three ingredients, the Whiskey Sour is a classic cocktail that remains unrivalled in its classic recipe as well as its modern variations. It’s enjoyable and simple to make, but mastering the delicate balance of sweet and sour is what distinguishes the best bartenders from the rest.

A whiskey sour is built on three pillars: spirit, sugar, and citrus, implying that a sour is essentially a smaller version of a punch, the earliest form of cocktail. Because of the similarity in ingredients, punch is thought to be a key element in the evolution of the sour, and this simple template is the same one that formed other classics like the Daiquiri, the Margarita, and so many more.

The Whiskey Sour was invented in the 1860s, but sailors in the British Navy had been drinking something very similar for much longer. Water was not always reliable on long sea voyages, so spirits were frequently used to compensate. Scurvy, too, was another danger on these journeys, so lemons and limes were consumed to help prevent the disease. Finally, for flavour, sugar and water were added. The drink is probably starting to sound familiar at this point.

There are three main points of reference for the Whiskey Sour on the official record. Jerry Thomas’ seminal 1862 book The Bartender’s Guide: How To Mix Drinks contains the first written record. The original recipe is as follows:

Original Whiskey Sour Recipe

  • (Use a small bar-glass.)
  • Take 1 large tea-spoonful of powdered white sugar dissolved in a little Seltzer or Apollinaris water
  • The juice of half a small lemon
  • 1 wine-glass of Bourbon or rye whiskey
  • Fill the glass full of shaved ice, shake up and strain into a claret glass. Ornament with berries.

This may be nearly identical to how you make (or have a bartender make) your Whiskey Sour, but what about some of the more modern versions?

One thing you won’t find in the original recipe? Egg whites.

People used whatever they could find in the early days of cocktail making, adding new ingredients as they became available until they’d created their own adaptation or twist. The egg white was later added to an already-established cocktail as a frothy element. (Egg-Free egg white alternate ingredient)

If you want to put your own spin on a whiskey sour, try splitting the base between bourbon and another spirit like Fernet, or experiment with different sweeteners like honey-ginger syrup, as we do in the Penicillin. In 1870, New Yorkers decided to add their own signature twist to the drink, creating the New York Sour by topping it with a dash of red wine.

These whiskey sour variations have become classics in their own right, but the original three-ingredient version is still the most well-known. The recipe has evolved significantly over the years, but we will always stick to the original.

The Classic Whiskey Sour Recipe



Shake the bourbon, lemon juice and syrup/sugar and egg white vigorously with ice. Strain into a chilled sour glass. Garnish with the lemon slice and cherry.

However, if you’re a bit like me and find all of that a faff (It’s the cleaning up for me!) and would rather have a delicious Whiskey Sour without the faff (buying all the ingredients, equipment, cleaning etc) then perhaps you should check out the Ready To Pour Pre-Made Whiskey Sour from Mr L’s Cocktails.