For a Not-too-Sweet Whiskey Sour, Make it at Home

March 22, 2018

Being a great host also means being a great home bartender. We've partnered with Johnnie Walker and Bulleit to help you master a few classic whiskey cocktails, and put your own spin on them—whether you're mixing one up for yourself or entertaining guests.

The whiskey sour has an undeserved bad rap. Thanks to so many years of questionable “sour mix” sold by the jug—you’ve seen it at wedding open bars, and you may have bought a handle or two once upon a time—too many drinkers think of the whiskey sour as cloying and over-sweet, not really sour at all. (Blame store-bought sour mix’s citrus “flavor” and gobs of corn syrup.)

Photo by Julia Gartland

But when you're making it yourself from scratch, it happens to be a much more refined cocktail, and a simple one at that: just whiskey, lemon, and sugar, shaken with ice, with or without egg white. Take one sip of a classic whiskey sour and you’ll forgo pre-mixed bases forever. (A quick note on the egg white, just in case it grosses you out: It doesn’t make the drink taste “eggy,” but instead, it helps create a rich and silky texture. More on that below.)

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Here, we're walking you through three takes on the classic—with egg white, without, and with an elegant and colorful red wine float—so you can customize to your (or your guest's) taste.

Scotch Sour

Scotch adds a subtle, smoky flavor which balances out the bright citrus and adds just a touch of complexity—perfect for a version without egg white, on or off the rocks. Try changing up the bitters if you want to tweak the drink just a bit; orange, rhubarb, hopped grapefruit, even plum will all work well here.

Classic Whiskey Sour

Historically, whiskey sours often used egg white to create a foamy, silky texture without contributing additional flavor. Raw egg in a cocktail might seem a bit icky, but it’s no different than a meringue, say, or a Caesar salad dressing.

The trick to this is to use a “double shake” to make sure the egg white is fully incorporated: First shake without ice, to break up and aerate the egg white. Then, you shake a second time with ice, to cool everything down and make it extra frothy. For a variation, try using a mix of a few types of citrus, (I like ½ oz lemon juice plus and ¼ oz orange juice for a fruitier, sweeter flavor).

New York Sour

The New York Sour is a real looker, thanks to a small but dramatic pour of red wine: crimson bleeding through the pale drink makes for one extremely sexy cocktail. Red wine is the classic float for a New York sour, but ruby port works well, too.

Whiskey isn't just great for sipping—it's great for cocktails, which you should keep top-of-mind as you're preparing to host all sorts of spring get-togethers. Like where this is going? Stay tuned: We're sharing six more great drink recipes—including riffs on the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan—all featuring Johnnie Walker and Bulleit.

Do you have any favorite bourbon, rye, or scotch cocktails? Let us know in the comments!

BULLEIT Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. 45% Alc/Vol. The Bulleit Distilling Co., Louisville, KY.

BULLEIT American Straight Rye Whiskey. 45% Alc/Vol. The Bulleit Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, IN.

JOHNNIE WALKER RED LABEL Blended Scotch Whisky. 40% Alc/Vol. Imported by Diageo, Norwalk, CT.

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Spirits and travel writer; author of Brooklyn Bartender.