Fun fact: today is National Whiskey Sour Day. Not like I really need “a day” for whiskey drinking—anyone who knows me personally knows that whiskey-, rye-, and bourbon-based drinks are my jam—but sadly it’s not just any day that you can find a good whiskey sour.
A “sour” is a family of drinks that includes the Daquiri, Margarita, and Sidecar. The formula to make a sour cocktail is simple: spirit + lemon or lime juice + (the “sour” part) + simple syrup (the “sweet” part). Tequila + lemon and lime juice (equal parts) + simple syrup = margarita. Whiskey + lemon juice + simple syrup = whiskey sour. Easy as that… in theory.
I say “in theory” because one would think a simple, three part recipe should be hard to screw up. And yet I hate ordering whiskey sours at restaurants. Actually, I hate ordering most mixed drinks at most restaurants, with chain restaurants and sports bars being the biggest offenders. The sour and sweet parts of mixed drinks are usually co-mingled in the form of more-sickeningly-sweet-than-sour and nuclear yellow-colored bottled sour mix. Yuck.
Fortunately, changing preferences are helping to shift this tide. People are demanding better quality and better tasting drinks to go with their experiences, whether in-home or at bars and restaurants. Craft cocktails are popping up in unlikely places, like baseball stadiums, and beveragemakers have created mixers that ditch artificial colors and include less-processed cane sugar and agave nectar.
While I don’t hate on all bar mixers—some are perfectly fine and have a time and place to use them—I doubt I would ever use one for a recipe as simple as the Whiskey Sour. In honor of Whiskey Sour day, you may just want to skip a bottle, too, and mix one up from scratch.
There are tons of recipes out there; Ina Garten’s fresh whiskey sour recipe, for one, is pretty no-fail and simple. No matter what recipe you use, it all starts with homemade sour mix, sans all of the junk and food coloring you would find in a bottle.
As the cliche saying asks, is the juice worth the squeeze? And in this case, the answer is a resounding hell yes, if you care about how your drinks taste.
When making your drinks, you may choose to top with a little bit of seltzer or club soda. It’s not traditional (and neither is the lemon or orange slice as a garnish), but I like the way it lightens up the drink and gives it a little fizz. It’s completely up to you whether you would like to use it or not.
Homemade Sour Mix
Makes 1 cup of sour mix, enough for 8-10 cocktails.
1 1/2 cups filtered water
1 cup lemon, lime, and orange juices (mixed from about 2 limes, 2 lemons, and 1 orange)
Zest from lemon, lime, and oranges
1 cup sugar
Using a vegetable peeler, remove 1-2 strips of the thin outer peel from the lemons, limes, and oranges; leave the white pith behind, since it’s bitter. Add the peels to a small saucepan with the sugar, water, and citrus juices. Heat until the sugar has melted, swirling or stirring the pan occasionally. Set aside and let cool completely, or store in the refrigerator until ready to use (I like pouring it into a Pyrex measuring cup so I know how much I have as I’m making cocktails.)
Fill a tall glass with ice and add 2 oz whiskey or bourbon (Makers Mark is my go-to, but you can certainly use what you like) and 3 oz sour mix. Top with club soda or seltzer, if using. Garnish with a slice of lemon and a cherry.