Whiskey cocktail

Cocktail Questions: 5 Essential Whiskey Sour Recipes

Cocktail Queries is a Paste series that examines and answers common basic questions drinkers may have about mixed drinks, cocktails and spirits. Check out all the entries in the series to date.

When a new drinker begins to discover the wide world of whiskey cocktails, they tend to orient themselves mainly towards two classics: the old and the Manhattan. And while both of these choices are indeed classic, they might not quite work as the best introduction to the category for those just starting to dabble in spirits. The Manhattan, after all, is quite an invigorating (if darkly seductive) drink for those who don’t drink pure spirits, while an Old Fashioned is nothing more than a bourbon or sweet rye with a hint of bitter and maybe a slice of fruit. Many drinkers are undoubtedly looking for a slightly more laid-back and inviting introduction to the estate, and there’s another classic that fits the bill perfectly: the whiskey sour.

The whiskey sour is one of the simplest and most basic whiskey drinks, having been around at least since the 1870s, and probably long before that, making it, along with the ancient, one of the oldest” cocktails” that exist. Unlike the old, however, the whiskey sour is considerably lengthened with citrus fruits and simple syrup, making it a relatively less strong, more refreshing and easier to drink drink. The whiskey sour is therefore an excellent outdoor/warm weather drink, although it is just as refreshing as the counterweight to a roaring winter fireplace.

Plus, there are countless ways to modify the classic whiskey sour to suit the mood, making it a versatile model for homemade whiskey cocktails that are particularly easy to prepare. None of these drinks call for particularly obscure or hard-to-obtain ingredients, which is part of the joys of whiskey sour: it’s a cocktail that’s meant to be easy.

So here are five must-have whiskey sour recipes.

Might as well start at the beginning. The original classic whiskey sour is nothing more than whiskey (bourbon or rye, although bourbon is more common), accompanied by lemon juice and simple syrup. It can be served shaken and over ice, which is the most common modern preparation, but it can also be served “upside down”, in a coupe glass for a stronger drink without ice. In that case, you might want to add some. egg white or cocktail frother to generate a denser, longer lasting froth for aesthetic appeal. By the way, don’t worry about the egg white – as we have already written, it is perfectly safe to use in cocktails.

Here is the most basic whiskey sour recipe:

— 2 ounces of bourbon whiskey
— 0.75 oz lemon juice
— 0.75 oz simple syrup

Combine all ingredients in a shaker filled with plenty of ice. Stopper and shake vigorously until very cold, before pouring into a highball/old fashioned glass filled with ice. Classic toppings usually include a slice of orange, a maraschino cherry, or both.


Some drinkers may find the classic whiskey sour cocktail too tart or acidic for their taste. In their case, the Whiskey Smash may be the perfect alternative. In terms of construction, it’s essentially just a simple meeting point between the original whiskey sour and the mint julep, providing a streamlined way to get the best of both worlds. Because lemons are muddled but not fully squeezed, the overall acid level of whiskey smash tends to be lower than it would be in real sour whisky, making it a smoother drink. The mint, of course, adds a nice freshness. A variety of fresh fruits can also be added to a whiskey smash recipe, such as raspberry, blackberry, or strawberry. Here is the recipe:

— 2 ounces of bourbon whiskey
— 1 oz simple syrup
— A quarter of a lemon, cut into several small pieces
— 5 to 8 mint leaves

Add the lemon chunks and mint leaves to a shaker and mash them to release their oils – a little pinch of salt is optional here, but can be nice. You can use a wooden pestle for this, or failing that the back of a spoon. After mixing, add the other ingredients with plenty of ice. Cap and shake mold until very cold, then strain into a chilled old-fashioned glass with ice. Garnish with a few more mint leaves. An extremely refreshing classic cocktail.

Ward 8 originated in Boston in 1898, being almost as old and legendary as the original whiskey sour. As is the case with so many of these drinks, both the recipe and the drinkers think about like a “Ward 8” has often changed over time, but one of the most enduring and notable aspects of the drink is that it’s specifically made with rye whiskey, rather than bourbon. Likewise, citrus fruits are often alternated, as you can find Ward 8 recipes that call for various combinations of lemon, lime, and orange juice. Here, we opted for lemon and orange, in addition to the very important presence of grenadine, which gives the cocktail a darker complexion. Unlike the traditional whiskey sour, it is also consumed “up” more often than on the rocks. Recipe:

— 2 ounces of rye whiskey
— 0.5 oz lemon juice
— 0.5 oz orange juice
— 1 tablespoon grenadine (true pomegranate grenadine widely preferred)

Combine all ingredients in a shaker, with plenty of ice. Stopper and shake vigorously until very cold, then strain into a classic cocktail glass (martini glass) or coupe glass. The traditional garnish is a maraschino cherry.


This is a small but significant modification of the classic, original whiskey sour recipe, which tames the acidity of lemon juice by adding a small amount of dry red wine, usually as a float at the end of the drink, which can then either be left on top or stirred to incorporate. The presence of the wine knocks down the perceived acidity of the whiskey sour, giving it extra richness and subtle red fruit notes that play beautifully into the new drink profile. It’s a favorite twist on the whiskey sour for many wine drinkers, including my wife in particular.

The amount of red wine used here can be quite variable, from just a teaspoon or two, to an ounce or more, it just depends on how much wine/dark fruit you want in the final drink. The layered nature, on the other hand, makes the drink quite attractive for pictures, but I personally think it tastes better if you eventually stir it to incorporate all the wine. Here is the recipe:

— 2 oz of whiskey (bourbon or rye)
— 1 oz lemon juice
— 0.75 oz simple syrup
— 0.5 oz of red wine (which can be increased to your liking)
— 1 egg white (optional)

To make, simply add all ingredients except red wine to a shaker, fill with ice, and shake vigorously until thoroughly chilled. Then simply strain the drink into a highball glass over ice and pour the red wine over the back of a bar spoon to float above the New York Sour. If you want to fully incorporate the wine rather than float it, just stir.

While most of these drinks are laid back and very simple, the Halekulani is a bit more adventurous, but it’s a great jumping off point into a larger world of whiskey sour influenced cocktails. This one draws inspiration from both the classic whiskey sour, as well as traditional rum-based tropical/tiki drinks such as the daiquiri or the jungle bird, essentially replacing bourbon with a citrus drink that would typically contain rum. It was created in the 1930s at the Halekulani Hotel in Hawaii, a product of its famous bar/lounge The House Without a Key.

The Halekulani has an array of ingredients that work wonderfully with the bourbon, lemon juice found in most of these other recipes, as well as pineapple, orange, and other caramelized dark sugars. Also note that most Halekulani recipes call for a strong bourbon of 100 degrees or more, although this is optional. Here is the recipe:

— 1.5 oz of overpowering bourbon
— 0.5 oz pineapple juice
— 0.5 oz lemon juice
— 0.5 oz orange juice
— 1 teaspoon grenadine or pomegranate molasses
— 0.5 oz demerara syrup or brown sugar syrup
— 1 dash of Angostura or other aromatic bitters

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with plenty of ice. Shake vigorously and filter. Halekulani can be served either as an “up drink” or over a glass of cold ice. Served ‘up’ in a cocktail glass or goblet, it’s a fairly potent tropical drink, akin to a stronger whiskey-based daiquiri. Served in a highball glass over ice, it’s a bit more convivial and relaxed, like a whiskey sour with tropical influences. Either way, it’s delicious.

Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident alcohol enthusiast. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.