The Whiskey Sour

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One of the great classics, this is the first drink I order whenever I arrive Stateside. It’s the taste of the city, best consumed in Bar 65 at the Rainbow Room, high atop (as they say) New York’s soaring Rockefeller Center, but I have been disappointed elsewhere. Once at JFK airport, my request prompted a huddled confab among the dullards behind the bar. The resulting wild guess was a long drink combining still lemonade with a spot of whiskey. Weird and wrong. They were not pleased when I left a one cent tip.

In his book The Craft of the Cocktail, the great mixologist Dale DeGroff insists: ‘The sour drinks are the benchmark of the professional bartender and the biggest challenge for the amateur.’ DeGroff’s recipe, which he claims ‘pleases 95 per cent of the people’, incorporates slightly more sweet than sour, but some prefer less sweetness – viz the mouth-puckering jobs served at the launch party for Tom Parker Bowles’s Fortnum & Mason Cook Book. Tom also advocates Scotch (‘works wonders for me’) but I find it too smoky. I used Bulleit bourbon, which not only has a vanilla-laden smoothness but also comes in the kind of bottle you see skidding along the polished bar in old westerns. Some people shake in the white of an egg but I can’t stand the waste. Rust-coloured and rich, this is a cocktail best drunk on the rocks. Don’t rush it.  Christopher Hirst

  • 8 parts bourbon or rye whiskey
  • 4 parts freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 5 parts sugar syrup (dissolve equal parts sugar and water or buy gomme syrup at specialist shops)

Shake for 10 seconds with whole ice cubes. Strain and serve in squat beaker (old-fashioned glass) with fresh ice-cubes. A couple of marinaded cherries (Luxardo Maraschino cherries are available online, £6.86/400g from or slice of lemon and a splat of Angostura provide the finishing touch.