Classic Whiskey Sour

The Whiskey Sour is a perfectly balanced classic cocktail with elegance and grace. Beloved around the world, it’s an easy recipe with tons of variations and ways to make it your own.

a coupe glass on a coaster

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Classic Whiskey Sour recipe

A perfect trio: tart lemon, sweet sugar and strong bourbon. These three can do anything.

In the Whiskey Sour, they’re inimitable together.

Smooth, sweet and a little strong, this cocktail is a classic, and for good reason.

Let’s get into the history of this amazing cocktail, plus tips for how to make it and its many variations.

Why you’ll love the whiskey sour

There’s a lot to love about these classic cocktails:

  • The whiskey sour is very easy to make. All you need is a cocktail shaker.
  • It is super customizable, from the whiskey to the sour element.
  • It’s a light, refreshing drink that can be enjoyed before or after a meal.
two whiskey sours with a bottle of bitters

What is a whiskey sour?

The Whiskey Sour is from the Sour cocktail family, which means it is made with the Golden Ratio of Cocktails.

Sours always contain a spirit, some sort of sweetener and some kind of citrus. For example, the margarita is made with tequila, agave and lime juice.

The Whiskey Sour calls for bourbon, simple syrup and lemon juice. It has a number of variations, including the New York Sour and Scotch Sour. (See section below called Variations.)

Sometimes it has a fourth element: egg white. The egg white adds a thick, smooth, silky texture to a cocktail. (I love it in the Pink Lady and the Ramos Gin Fizz.)

When the egg white is added, the cocktail is sometimes called a Boston Sour. If egg white isn’t your thing, you can skip it and serve the Whiskey Sour on the rocks.

History of the whiskey sour

The Whiskey Sour goes back a long way. It’s said that sailors invented the Sour cocktail to avoid scurvy on the open seas.

Several Sour cocktails, including the Gin Sour and the Brandy Sour, were first mentioned in The Bartender’s Guide by Jerry Thomas in 1862.

Later, a Wisconsin newspaper, the Waukesha Plain Dealer, first wrote about the Whiskey Sour cocktail (with the British spelling, “whisky”) on Jan. 4, 1870.

Since then, the Whiskey Sour has found its way onto bar menus everywhere. It even has its own national holiday — National Whiskey Sour Day is Aug. 25 each year.

a whiskey sour cocktail with hearts on top

Ingredients

You only need four ingredients to make these popular cocktails. Here’s what you’ll need to make a whiskey sour:

Bourbon whiskey

Bourbon brings its sweet, oaky, caramel flavor to the Whiskey Sour. You can use just about any bourbon you can find.

My go-to brands are Old Forester, Bulleit, Woodford Reserve, Angel’s Envy and Maker’s Mark. If you have a favorite, use that. Check out my crash course on this spirit, Bourbon 101, for more about this amazing, versatile spirit.

Another type of whiskey, such as rye or scotch, can be used instead of bourbon. You can even use a flavored bourbon, like cinnamon whiskey.

If you want to switch up the spirit to, say, tequila, you can make a tequila sour. With amaretto, you make an amaretto sour.

Lemon juice

Fresh lemon juice will yield the freshest-tasting Whiskey Sour, but I know how handy the bottled concentrate is and it will work in a pinch.

You can also use another type of citrus like lime, orange or grapefruit juice if you like.

Sour mix is great to keep on hand if you make Whiskey Sours a lot. It’s basically a bottled concoction of lemon juice and simple syrup, raring and ready to go in the fridge.

a jar of mint simple syrup

Simple syrup

Classic simple syrup is a simple mixture of water and sugar. This liquid sweetener is a must to keep in your fridge for all kinds of cocktails, from the mojito to the old-fashioned.

Simple syrup is typically made with granulated sugar, but other types may be used such as this brown sugar simple syrup.

You can also make a flavored syrup such as lavender simple syrup, basil simple syrup or cinnamon simple syrup for some tasty flavor combinations. (See the section called Variations below.)

Instead of simple syrup, you can use other types of sweeteners, like honey, maple syrup or agave. (If using honey, you’ll want to make a honey syrup first.)

Egg white

Shaken egg white is what creates the foamy, white layer on top of the cocktail, and provides a silky and smooth texture to the drink. Sometimes adding egg white to a Whiskey Sour is called a Boston Sour.

My grandmother once told me she went on a cruise during which she fell in love with whiskey sours, but she was notoriously an egg hater! I’m certain that the whiskey sours she enjoyed were not Boston Sours.

If you’d rather skip the egg white, you can stop right here but I encourage you to give it a try. However, when using raw eggs in a drink, there are some safety measures to keep in mind. Please see the section below called Are egg whites in drinks safe?.

Garnishes

The Whiskey Sour has a few must-have garnishes:

  • Lemon twist: A twist of lemon rind is perfect and adds an extra punch of lemon fragrance to every sip. You could also use a lemon wheel or orange slice to garnish this cocktail.
  • Cocktail cherry: Some bars use maraschino cherries, but a proper cocktail cherry soaked in bourbon or brandy is a much more sophisticated fit than the bright red maraschino cherry.
  • Aromatic bitters: If using egg white in your Whiskey Sour, add a few drops of Angostura cocktail bitters to the top of the cocktail. Use a cocktail pick to draw a line through them to get the heart-shaped drops, like I did for these photos.
a bottle of angostura bitters on a white background

Are egg whites in drinks safe?

Eggs add a host of outstanding qualities to a cocktail. They can add thickness and silkiness, which is very evident in cocktails like eggnog. Some people may be worried about an “eggy” taste, but it’s actually quite subtle.

