Sour Cocktail Family & The Whiskey Sour

Sour Cocktail Family & The Whiskey Sour

The Whiskey Sour is a classic of a classic drink.  In it’s simplest form, it’s one of the basic building-block recipes: spirit + sour + sweet.  That’s really what a “sour” cocktail is. 

The Sour Cocktail Family

When cocktails share the same basic specifications, they’re referred to as a “family.”  There are a lot of cocktail families we’ll be writing about in the coming months: Duos and Trios, Fizzes and Daisies, Cobblers and Bucks and  Juleps and Highballs… so be sure to join the Cocktail Club to get the next installment!

SOURS by Dave Stolte.png

The Sour Family of Cocktails combines a base spirit, a sour element (usually citrus), and a sweetener. Daiquiris, Sidecars, Gimlets and Margaritas are all sours – they all belong to the same family. Check out their specs and see the similarities:

Whiskey Sour: 2 oz bourbon whiskey, 1 oz lemon juice, 1 oz simple syrup

Daiquiri: 2 oz rum, 1 oz lime juice, 3/4 oz simple syrup

Sidecar: 1.5 oz cognac or bourbon, 3/4 oz lemon juice, 3/4 oz Cointreau (as sweet)

Gimlet: 2 oz gin, 1/2 oz Rose’s Lime Juice (which is sweet + sour; make your own: 1/2 oz lime + 1/4 oz simple syrup)

Margarita: 2 oz tequila, 3/4 oz lime juice, 1 oz Cointreau + 1 tsp simple syrup (as sweet). Our minimalist margarita eliminates the Cointreau (2 oz Tequila, 1 oz lime , 1/2 oz simple syrup)

Summer is a great time for sours! Fresh citrus, ice in a glass, and a simple, simple cocktail – the perfect drink for when you want something incredibly delicious that’s fast and easy. 

Improvising with Sour Cocktails

The great thing about sours: as you can see from the list above, you can use what you have on hand.  Have a big bottle of gin, but no lime? Make a gin sour: it’s a gimlet with lemon instead of lime. Have lots of lime? Use rum and lime for a Daiquiri, or Tequila and lime for a minimalist margarita (which, by the way, we sometimes prefer over the one that calls for Cointreau).  Have other things to use, but don’t know where to start?  Here you go…

The basic sour cocktail recipe is:

  • 2 oz. spirit
  • 1/2 – 3/4 oz. citrus juice
  • 1/4 – 3/4 oz. sweetener

You can make a sour out of anything really that falls into these basic parameters; most of the ones that you’ve heard of (daiquiris, margaritas, sidecars, gimlets, etc…) are popular for a reason: we’ve figured out some winning combinations.  But don’t let that stop you from experimenting with what you have on hand!

Adjusting Sour & Sweet: If you like a less-sweet drink, then start with 1/4 oz simple syrup, and increase to 1/2 oz or 3/4 oz until you find what’s perfect for your palate.  Too sour? add a bit more simple syrup – you can add it right to your glass if you want (c’mon, this should be easy) – give it a stir and see how that works. You can also experiment with substituting the simple syrup with other sweeteners – agave pairs well with tequila, honey syrup and maple syrup with whiskey, and sweet liqueurs and cordials (like Cointreau, or Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur) form the basis for many more riffs on the classic whiskey sour.

A handy taste-testing trick: Do the straw test before you strain the cocktail into your glass:  Take a straw, put it in your shaker tin after you’ve made the drink, block the top end with your finger, and pull out a sample to taste.  You’ll see some bartenders do this all the time after they make a cocktail; they’re sampling your drink (in a non-invasive way), to make sure it’s got the right balance before serving it.  After you taste it, adjust the sour/sweet to your preference, give a quick secondary shake, and taste again until it’s just right.

Whiskey Sour Cocktail: Two Ways

Ok, back to our drink of the day – the whiskey sour.  In it’s simplest, classic form, just shake up whiskey, lemon, and simple syrup.  If you go to a cocktail bar and receive a beautiful, frothy drink with a creamy head of foam on top – it’s been shaken up with an egg white, and is technically a Boston Sour (see below). We love them.  Add a 1/4 oz float of red wine instead of the egg white, and you have a New York Sour.  Add a bit of absinthe to a Boston Sour, and you have the Rattlesnake Cocktail. Man, this is fun!

Here’s a how-to video intro to both drinks, depending if you want (or have on hand) egg or not.

AND – Here are some printable recipes and instructions for those of you who want to GO MAKE ONE RIGHT NOW!

Classic Whiskey Sour Recipe

Classic Whiskey Sour Cocktail by Standard Spoon
Makes: 1 cocktailAuthor: Standard Spoon Barwareprint recipe

Classic Whiskey Sour Cocktail

prep time: 5 minutes cook time: 0 minutes total time: 5 minutes The classic Whiskey Sour is such a straightforward, delicious drink– it’s well worth the minimal effort to put it together. Whiskey, Lemon, and Sugar. That’s it. And it tastes as sublime as it is simple to make.


