Whiskey Sour Cocktail

A well-made Whiskey Sour—made with whiskey, lemon juice, and simple syrup—is a drink worth having, especially when you add an egg white (yes!) and a dash of Angostura bitters.

Photography Credit: Nancy Mitchell

You may remember a Whiskey Sour as that fairly terrible drink you had once at a dim but thrilling college bar, but as is the case with many cocktails, the Whiskey Sour lives and dies on its ingredients.

Whiskey Sours have been around for a long time, and at their simplest they’re made with just whiskey, citrus, and a sweet ingredient, like simple syrup. But add just one or two special ingredients to that recipe, and you have a very different drink entirely.

THE HISTORY OF THE WHISKEY SOUR

The recipe for a Whiskey Sour first appeared in print in 1862, in a book called The Bartender’s Guide by Jerry Thomas. But according to some cocktail historians, sailors invented the Whiskey Sour!

In the past, sailors were given an allowance for spirits (usually whiskey or rum, since water tended to go bad on long voyages) and citrus (because the vitamin C in lemons and limes helped prevent scurvy). Put them together; add a little sugar, and you have a Whiskey Sour!

It’s also possible that the Whiskey Sour is just a scaled-down version of a punch, designed to serve just one. Punches predate cocktails by quite a while, but if you look at old punch recipes, you’ll notice the basic structure of a Whiskey Sour: base spirit, citrus, and sweetener.

However the Whiskey Sour came to be, when you drink one, you can be sure you’re part of a long and proud tradition!

WHAT KIND OF WHISKEY SHOULD I USE?

The Whiskey Sour is a very versatile drink; you can make it with bourbon, rye, Tennessee whiskey, or even scotch. I like it best with rye whiskey for a little extra spice and edge to balance out the drink’s sweetness, but feel free to try this with whatever whiskey you happen to have around.

If you’re buying specifically for this drink, I wouldn’t go for anything too expensive, since the lemon and sugar will cover the complexities that set those whiskeys apart. For rye, Rittenhouse and Old Overholt are very nice; for bourbon, try Four Roses or Wild Turkey.

Whiskey sour cocktail with egg white foamy top

SHOULD I ADD A RAW EGG WHITE?

You can make a perfectly lovely Whiskey Sour by sticking to the original recipe of just whiskey, lemon juice, and sugar. These three ingredients balance each other beautifully.

But if you want to take your Whiskey Sour to the next level, add an egg white. This will not, in fact, make your cocktail taste like egg. Instead, the egg white will add texture, richness, and a particular creaminess that will make it seem almost like a whiskey milkshake.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: What about salmonella?

Your chances of getting salmonella from raw eggs are pretty low. The CDC estimates that only around 1 in 20,000 eggs are contaminated with the bacteria, and even if you do get a contaminated egg, as long as the egg is kept refrigerated below 45˚F, the bacteria will have no chance to grow.

If you’re still worried, you can purchase pasteurized eggs, which are heated for a period of time to eliminate bacteria. You can also use pre-packaged, pasteurized egg whites like Egg Beaters, which will also save you the trouble of extracting the egg white from the yolk.

HOW TO SHAKE A WHISKEY SOUR

One of the beautiful things about adding an egg white to your cocktail is the rich, creamy texture it imparts. To get a nice, foamy drink, try one of these shaking styles:

  1. A Dry Shake: Shake the cocktail first without ice, and then add the ice and shake again.
  2. A Reverse Dry Shake: Shake the cocktail with ice first; strain the ice out, and re-shake.

I prefer the texture imparted by the traditional dry shake, but if you want to get a truly ridiculous amount of foam, the reverse dry shake is the way to go.

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ADDING BITTERS TO YOUR WHISKEY SOUR

Should you add Angostura bitters to your Whiskey Sour? Yes! Angostura bitters adds dimension to the flavor, and a little visual pizazz. Use a dropper (or a very gentle motion with the bottle) to drop bitters onto the top of your egg white foam, then use a toothpick (or a cocktail pick) to make patterns in the foam. The sky’s the limit!

More Whiskey Recipes to Enjoy this Fall: 

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Whiskey Sour Cocktail Recipe

  • Prep time: 2 minutes
  • Yield: 1 cocktail

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces whiskey
  • 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
  • 1 egg white
  • Ice
  • 2-3 drops Angostura bitters, optional

Special equipment:

  • Cocktail shaker

Method

1 Combine ingredients and shake without ice: Add the whiskey, lemon juice, and simple syrup to a cocktail shaker, then add the egg white. (I like to break off a small portion of the top of the egg, and then use that as a sort of strainer to hold the yolk in while pouring the white into the shaker.) Shake, without ice, for 60 seconds.

2 Add ice, shake again, then strain: Add ice to the shaker and shake again for 30 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass and drop the bitters on the top. Serve!

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Nancy Mitchell

Nancy is a writer and photographer living in New York. She makes drinks with local and homegrown ingredients and writes about the New York cocktail scene on her Instagram feed and at her blog, The Backyard Bartender.

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