A brief history of the Whiskey Sour

By Julie Swearingen
Posted in Overcup Press, on August 24, 2017

The year: 1792. You: a sailor crossing the Atlantic for North America. Food is dried. Water is no good. And scurvy is a constant worry. Enter, the Whiskey Sour!

No, really. Although the recipe wasn’t written down until 1862 by Jerry Thomas in The Bartender’s Guide, “sours” were a basic recipe for centuries. According to Brian Petro of The Alcohol Professor, “Vice Admiral Edward Vernon of England began mixing a few ingredients together to serve to his crew,” to help combat sea-sickness, malnutrition, and scurvy. But because they didn’t want an entire ship of intoxicated sailors, they began to water it down with lemon or lime juice. While the British used Gin and Brandy, Americans favored Whiskey, and thus the Whiskey Sour was born.

The original recipe from Jerry Thomas:
1 tsp powdered sugar, dissolved into seltzer
Juice of half a small lemon
1 wine-glass of Bourbon or rye whiskey

Today’s recipe has changed slightly:
1.5 to 2 oz Whiskey
1 oz lemon juice
0.5 oz simple syrup
0.25 oz egg white (optional)
Cherry and lemon slice for garnish

Petro points out the egg was added as a creamy or frothy element, or for visual appeal. However, many mixologists will disagree about the use of an egg. Some will cite health warnings, and many drinkers of the Whiskey Sour may not even know it’s part of the recipe. Petro also adds that the addition of the egg creates a Boston Sour, “but that is a different argument for a different day.”

What is clear is this: this simple cocktail should be celebrated and that’s why today, August 25th is National Whiskey Sour Day. And since it is such an easy recipe, why not pick up a bottle of Whiskey from a local craft distillery, and whip up some (minus the egg) for yourself and some friends. After all, this year it falls on a Friday, and what better way to start the weekend than with a classic cocktail know to cure scurvy and sea-sickness.

Looking for a local craft distillery? Check out High-Proof PDX and preorder the guidebook, available September 7th!


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