Of course, there is always a concern that using raw egg or egg whites in a cocktail would be unsafe. Follow these tips for using egg whites in a cocktail safely.

Be sure to buy pasteurized eggs in the shell, which is the USDA recommendation for any food or drink that includes raw eggs. Pasteurized eggs are gently heated in their shells, just enough to kill any bacteria. If needed, you can pasteurize eggs at home.

Raw egg warning: Consuming raw or lightly-cooked eggs poses a risk for food-borne illness.

How to separate the egg white

I like to use this egg separator tool for removing the yolk. Just rest it over the edge of your cocktail shaker and crack the egg into it, then toss the yolk.

(Or refrigerate it in a covered container for tomorrow’s breakfast!)

a whiskey sour next to a blue napkin

How to make a Classic Whiskey Sour

Whether you make your whiskey sour with or without egg white, making a whiskey sour is an incredibly easy drink. Get out your cocktail shaker and let’s get started.

How to make a Whiskey Sour without egg white

Here’s how to make a whisky sour that doesn’t contain egg white:

  1. First, add the whiskey, lemon juice and simple syrup to a cocktail shaker filled with **ice. Put on the lid and shake well.
  2. Remove the lid and strain into a rocks glass (affiliate link) filled with ice.
  3. Garnish with a lemon twist and cocktail cherry.

How to make a Boston Sour

The Boston Sour is a Whiskey sour with egg white. Here’s how to make it:

  1. First, add the whiskey, lemon juice, simple syrup and egg white to a cocktail shaker without ice. Put on the lid and shake well. (This is called a “dry shake.”)
  2. Then remove the lid and add ice. Cover and shake again.
  3. Remove the lid and strain into a coupe glass or rocks glass (affiliate link).
  4. Add a few drops of Angostura bitters to the foamy top layer. (Use an eyedropper for precision.) Use a cocktail pick or knife to draw a line through the dots — see photo below for the final result.
  5. Garnish with a lemon twist and cocktail cherry.
drops of bitters on top of a whiskey sour cocktail

Whiskey Sour Variations

The beauty of the whiskey sour is that you can customize it to your heart’s content, way beyond just egg white or no egg white.

The most famous variation is a New York Sour, which has a few bar spoons of red wine layered on top. The Continental Sour is similar, which uses port wine.

Use different types of whiskey.

Different types of whiskey can dramatically alter the flavor profile of a whiskey sour.

Mix up the type of sweetener.

Changing up the type of sweetener you use can help you dream up fun flavor combinations and up your whiskey sour game.

Change up the citrus.

Lemon juice or sour mix is most common for a whiskey sour, but you can change things up. Try one of these variations:

angostura bitters with two whiskey sours

Substitutions

The whiskey sour is incredibly versatile and you can dream up tons of combinations. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Make it non-alcoholic. Use a zero-proof spirit such as Ritual whiskey alternative (affiliate link).

Use honey. Instead of simple syrup, use honey simple syrup. Honey simple syrup is thinner than honey and won’t seize up when you add it to ice.

Add more flavors. Use a flavored simple syrup like jalapeño simple syrup or mint simple syrup.

Use other types of citrus. Mix up the flavors with other types of citrus, like orange or grapefruit.

Have fun with garnishes. You can have some fun with lemon twists or cute cocktail picks. (I love these cocktail picks.) You could even try other flavors of bitters.

Serve it up or on the rocks. The cocktail can be made with egg white and served up. If served without egg white, it should be served over ice.

What to pair with a whiskey sour

Both sweet and savory foods work well with a whiskey sour.

If enjoying with appetizers, fix a charcuterie board with cured meats and a mix of cheeses like cheddar, brie and blue cheese, or go for a simple baked brie with crackers.

For dessert, enjoy something with dark chocolate, like double chocolate chip cookies or dark chocolate red wine brownies, or even something fruity like apple crisp.

Whiskey Sour Recipes

Here are some more whiskey sour recipes to try:

More classic whiskey cocktails

Let me know if you try this recipe! I would love it if you would leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review or comment below to tell me how it goes.

two whiskey sours with a bottle of bitters

Whiskey Sour

Yield: 1 cocktail
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes

The Whiskey Sour is a classic cocktail worth knowing.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces bourbon whiskey
  • 1 ounce simple syrup
  • 1 ounce lemon juice
  • 1 egg white, optional
  • 4 drops Angostura bitters, optional
  • lemon twist, for garnish
  • cocktail cherry, for garnish

Instructions

Whiskey Sour without Egg White

  1. Add the whiskey, lemon juice and simple syrup to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Replace lid and shake well.
  2. Remove the lid and strain into a rocks glass filled with ice.
  3. Garnish with a lemon twist and cocktail cherry.

Whiskey Sour with Egg White (Boston Sour)

  1. Add the whiskey, lemon juice, simple syrup and egg white to a cocktail shaker without ice. Put on the lid and shake well. (This is called a "dry shake.")
  2. Then remove the lid and add ice. Cover and shake again.
  3. Remove the lid and strain into a coupe glass or rocks glass.
  4. Add a few drops of Angostura bitters to the foamy top layer. Use a cocktail pick or knife to draw a line through the dots.
  5. Garnish with a lemon twist and cocktail cherry.

Notes

To use sour mix: Replace lemon juice and simple syrup with 2 ounces sour mix.

Instead of simple syrup: You can use honey syrup, maple syrup, agave nectar or a flavored simple syrup.

Instead of lemon: Use other types of citrus. Mix up the flavors with other types of citrus, like orange or grapefruit.

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As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 1 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 201Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 63mgCarbohydrates: 15gFiber: 0gSugar: 14gProtein: 4g

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