  • 2 oz Whiskey (we recommend Bourbon or Rye)
  • ¾ oz fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ oz simple syrup (1 part sugar to 1 part water)
  • brandied cherry garnish (we recommend Luxardo Maraschino Cherries)


  1. Add the whiskey, lemon, and simple syrup to a shaker; fill with ice
  2. Shake for about 5 seconds, until the outside of the shaker is cold and starting to frost.
  3. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, or serve on the rocks in an old fashioned glass
  4. Garnish with a brandied cherry, if you have them.

Standard Spoon Barware Blog


Boston Sour Cocktail Recipe


We had a lot of fun with the Boston Sour for this photo shoot – and is she a beauty. The Boston Sour is a rich, creamy version of the classic Whiskey Sour.  Here’s how to make one:

Makes: 1 cocktailAuthor: Standard Spoon Barwareprint recipe

Boston Whiskey Sour Cocktail

prep time: 5 minutes cook time: 0 minutes total time: 5 minutes The Boston Sour Cocktail is a classic whiskey sour (whiskey, lemon, simple syrup), with the addition of an egg white. The egg white adds a silky-smooth mouthfeel, a creamy taste and texture, and a beautiful, frothy foam. Be sure to dry-shake this cocktail before adding ice to make that egg white froth!


  • 2 oz Whiskey (we recommend Bourbon or Rye)
  • ¾ oz fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ oz simple syrup (1 part sugar to 1 part water)
  • 1 fresh egg white
  • Aromatic bitters (we use Angostura) and/or brandied cherry, (we recommend Luxardo Maraschino Cherroes), for garnish


  1. Add the whiskey, lemon, simple syrup and egg white to a shaker.
  2. Dry shake for 5-10 seconds (shake without ice to emulsify and froth the egg white).
  3. Open the shaker, and now add the ice.
  4. Shake for about 5 seconds, until the outside of the shaker is cold and starting to frost.
  5. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. If your strainer restrains the foam from the whipped egg white, you can use a spoon to add a bit more to the glass.
  6. Garnish with a few dashes of aromatic bitters and a brandied cherry, if you have them.

Boston Whiskey Sour by Standard Spoon.jpg


Tips for Making Sour Cocktails:

A couple of things are really important for making high-quality (and thus best-tasting) sour cocktails:

1. Use fresh citrus.  Please, please use freshly-squeezed juice, not the kind out of the plastic yellow lemon you can buy at the supermarket.  You will absolutely taste the difference. 

2. Always Shake.  Because sours have citrus in them, they should be shaken, not stirred.  Shaking cocktails with citrus allows the different ingredients to bind together, which is what they need so they don’t separate in the glass into layers. Most citrus-based drinks should be shaken for at least 5 seconds, until the outside of the shaker tin is cold and a little frosty.  Shake too long, and you’ll end up with a watered-down drink.

3. Don’t Buy Simple Syrup.  So if you’re looking at these recipes and you’ve got the booze and the citrus, but you usually buy the bottled stuff and you’re out, DON’T LET THAT STOP YOU. Seriously, simple syrup is so easy to make at home. Sugar + Water.  We usually make rich simple syrup, which is 2 parts sugar to 1 part water; if you go that route, use less simple syrup than a recipe calls for (because it’s twice as sweet).  

4. Use Glassware You Own. Some recipes call for drinks up in a coupe glass or old fashioned glass – these are nice suggestions.  We have sidecars up and down, and daiquiris in a chilled coupe as well as over ice.  See what you like best. When you love making cocktails, you’ll naturally end up sourcing glassware that you’d like to use frequently (which we do recommend – it adds a lot of presentation and enjoyment value to use proper glassware). Just don’t let not owning a champagne coupe stop you from making a drink.

Averna Sour: Amaro, Bourbon, Lemon, Simple Syrup, Egg White

Averna Sour: Amaro, Bourbon, Lemon, Simple Syrup, Egg White

5. Have Fun & Use What You Like.  The basic Sour recipe is so versatile, you’re bound to find something that you love.  If you have a bottle of obscure booze laying around, chances are there’s a sour recipe for it (you’ve maybe heard of the pisco sour, amaretto sour, maybe even the absinthe sour?) If you’re into Amari, try the Averna Sour that we posted about earlier this year (Don’t know what amaro is?  Here’s a great introduction: What is Amaro? All About Italian Herbal Liqueurs)

So when you’ve got a bunch of citrus (or a neighbor has an overly productive tree), juice it up, add something strong and something sweet, and put your feet up. These are simple cocktails, but they are some of the most satisfying, and certainly a favorite at our home bar!


Rachel Eva & Shawn Michael

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *