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rye whiskey, social hour, tom macy, cocktail, classic cocktail

Whiskey Sour



  • 2 oz bourbon or rye whiskey

  • ¾ lemon juice

  • ¾ oz simple syrup

  • ¼ oz egg white - optional

Combine all ingredients in a shaker, if using egg white, "dry shake” without ice first for about 3 or 4 seconds.  Then add ice and shake again very hard for 8-10 seconds.  Strain into a chilled rocks glass, over fresh cubes. Garnish with an orange half wheel and cherry, aka "cherry flag", if you like.

This cocktail is also great served straight up.

If you make a Whiskey Sour, let me see!  Tag a photo with #socialhourcocktails on Instagram.


The Whiskey Sour gets a bad rap.  At one point during the cocktail golden age at the end of the 19th century it was just about the most popular thing going, but by the end 20th century, it had been reduced to a cloying shadow of its former self, made with sour mix rather than fresh-squeezed juice.  By that point, drinker’s had forgotten, or never knew in the first place, the joys of the original.  Now it's time to jog those memories, and enlightened the others, because when made correctly, the Whiskey Sour stands in the pantheon of all-time greats.  


As far as refreshing whiskey classics go, for my money, it’s only legitimate challenger is the Mint Julep.  As the bartender who made me my first real Whiskey Sour  - which was a revelation early on in my cocktail journey - put it, “it’s a great way to drink brown in the summer.”  (Though I wouldn't limit it to just that.)


There are a few options regarding preparation.  They can be served either up or on the rocks (I lean towards rocks), and the addition of an egg white for a lighter, frothier texture is a pre-prohibition fixture which didn’t survive too far past the 1930s, though many bartenders use them today. I personally like the egg white, but it's up to you.  Finally, while it's not traditional at all, adding a dash of Angostura bitters to a Whiskey Sour is pretty darn awesome.  Just sayin'.

Whiskey Sour Variations

The Whiskey Sour is the foundation on which innumerable cocktails have been built upon.  Here are a few of my favorite members of it’s extended family.  

New York Sour

Similar to adding egg white, anointing a sour with float of red wine over the top was another common 19th century fixture. In Imbibe! Dave Wondrich quotes a Chicago bartender in 1883 describing the virtues of this as such: “it makes the drink look well and gives it a better taste.”  Indeed.  This version was eventually dubbed the New York Sour, and it has been a mainstay at Clover Club for years, even if it hasn’t always been on the menu.  Ours uses a dash of orange juice, which is nice but not essential.

  • 2 oz rye whiskey

  • ¾ lemon juice

  • ¾ oz simple syrup

  • ¼ oz orange juice - optional

  • ½ oz (or so) red wine for float

Prepare as above and serve in a chilled coupe or martini glass. Before adding the float let the cocktail sit for about 5-10 seconds to let it settle (if you pour right away it’ll sink), then lowly pour the wine over the back of a barspoon, or gently add it a spoonful at a time.  It will rest neatly on top.   

Brown Derby

This is one of the my go to cocktails for people well acquainted with the Whiskey Sour but looking for something outside of the standard rolodex.  While the Brown Derby is clearly a close relative to the sour, it very much has it’s own flavor profile.  I sometimes find it to be a hair sweet so I like to add a teaspoon or so of lemon juice, but that’s up to you.  


The backstory of the Brown Derby is far more complicated than its recipe. It appears to have originated in the late 1920’s/early 1930’s, just before prohibition’s repeal.  Though a drink that is identical to it appears in Harry Craddock’s 1930 Savoy cocktail book under a different name, the De Rigueur.  What’s more, apparently there was another Brown Derby cocktail that was popular in New York during the 1930s that called for dark rum, lime and maple sugar/syrup.  What gives?  For the whole story check out this great article from Robert Moss, he sets the record pretty straight.  Or don’t worry about it. The drink is great either way (for what it's worth, so it the rum version with 2 oz Jamaican rum, ¾ oz lime juice, and a heavy ½ oz maple syrup). Ahhh, cocktail history ignorance is bliss.  


  • 2 oz bourbon whiskey

  • 1 oz grapefruit juice

  • ½ oz honey syrup

  • ½ teaspoon lemon juice - not traditional but helps with balance.

  • grapefruit peel for garnish - also not traditional, but good.


Prepare as above and serve in a chilled coupe or martini glass. Express the oils from the grapefruit peel and add it into the glass.

Whiskey Sour Variations

Gold Rush  

Though it looks like it walked straight out of  a cocktail book from 1934, somehow the Gold Rush drink wasn’t invented until the early 2000s when T. J. Siegal of Milk and Honey put it together.   As you can see this is a Whiskey Sour with honey syrup, or a Brown Derby with lemon, or a Bee’s Knees with whiskey (a Bee’s Knees has gin).  It may be simple, but the best drinks usually are.  For a variation on this variation, try splitting the honey syrup portion with ginger syrup.



Prepare as above and serve on the rocks.

Maple Whiskey Sour

Even though it has existed for at least a century, a whiskey sour with maple syrup hasn’t coalesced under a singular name, which is strange considering how simple and delicious it is.   Over the years it’s soldiered on as the Maple Leaf (Artistry of Mixing Drinks, 1936), Revolving Door (Here’s How Again! Judge Jr. 1929), Habitant (My New Cocktail Book, Charles Watson Russell, 1936), and doubtlessly several more. 


