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Cocktails

The Many Ways to Whiskey Sour

October 14, 2022

Story: Punch Staff

photo: Lizzie Munro

Cocktails

The Many Ways to Whiskey Sour

October 14, 2022

Story: Punch Staff

photo: Lizzie Munro

The classic cocktail is “endlessly editable.” Here’s a guide to the drink and its many modern recipes.

While a Margarita can be ordered skinny, spicy, or in the style of a Tommy’s Margarita, and a Daiquiri claims many iterations, asking for a Whiskey Sour begets, at most, one question: egg white or not?

But that’s not to say the Whiskey Sour has not been riffed upon. Through modifiers ranging from ginger syrup to red wine, the class of Whiskey Sours has taken on a life of its own. In the canon of modern classics alone, the drink has inspired several recipes. Most notably, it provided the blueprint for the Penicillin, a smoky-spicy variation, which quickly became an international sensation, leading some young bartenders to believe it had a much longer history than its relatively recent origins at Milk & Honey in 2004. (The Penicillin was itself a riff on the Gold Rush, a bourbon-based Whiskey Sour made with honey as the sweetener, from the same pioneering bar). Other modern classics have even evolved to more closely resemble the Whiskey Sour, such as Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Amaretto Sour, which sees the addition of cask-proof bourbon in the oft-derided drink.

Penicillin Cocktail
Recipe

Penicillin

A spicy, smoky turn on the Whiskey Sour.

Gold Rush Cocktail Recipe
Recipe

Gold Rush

Honey syrup shines in this Whiskey Sour update.

Amaretto Sour Cocktail Recipe
Recipe

Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Amaretto Sour

This update calls on overproof bourbon for added backbone and balance.

The Whiskey Sour has also been a template upon which bartenders have stamped their own regional or house embellishments. Both coasts have signature riffs: The Brown Derby, born in glitzy 1930s West Hollywood, shakes up bourbon with grapefruit juice and honey syrup, while the New York Sour, established in New York in the early 20th century, adds a float of red wine to the classic construction. There are signature Whiskey Sours from a host of lobby bars, too, like the 1930s-era Algonquin (from the New York hotel of the same name) made with pineapple juice, the more modern Two Dylans, made with orgeat at the newly renovated Hotel Chelsea, and the Up in Smoke, made with amaro at the Freehand Hotel in Miami.

Recipe

Brown Derby

A bourbon-fueled vestige of 1930s West Hollywood's glitz and glamour.

Recipe

New York Sour

The Whiskey Sour's New York relative, which gets a float of red wine.

Recipe

Algonquin

The Algonquin Hotel's house cocktail of spicy rye, vermouth and sweet pineapple.

Though the drink has been circulating since around the 1860s, experimentation with the template shows no signs of stopping. The classic has been turned “rich and soulful” thanks to a measure of PX sherry in Jeremy Oertel’s Betty Carter, and has been kicked up with spice in Natasha David’s peachy Mountain Man. The drink has even taken on an aperitif bent, balancing the richer elements of the cocktail with citrus and herbs in Andrew King’s The Thirsty Monk, designed to be consumed before a meal.

Recipe

Betty Carter

A sherry and amaro-infused whiskey sour in ode to legendary jazz singer Betty Carter.

Recipe

Mountain Man

Giffard's Pêche de Vigne accentuates the roundness of maple syrup and the spice of ginger.

Genepy Cocktail Recipe
Recipe

The Thirsty Monk

Génépy and Benedictine join forces to add a spiced-herbal layer to this twist on a Whiskey Sour.

Perhaps it’s the cocktail’s ability to shift seamlessly through drinking eras that has allowed it to persist for so long. Or perhaps, it’s the drink’s inherent riffability, underlying countless modern cocktails, that has kept it alive. As Dan Sabo, who created our favorite (albeit unorthodox) recipe for the classic, says of the Whiskey Sour: “There are all kinds of ways to hack this and bring it into the future. It’s endlessly editable.”

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