The Whiskey Sour is the cocktail equivalent of comfort food. As nights fall earlier and sweaters get thicker, we creatures of habit can’t help but turn again and again to this dangerously simple combination of whiskey, lemon juice and sugar—for its power to ward away the chill, yes, but also because it’s pretty damn perfect.
It’s stood the test of time, too: Though Jerry Thomas first published the recipe in his 1862 The Bartender’s Guide, reports suggest English sailors—an intrepid group responsible for many boozy beginnings—began tossing together rum with lemons and water about 100 years prior. The delightful simplicity of these complementary flavors resulted in a whole much tastier than the sum of its parts, one that’s stuck around through the centuries in both its classic form and countless riffs.
Some of those iterations have gone on to become classics in their own right. Top with a red wine float, and you’ve got the heady New York Sour. A cap of fluffy, frothed egg white results in one of PUNCH’s house favorites, the Boston Sour. Straying a little further are the Algonquin, a jumble of strong flavors: spicy rye, dry vermouth, tropical pineapple juice with honey syrup, and the Prohibition-era Millionaire Cocktail, which gets rich with Grand Marnier, anise-flavored pastis, grenadine and egg white.
The Whiskey Sour maintains similar allure for today’s drink-makers, whose inventive riffs contain additions from herbs to absinthe that play well with the core foundation of whiskey, citrus and a sweetener. In San Francisco, The Slanted Door’s Erik Adkins doubles down on the autumn flavors for his Filibuster, which swaps simple syrup for maple syrup and and gets a bit of spice from rye and Angostura bitters. In New York, the NoMad’s Leo Robitschek, too, takes advantage of fall’s bounty in the Mott and Mulberry, a combination of rye, bittersweet Amaro Abano and tart apple cider. While over in Brooklyn, husband-and-wife team Jeremy Oertel and Natasha David mix up the Betty Carter, a soulful, sherry-spiked sour.
So, put down that pumpkin-spiced whatever. Time to get acquainted with fall’s real spirit drink. Here are six golden opportunities.