The combination of spirit, sugar and citrus is the cocktail world’s mirepoix—the humble base on which centuries of warm-weather consumption has been based. From Pegu Clubs in Myanmar to Daiquiris in Cuba to Sidecars in Paris, the sour formula is the universal language of refreshment.
The sour follows a simple formula of two ounces of sprits to three-quarters of an ounce each of citrus and simple syrup (1:1) that can be adjusted to taste. The sour lives in tall form, too. Pour the classic sour base over ice and top it with soda, and you’ve got yourself the Collins—most famously, Tom, a gin-based sour topped with soda and mounted with a cherry and an orange slice.
In their pure forms the sour and the Collins cut a classical shape that’s hard to argue with, but they are as much starting points as they are the destination. Jackson Cannon’s Phil Collins is a prime example of how a little tinkering goes a long way. Developed in jest, the combination of cucumber vodka, yellow Chartreuse, simple syrup, lime juice and a dash of cranberry bitters has become so popular at Cannon’s Boston bar, The Hawthorne, that he now hosts a party every year for the drink and Phil Collins himself on the Genesis singer’s birthday.
Brad Farran similarly detours from the classic Collins formula but keeps the blueprint firmly in his rearview. His Bitter Tom (the “hotter, younger cousin” of Tom) leans on a half-ounce of Campari, balancing it out with pomegranate molasses, lemon and simple syrup and further amping up the bitterness with a touch of Bénédictine. Meanwhile, Jeremy Oertel also builds on the classic gin base of the Tom Collins but gives it a juicebar makeover, adding both ginger syrup and celery and subbing in lime for lemon juice in his Watership Down.
Walking back to the classic sour formula, Honeycut retools the 1990s’ favorite liquid accessory, the Cosmo, swapping out the cranberry juice and Cointreau in favor of housemade grenadine and Pierre Ferrand dry Curaçao. Elad Zvi and Gabriel Orta of Miami’s Broken Shaker go a bit further off-piste, taking the sour to both Spain and the Caribbean. Their Walk This Way is built on a base of cream sherry, which is pumped up with the addition of passionfruit, hibiscus syrup and lemon juice all piled on top of a generous mound of crushed ice.
And lest we forget the sour riffs of yore, the Pegu Club—a drink that has its roots in colonial Burma—follows the classic sour formula, adding lime juice and dry Curaçao to a gin base and kicking it up with the judicious addition of a dash each of Angostura and orange bitters. Built to beat the Southeast Asian heat, it’s reliable sidekick whenever the mercury climbs north.