I first encountered, and fell in love with this combination, as the Back Forty cocktail, which was the signature and eponymous cocktail of the Back Forty restaurant in the East Village which, in turn, was the sister restaurant of the Savoy restaurant in Soho, where I was working in at the time.  The head bartender of both - Michael Cecconi - was my first cocktail mentor, and remains a dear friend.  I recently asked him where his idea for the maple whiskey sour and he disclosed me it from another bar/restaurant at which Dale DeoGroff has consulted on the menu.  As he put it, “if you’re going to steal, steal from the best”.   Given this cocktail's pervasive history, I'd hardly call that stealing, inspiration maybe. 


Regardless of its title, this drink takes well to a dash of bitters. Cecconi used Fee’s orange, others recipes call for Angostura.  Why not both? Or neither.

  • 2 oz bourbon whiskey

  • ¾ oz lemon juice

  • heavy ½ oz maple syrup - (or ¾ oz 2:1 maple:water syrup)

  • dash Angostura bitters - optional

  • dash orange bitters - optional

  • orange peel for garnish - optional but recommended 


Prepare as above and serve on the rocks.  Express and garnish with orange peel.

Autumn Whiskey Sour

This is my recipe, not a classic drink, though I'm certainly not the first to come up with it.  I'm pretty sure any bartender who's ever pondered what to put on the fall edition of their seasonal cocktail menu has slipped a little cinnamon syrup into a Gold Rush and added a dash of bitters.  There couldn't be any less resistance down this path. 


This drink is great with just cinnamon syrup as the sweetener, though the honey’s subtle floral notes give it a bit more nuanced. The bitters, while recommended, are both expendable if you don’t have them on hand. 


  • 2 oz bourbon or rye whiskey

  • ¾ lemon juice

  • ¾ oz cinnamon honey syrup* (or just cinnamon syrup)

  • dash Angostura bitters - optional

  • dash orange bitters - optional

  • orange peel 


Prepare as above and serve on the rocks.  Express and garnish with the orange peel.


*Cinnamon Honey Syrup 


Combine and briefly stir. Done!

Ward Eight

Another resurrected pre-prohibition cocktail that’s very familiar to today’s modern cocktail bartender, and another foggy origin story. The Ward Eight is said to have been invented at Boston’s Locke-Ober Café in 1898 to celebrate the election of Martin Lomasney - the revered boss of Boston’s Eighth Ward - to a seat in the state's legislature, and it was his very ward that was said to deliver the winning margin.


But, to quote Dave Wondrich again, “try documenting it.”  So all we really know is the drink came out of Boston at the turn of the 20th century and we’ll have to leave it there.  Nevertheless, this is a tasty, bright, fruit accented addition to the whiskey sour family.  It is most certainly rye drink, which helps to balance out the other sweet leaning ingredients.  There are plenty of variances in the recipes over the last century, today's recipes vacillate between a variety of factors.  The main one is how much orange juice and grenadine to include.  My preferred recipe uses simple syrup to even out the playing field.


Some recipes call for a few mint leaves to be thrown into the shaker, which is nice though not a necessity, others suggest the drink was meant to be topped with soda water and served in the tall glass instead of a coupe as today’s conventional wisdom dictates.  I still like it straight up, though the giving it the collins treatment certainly doesn’t do any damage, it just dresses it up for a more summery occasion.


  • 2 oz rye whiskey

  • ¾ oz  lemon

  • ½ oz simple syrup

  • ½ oz orange juice

  • ¼ oz grenadine

  • 4-5 mint leaves - optional

  • grapefruit peel - optional and not traditional (but recommended)


Prepare as above (if using mint, throw the leave into shaker before shaking, but don't muddle them).

Honey Syrup

Honey needs to be diluted with some water to make a"honey syrup" to allow it to fully integrate into a cocktail and prevent it from clumping.  It is made just like simple syrup.  Some prefer 2 parts honey to 1 part water.  I find equal parts sufficient. 


  • 1 part honey

  • 1 part warm water


Combine and stir until fully mixed.  No need to put it on the stove, it will mix on its own.  Bottle and refrigerate.  Will keep for at least a week or two.

The Sour Cocktail Family

Today, a “cocktail” is a catchall term for any mixed alcoholic drink.  But back in the 19th century when cocktail culture was springing to life, boozy beverages were separated into a number different categories and cocktail was just one of them.  There were also sours, juleps, toddies, fixes, cobblers fizzes, daisies and a host of others.  After prohibition they all gradually homogenized under the umbrella of the cocktail moniker. 


But these categories can still be applied to cocktails today - particularly classics - to classify them by style which helps paint a clearer picture of how different drinks relate to each other.  This is particularly useful if you're interested in creating cocktails yourself.   Plus, classifying things is always fun.  

The sour is one of the simplest forms of mixed drink.  It is composed of just a base spirit, citrus juice and sugar.  It’s basically a short lemonade with booze instead of water.   

The whiskey version is the only one that still uses sour in it’s name, but plenty of other familiar drinks fall into this category.   For example, the Daiquiri, Gimlet, Margarita and Sidecar are all basically sours (by technical 19th century standards that latter two are daisies because their sweetener is a liqueur and not plain sugar, but composition wise, the shoe still fits).

Brown Derby/Gold Rush
Ward Eight, Maple Whiskey Sour
Autumn Whiskey Sour
Honey Syrup

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