While everyone these days seems excited to order cocktails just like the ones drunk by dear old Granddad, there’s one that has yet to make a comeback: The whiskey sour was one of the main food groups of the Greatest Generation, drunk alongside the old-fashioned, the martini, and the highly esteemed Manhattan. The whiskey sour died because we bartenders killed it with crappy bottled sour mix. But a tried-and-true whiskey sour, one like Granddad might have ordered, is one of the bar’s simplest pleasures.
Lazy bartenders in every tacky wedding hall and hotel bar across this land sullied the drink’s reputation by doing nothing more than pouring a shot of cheap whiskey and topping it with a squirt of some neon piss out of a gun or a plastic bottle. Before sour mix came along, “sours” were an honorable category of drinks made with alcohol, citrus juice, and simple syrup. A sidecar is a brandy sour. A daiquiri is a rum sour. Just as salsa replaced ketchup in our hearts and bellies, the margarita—aka the tequila sour—became our sour of choice over the past two decades. Sidecars, daiquiris, and margaritas garner plenty of drink menu space. If we gave the whiskey sour a snappier name, would you drink it?
Sours have a slightly higher booze-to-mix ratio than your typical alcohol-plus-mixer highball. There are as many whiskey sour recipes as there are whiskeys, but I find this concoction hits the spot in terms of both taste and tradition: Take 2 ounces of whiskey, the juice of half a lemon (a little over 1 ounce), a half-ounce of simple syrup, and the clincher—part of an egg white. You want a dollop, about the size of a quarter, of that first clear, gooey part that runs free of the yolk. Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake like hell, then strain into a cocktail glass or pour over ice in a rocks glass. Use any rye, blended whiskey, or bourbon you want—I like to be nostalgic and use Old Granddad or Dickel—and adjust the amount of each ingredient to your taste.
This whiskey sour is just tart enough to highlight the whiskey without turning the whole thing into an alcoholic Lemonhead. What the egg white does will knock you out. Common in South America’s pisco sour, egg whites give drinks a creamy texture that allows you to savor the taste. I highly recommend trying it at least once. Most books call for an orange wedge and a cherry to garnish, but I use a lemon wedge because that’s the fruit in the drink, and besides, I think I’ve made my stance on maraschino cherries abundantly clear.
I can’t think of a better setting for a proper sour than the submerged bar at the Can Can, and they’re not afraid to use eggs in their drinks. If you’re in parts unknown, order a whiskey sour on the rocks—let the bartender know how tart you want the drink, just as you might when you ask for a margarita—and make sure to ask about the egg. Whiskey never tasted so sweet, with that little tart kick, and so silky, just like satin. Hey, Satin Doll—that’s kinda catchy. Would you order one of those?