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Mastering the Whiskey Sour With Dan Sabo

One of the bar world’s most lampooned ingredients is the key to a superior rendition of the classic.

In the cocktail world, it’s common wisdom that orange juice can be a fast track to ruining a drink (see the Blood & Sand). But for Dan Sabo, a half-ounce of fresh OJ is the unexpected secret to his bright and frothy Whiskey Sour.

Sabo, director of food and beverage at Los Angeles’ Fairmont Century Plaza, traces his signature move back to 2008, when he tended bar at Artisanal, a now-shuttered French bistro in midtown Manhattan where a barback suggested adding orange juice to Margaritas “to punch up the Cointreau.” He found it to be a useful frothing agent, but soon discovered that the technique truly shone in another drink altogether: the Whiskey Sour.

“Rich simple syrup plus orange juice plus egg whites work in beautiful harmony with the whiskey,” says Sabo. He describes the spirit component as “the linchpin” of his drink, and where many Whiskey Sours revolve around bourbon, he opts instead for an overproof rye to add power and spice. Rittenhouse Rye 100, in particular, offers value—“the worst application of fancy whiskey is to dilute it with orange juice, of all things”—and a high-proof backbone, which stands up to the drink’s sweeter components. There are no bitters needed for this version, either.

“The reason people gravitate toward adding a couple of dashes of Angostura in a Whiskey Sour is to add spicy undernotes, which we sort of just get with the rye,” explains Sabo. “It’s just simpler and more consistent if you can rely on one product to do the job of two.”

Conveniently, the 100-proof rye also plays better with the orange juice than a lower-proof alternative might. “Because the rye is so hot and we’re using a full two ounces of that, the orange juice doesn’t come across too sweet or overpowering.”

The OJ, which adds both sugar and acidity, is rounded out with an additional citrus kick from lemon juice and a half-ounce of rich simple syrup, made with two parts sugar to one part water. The rich formula prevents the drink from becoming overly diluted and thin. “The last thing I wanted was to add a simple syrup that was 60 percent water,” he explains.

Sabo then dry-shakes the mixture (without ice) to emulsify the egg white and build a slight meringue, followed by a second shake with ice to chill the drink. While some bartenders reverse the order to maximize foaminess, Sabo stands fast. “It’s easier to dry-shake it first and then add ice,” he maintains, “so you don’t have to strain it [twice].”

Sabo recognizes that his OJ-spiked Whiskey Sour might be considered somewhat “subversive.” But he prefers to see it as simply expanding the boundaries of the drink, which inherently offer “a lot of latitude,” he says, noting that he’s seen the formula work with everything from grapefruit juice to citric acid. (According to Sabo, however, lime does not work here.)

“There are all kinds of ways to hack this and bring it into the future,” he says. “It’s endlessly edit-able.”

All images shot at Thunderbolt, Los Angeles.

Dan Sabo's Whiskey Sour

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