Perfecting the Sour
Much as we love our Old Fashioneds, we’re equally fond of a good sour — whiskey and otherwise. Here are five we love and some tips for mixing your own perfect version.
About the Sour
Most simply, a sour is a three-ingredient cocktail made from a spirit, citrus, and sweetener.
What makes a sour a sour as opposed to something else is the use of one spirit, instead of a spirit plus a liqueur. For example, a daiquiri (rum, lime juice, simple syrup) is a sour, whereas a margarita (tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, simple syrup) falls into the sidecar category.
Sours comprise a vast assortment of cocktails, some of which contain more than three ingredients, or use multiple forms of the same spirit (two kinds of rum, for example), or include (optional) egg white. Here are some tips for mixing successful sours, and recipes for some of our favorites.
How to Sour Like a Champ
Use fresh citrus juice.
Use decent liquor.
Seriously: the citrus and sugar can only go so far toward masking the grossness of terrible hooch, and sometimes they make it worse. Make good choices; your sours will benefit.
Use egg white ... or don’t.
We get that this is a strongly held preference for a lot of people, but the fact is, a lot of sour recipes call for egg white, and it's there for a couple of reasons:
- When well shaken, the egg white creates a rich, silky, creamy texture and an almost meringue-like layer atop your yummy cocktail.
- If the recipe calls for sprinkling bitters on top, you definitely should, egg white or no. If you also use the egg white, the eggy froth gives them a nice pillowy place to sit, keeping their aroma close to your nose and scenting the whole cocktail.
But if raw egg white squicks you out, no worries. You have options: (1) Skip it entirely, or (2) use pasteurized egg whites — the kind sold in a carton next to the actual eggs. These usually say on the carton that they're not suitable for meringues, but you're not making a meringue to top your cocktail, are you? We've found a couple of brands that work amazingly well in sours, and it's nice not having to handle a raw egg.
If you do plan to use egg white, check out our article on shaking vs stirring. Use one of those small milk frothers if you're not sure how much or hard to shake, or try this: Measure ingredients into the shaker, then add one or two ice cubes — the kind your freezer makes, not the big kind you'd pour an Old Fashioned over. Shake until you don't feel/hear the ice rattling around in there anymore. When the ice is gone, you'll have achieved proper dilution and a nice, foamy topping.
Serve iced if eggless, up if using egg.
This is pretty self-explanatory: If you skip the egg white, serve the cocktail over ice. If you use the egg white, serve the sour “up” — chilled cocktail glass, no ice.
No eyeballing, please. Nailing the proportions is key to striking the spirit-acid-sweetness balance that makes sours delicious, and it’s the only way you’ll be able to repeat that perfect cocktail. Mixing by ‘feel’ or guesstimate is not good bartending. Just. Measure. Everything.
Shake it, baby.
Sours by definition involve citrus, and that means the proper technique for mixing them is a nice, hard shake — it’s how you'll get that citrus juice and spirit all married up.
Should you find yourself shakerless, ‘tis better to improvise than to stir. We like a thermos, Proof tumbler, or mason jar as a shaker stand-in.
Garnish, garnish, garnish.
Invest in good cocktail cherries. If the recipe calls for bitters sprinkled on top of the finished cocktail, use them; while not a make-or-break choice, the bitters add aroma to the cocktail.