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Can It, Haters: The Whiskey Sour Is Awesome

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Whiskey Sour haters, we need to talk.

Before you get defensive, we know you’ve had plenty of oversweet or under-whiskied sours. But don’t write off this classic just because some fill-in bartender got a little frisky with the soda gun. You haven’t had a Whiskey Sour until you’ve made one yourself.

At its worst, the Whiskey Sour is a sickly-sweet mixed drink built in the glass. At its best, it’s the highest form of the sour cocktail family (its cousins include the Daiquiri, Gimlet, Sidecar and Margarita). The earliest printed recipe for the drink appeared in Jerry Thomas’ 1862 tome The Bartenders Guide.

One hundred years is a long time, however, and a century after The Bartender’s Guide was published, the Whiskey Sour was in a bad way. By the 1980s, when a Sex on the Beach was a legitimate cocktail and shoulder pads were fashionable business-wear, the Whiskey Sour was all but unrecognizable.

Part of the problem is right there in the name. If you say the actual words “Whiskey Sour,” to a bartender, not only will he be pouring you the bar’s (probably questionable) well whiskey, but he’ll take you for someone who doesn’t know enough to call for their favorite hooch. Which is to say, someone who wants enough sour mix in the glass to make them forget there is even such a thing as whiskey.

The drink is so poorly understood, in fact, it’s probably better you don’t order it in a bar. Instead, make it a staple of your home bartending game. The same thing that led to the drink’s downfall―its simplicity―makes it a cinch to perfect in your kitchen bar. Start with two parts good whiskey, half a part of simple syrup and three-quarters part of citrus juice (either lemon or a blend of lemon and lime), and taste the difference fresh ingredients make. From there the possibilities are endless.

You can substitute different types of whiskey to change the flavor of the drink. Go for a high-proof bourbon if you like the taste of whiskey, and if you want spice, go with rye.

Try adding some Angostura or Peychaud’s bitters for spice. Maybe mix in a little orange marmalade for a touch of fruit. Ginger juice gives it a kick. Or sub a ginger liqueur or honey syrup for the simple syrup, and use Scotch to get a classic a Penicillin. Try incorporating egg white for a creamy, frothy texture. See how it changes when served on the rocks or up. The Whiskey Sour contains multitudes.

You’ll also notice that while the classic Whiskey Sour calls for a cherry garnish, we didn’t mention it above. That is because most maraschino cherries are an affront to human decency. If you have Luxardo cherries, feel free to toss one in there. If you have brandied, whiskied or moonshined cherries, even better. Or just leave the cherry out and garnish with an expressed orange, lemon or lime rind.

If you’re just getting started with cocktail experimentation, the simplicity of this drink makes it an ideal platform for exploring how different flavors play together. And the next time someone rolls their eyes when you offer them a Whiskey Sour, give them something that will make their eyes roll back into their head.

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