The only thing I love more than a good drink is when that drink has a good story. Today (August 25) we are celebrating National Whiskey Sour Day to honor a true classic. The Whiskey Sour is probably one of the more famous classic cocktails, but it’s history is pretty elusive. The simple 3-ingredient recipe – spirit, sugar and citrus – has no defined origin. The first publicized recipe appears in the 1862 book How to Mix Drinks or The Bon-Viviant’s Companion by Jerry Thomas as a “Whiskey Punch.” Another notable mention of the concoction was in 1870 in a Waukesha, Wisconsin newspaper, the Waukesha Plaindealer popularizing the drink in America. However, the cocktail is believed to have roots as far back as the 1700’s with the British Royal Navy.
Now for a little history lesson…
James Lind, a Scottish physician, was famous for conducting “one of the first clinical experiments” in 1747 on British Royal Navy test subjects suffering from scurvy. He gathered six test groups, each with 2 men. All were given the same diet but one of the groups given cider and another given oranges and lemon were the only groups to show positive effects and recovery from the disease. From this, Lind developed the theory that acid from the cider and citrus aided in the treatment of scurvy. Many on-shore physicians abandoned this theory as there was no definitive scientific proof that citrus was actually a cure or just coincidence (but it was proven later that ascorbic acid, or vitamin C, is an essential nutrient involved in the repair of tissue.) Based on the first-hand experience of many Naval officers, however, eventually citrus juice became common place on ships to ward off the disease while at sea. Citrus was mixed with grog, a combo of beer and rum, and imbibed regularly to ensure that scurvy was kept at bay. The combination of citrus and alcohol created the base for what was later to be called a “sour.” The later addition of sugar and the switch from grog to whiskey made the drink rather delicious. As the cocktail made its way to the mainland, the drink’s popularity grew in to what we know today as the Whiskey Sour.
Now I’m all about original recipes, so for you Whiskey Sour purists, here’s a classic:
CLASSIC WHISKEY SOUR (New York style)
- 2 oz Kentucky bourbon
- 2 oz citrus/sweetener blend
- 1 oz red wine (I recommend a claret)
Add bourbon and sour/sweetener blend into a Boston shaker with ice. Shake for 10 seconds (or until the tin is frosted). Strain into a cocktail coupe. Pour the red wine slowly over the back of a bar spoon to float the wine on top of the whiskey sour.
Pucker up your lips and kiss goodbye this National Whiskey Sour Day. Here’s to warding off scurvy and a damn fine classic cocktail. CHEERS!