“I’m perfectly capable of fixing my breakfast. As a matter of fact, I had a peanut butter sandwich and two Whiskey Sours,” says Richard Sherman to his secretary in the 1955 movie, The Seven Year Itch.
Lucky for Sherman, his liquid breakfast of champions is easy to make with only three elements: whiskey, lemon juice, and sugar. Historically this popular classic has been in and out of fashion; because it’s not too fancy and out, because it’s usually poorly made with inferior ingredients and is often associated with dive bars and casinos. But, wait. Perhaps it’s heyday is coming again.
Although the first record of the cocktail was in Jerry Thomas’ 1862 book The Bartender’s Guide, its peak was in the first half of the 20th century. Hemingway and Fitzgerald loved to throw them back together in Paris in the 1920s. However, the origins actually date back much further, thanks to the British Royal Navy. In the 16th century, scurvy was crippling ship crews until it was discovered that a daily dose of Vitamin C, via citrus fruit, kept sailors from falling ill.
As they were sometimes wont to do, the men added beer or rum and eventually whiskey to make their medicine palatable. The booze plus lemon or lime combo became known as a sour of two parts liquor to one part citrus and sweetener. And hundreds of variations have since been spawned worldwide such as the Pisco Sour, the Daiquiri, and the hugely popular Margarita.
A World of Whiskey Sours
It’s no surprise that the Whiskey Sour has evolved over the years; when made properly with quality ingredients, its riffs can be downright elegant. The New York Sour, a 19th-century favorite, floats a little red wine on top. Mix in apricot brandy for a Baltimore Bang. Add a raw egg for a creamy delight, as Dale DeGroff’s recipe instructs in The Essential Cocktail recipe book. Jeffrey Morganthaler, of Clyde Common in Portland, Oregon, offers a potent twist on both the Whiskey and Amaretto Sour by using cask-proof whiskey.
Whether you agree with UK comedian Dorian Crook’s prescription for a perfect night consisting of “a Whiskey Sour, a meteor shower and a cab that arrives before you put your hand out” or not, a Whiskey Sour (even if it’s shabbily made) has been a stalwart sipper through the ages. And to boot, the centuries-old drink has its holiday: August 25th is National Whiskey Sour Day. But, if you can’t wait until then to dust off an old classic and give it a whirl, try this recipe.
FRESH WHISKEY SOUR
- 1 1/2 oz. Whiskey
- 1 oz. Simple Syrup
- 3/4 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
Preparation: Combine in a shaker with ice, shake well, strain into a rocks glass. Garnish with a slice of lemon, top with Maraschino cherry.