Whiskey Sour

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Master the classic whiskey sour! This cocktail is easy to make at home with a few simple ingredients for a balance of sweet, tart, and boozy.

Alex and I are certified mixologists and home cocktail makers, and we’ve created over 300 cocktails for this website. But it all goes back to this whiskey sour recipe, which we’ve made too many times to count! This sweet-tart, balanced whiskey drink dates back to the 1870’s, though you may know it as a bar drink made with sour mix.

We created this homemade spin with fresh lemon years ago for Alex’s stepfather, a whiskey sour aficionado, and it became an instant family hit. Here’s the classic recipe and a few riffs and variations on this famous drink!

Jump to the recipe—now.

Ingredients to make a whiskey sour

The whiskey sour is a simple cocktail from the “sour” family of cocktails, using 2 parts whiskey, 1 part lemon juice and 1 part simple syrup. Some people add an egg white, which we’ll get to in a minute (you can also call this version a Boston Sour). The earliest mention of this classic cocktail was in the 1862 book The Bartender’s Guide: How To Mix Drinks by Jerry Thomas.

The whiskey sour is on the list of International Bartender Association’s IBA official cocktails, meaning it has an “official” definition. There are three ingredients you’ll need for a classic whiskey sour, plus the garnish:

  • Whiskey: Use a high quality whiskey. A whiskey sour can be made with rye or bourbon, though it’s most commonly made with bourbon in America (keep reading for more notes on whiskey below).
  • Lemon juice: Always use freshly squeezed juice from real lemons for cocktails. Bottled juice has no comparison.
  • Simple syrup: Simple syrup is a liquid sweetener used in many cocktail recipes and coffee drinks. It’s easy to make at home: go to How to Make Simple Syrup!
Whiskey sour ingredients

Tips on the sweetener

Adjust the sweetness level in a whiskey sour to fit your tastes. A classic sour formula is 2:1:1, which means 2 ounces spirit, 1 ounce citrus and 1 ounce sweetener. We prefer a whiskey sour with ¾ ounce syrup, which lets the whiskey flavor shine. If you prefer a sweeter cocktail, use up to 1 ounce syrup.

While simple syrup is our cocktail sweetener of choice, we’ve found substituting maple syrup tastes even better in a whiskey sour! It brings caramel undertones and a nuance to the flavor that’s missing from simple syrup, which has a more straightforward flavor. In our taste tests with friends and family, maple syrup always wins! Honey is another natural sweetener that works well here.

Whiskey sour with egg white

Egg whites are often added to sour cocktails to create a silky texture and a smooth, luxurious mouthfeel. Making a whiskey sour with egg white is also called Boston Sour. Alex and I love a good egg white foam for the personality it gives to a drink (here are all the egg white cocktails we’ve made).

To make that signature frothy consistency, bartenders use what’s called a “dry shake.” The first step is to shake the egg white and the other ingredients without ice to create a stable foam. Ice is then added to the shaker, and the mixture is shaken again to chill and dilute the drink. We don’t always add an egg white to our whiskey sours (and it’s not required), but it’s a fun additional element. Go to our Whiskey Sour with Egg White recipe!

Want an egg free alternative to cocktail foams? This Fee Brothers Cocktail Foamer is becoming popular (we’ve seen it at a few bars).

Bourbon whiskey bottle

The best whiskey for whiskey sours

We like a good mid-priced bourbon for a classic whiskey sour. The vanilla notes, which come from aging in oak barrels, bring a delightful sweetness to the drink. The smoothness of bourbon blends seamlessly with the tart citrus and sugar, but it’s also robust enough to stand up to the bright lemon and sweetener.

When it comes to bourbon, anything in the $25 to $35 range for a 750ml bottle is considered mid-range, but you can go as high end as you like! Some bourbon brands we’d recommend are:

  • $: Elijah Craig Small Batch
  • $$: Four Roses Small Batch or Woodford Reserve
  • $$$: Bulleit 10 Year Bourbon

If you like the spicier flavor of rye whiskey, that works in a whiskey sour too. You can also make a whiskey sour with a blended Scotch. Here are a few more recommendations for the whiskey to use in a sour from Taster’s Club.

How to make a batch of whiskey sour mix

Let’s say you’re looking for a whiskey sour mix, but you don’t want to get one of those store bought containers with lots of sugar. You can also use this recipe as a mix to make lots of drinks at once! Simply mix up a big batch of the simple syrup and lemon juice.

  • Here’s how to make a whiskey sour mix for 8 drinks: Mix 1 cup lemon juice plus ¾ cup pure maple syrup. Or, make this Homemade Sweet and Sour Mix.
  • To make a single drink, measure out 3 ½ tablespoons of the mix with 4 tablespoons whiskey. It’s that simple! For more, go to Whiskey Sour Mix.
Easy whiskey sour recipe splashing out of glass

Variations on the whiskey sour

The whiskey sour is so iconic, there are many variations on this drink! Start with maple syrup variation, followed by Boston Sour, then try these notable variations:

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Description

Master the classic whiskey sour! This cocktail is easy to make at home with a few simple ingredients for a balance of sweet, tart, and boozy.


  • 2 ounces whiskey (we prefer bourbon)
  • 1 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 to 1 ounce simple syrup*
  • Garnish: Orange peel and a cocktail cherry
  • Ice, for serving


  1. Add the whiskey, lemon juice, and simple syrup to a cocktail shaker. Fill with a handful of ice and shake until very cold.
  2. Strain the drink into a lowball or Old Fashioned glass. Serve with ice, an orange peel and a cocktail cherry. 

Notes

To convert to tablespoons, 1 ounce = 2 tablespoons.

* Adjust the sweetness level in a whiskey sour to fit your tastes. We also like substituting maple syrup for the simple syrup, which adds subtle caramel notes to the flavor profile.

  • Category: Drinks
  • Method: Mixed
  • Cuisine: American

Keywords: whiskey sour, whiskey sour recipe, how to make a whiskey sour, bourbon sour

5 more classic cocktails

Outside of this whiskey sour recipe, here are a few of our favorite cocktail recipes:

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