With summer temperatures continuing to soar past the 100-degree mark (at least here in Washington, DC), I find myself of the mindset that summer may actually never end. Though I will be happy to shed the need for 75 SPF to protect my rather fair skin and not feel like I am stepping out into a swamp every morning, I will miss the days of pool lounging and patio drinking.
For some, bourbon – and whiskey in general – in summer is unthinkable. I, admittedly, tend to steer more towards gin for poolside cocktails, while other pool-goers prefer margaritas and screwdrivers. This is when the whiskey sour comes in to bridge the worlds of those who prefer clear liquor in the summer with those who are brown liquor ride-or-die. It only makes sense that August 25th is National Whiskey Sour Day, set between the close of summer and the early days of fall.
Whiskey sours can take on various forms: some feature adding egg whites for a frothy, silky texture, while others showcase unique citrus like blood orange or pomelos. I decided to take a more basic, yet, (loosely) scientific approach and test out twelve varieties of whiskey sours with the following variations:
- Bourbon (Four Roses Yellow Label)
- Rye (Templeton Rye)
- Egg Whites
I set up my mad science lab, brimming with fresh citrus (I chose the easiest types to find – lime, lemon, grapefruit) and set to work. I did not choose oranges, as I thought these would be too sweet. I utilized a simple recipe of 2 oz. liquor, ¾ oz. fresh made simple syrup (I used a blend of white sugar and raw sugar for a better color and flavor), ¾ oz. fresh citrus juice, and 3 dashes of orange bitters. I used orange bitters in favor of angostura for a gentler flavor. When it calls for an egg white, I used one whole egg white. Below are the iterations I tested:
- Bourbon with Lemon
- Bourbon with Lemon and Egg White
- Bourbon with Lime
- Bourbon with Lime and Egg White
- Bourbon with Grapefruit
- Bourbon with Grapefruit and Egg White
- Rye with Lemon
- Rye with Lemon and Egg White
- Rye with Lime
- Rye with Lime and Egg White
- Rye with Grapefruit
- Rye with Grapefruit and Egg White
The winner by far was the bourbon with lemon, no egg white. The mellow notes of the Four Roses – made from a blend of 10 bourbons, half of which are very heavy on corn – work well with the bright sweetness of the lemon. The lime worked better with the rye, as the spicier notes of the rye worked well with the sharper sour of the lime. The grapefruit, a favorite citrus of mine, just didn’t quite meld well with either liquor. Grapefruit may mesh better with a sweeter bourbon (like a wheater) but I will save that for another experiment. For now, I’m going to stick to putting my grapefruit with gin or vodka.
As far as the egg white goes (shaken with ice and strained into a glass), it yielded a better texture and beautiful frothy head but the delicate flavor of the whiskey-citrus combination became even fainter. If you are seeking a lighter flavor, then add an egg white. If you want to venture into more exotic, more piquant citrus, the egg white is likely a welcome addition to tame the sharper citrus.
Crafting A Whiskey Sour Recipe
And now for phase two of the experiment: crafting a recipe. Of course, I was not satisfied with a mere recipe of bourbon, lemon, simple syrup, and a few dashes of orange bitters. To me, summer cocktails are best in large, shareable form. I wanted to create a whiskey sour that lent itself to a large format perfect for sharing on the patio, as we watch summer fade away.
After a few iterations, I decided to reap the benefits of both the bourbon and the rye, as well as the lemon and the lime. I also added a few signature touches of my own, notably Maraska, which is a relatively dry maraschino liqueur made from sour cherries, that adds a roundness to the sweet profile, making the drink a better patio sipper.
Summer Twilight Whiskey Sours
- Make a simple syrup with equal parts white sugar and raw sugar (or all raw sugar). I feel that the raw sugar in both flavor and color complements the whiskey best and yields a more natural sweetness that goes well with the sour of the citrus.To make: bring one cup of water to a boil, add 1 cup of sugar. Stir until dissolved. Set aside and let cool.
- In a glass pitcher with ice (I prefer glass as you can see through it to monitor color and I think things taste better from glass), gently stir the following together:
• 7 oz. bourbon (I used Four Roses Yellow Label)
• 1 oz. rye (I used Templeton Rye)
• 5 oz. maraschino liqueur (I used Maraska, you can also use Luxardo)
• 4 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
• 3 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice
• 5 oz. simple syrup
• 8-10 drops of orange bitters (I used Fee Brothers)
- Stir all ingredients together and taste. If you want sweeter, add a bit more simple syrup. If you want a little tangier, add another ounce of lemon juice. Top with soda water (about ¼ cup).
- Serve in a glass with a lemon or lime wedge or twist.
Disclaimer: Special thanks to Four Roses and Templeton Rye for providing Bourbon & Banter with whiskey to celebrate National Whiskey Sour Day.
We appreciate their willingness to allow us to use their products with no strings attached.