Whiskey Sour – A Classic Cocktail

The Classic Whiskey Sour is truly classic and it’s easy too. Forget the sour mix and try this recipe with lemon and simple syrup…it’s perfect!

Classic Whiskey Sour

Fall starts this afternoon and I thought it fitting to start if off with a transitional cocktail like this Classic Whiskey Sour. What makes it transitional? First; there’s bourbon. While I will use bourbon occasionally in the summer combined with fruit…it’s far more likely to find it’s way into a cocktail made during cooler weather.

The color and the flavor seem to evoke different emotions and this simple yet elegant cocktail are the perfect representation for a change in seasons. Just a bit of tart and sweet combined with Bourbon Whiskey and you’ve got a classic.

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I’ve written about other classic cocktails; especially the Manhattan, and I won’t deny that experience had me start thinking about other cocktails of my parents generation and this was one that came to mind. I can see why it’s maintained it’s popularity; it’s an elegant combination of ingredients and certainly beyond simple to make.

Many people might concoct this particular cocktail using a ‘sour’ mix but those too often use artificially flavored ingredients. This is such an easy drink to prepare and the use of fresh lemon juice really is key to it being a great cocktail. I’ve never been one to buy pre-made mixes; there is just no way they can compare with fresh juice and simple syrup combinations.

The recipe itself was first written down in the 1862 book The Bartender’s Guide by Jerry Thomas even though the basic recipe was known for over a century prior.

Professional sailors suffered from scurvy and other malnutrition and sea-sicknesses until a  hero named Vice Admiral Edward Vernon of England began mixing a few ingredients together to serve to his crew.

To prevent scurvy, sailors had a ration of citrus like lemons and lime and the alcohol in liquor made it safe to drink. To prevent a ship full of intoxicated shipmates, the liquor, usually rum once it was discovered, was watered down and either lemon or lime was added for the health benefit. Hence, a very early version of the Sour.

The sailors eventually brought this concept to shore and the basics of the sour cocktail were refined to what we know today. Jerry Thomas ultimately refined and published his guide using whiskey which Americans seemed to prefer and the rest is history.

A combination of bourbon, lemon juice and simple syrup is shaken together with ice. The egg white was actually added later to made for a creamy, frothy element to the cocktail and it is optional, especially for those who might have a weakened immune system, including the elderly.

Classic Whiskey Sour

The list of ingredients is simple; too simple to have to rely on shortcuts. A prepared sour mix will never be as good as the real deal; some simple syrup and fresh lemon juice. All you need for The Classic Whiskey Sour Cocktail are the following: (Full recipe with instructions are at bottom of page).

  • bourbon
  • freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • simple syrup (See Notes)
  • egg white (optional)
  • lemon wedge and maraschino cherry garnish

As simple as the cocktail is; the trickiest part of mixing this drink is adjusting the ratio of sour (the lemon) to sweet (the sugar) to get a flavor balance that pleases you. The proportions in this recipe suited my tastes perfectly in that they are not overly sweet. If you prefer a slightly sweeter cocktail, just add a bit more of the simple syrup.

If I recall, my parents served this in a lowball cocktail glass over ice and that’s what you’ll most often see but I just wanted something a bit fancier so a martini glass it was and it’s beautiful isn’t it? Enjoy…and cheers!

PIN IT! ‘A Classic Whiskey Sour Cocktail’

Classic Whiskey Sour

Classic Whiskey Sour

There is a reason some cocktails are classic and the whiskey sour is a good example; just as good today as when it was first created.
4.94 from 50 or more votes
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Course All Recipes, Bourbon
Cuisine American
Servings 1 Cocktail
Calories 228 kcal


  • 2 ounces bourbon
  • ¾ ounce lemon juice freshly squeezed
  • ¾ ounce simple syrup See Notes
  • 1-2 teaspoons egg white optional
  • lemon wedge and maraschino cherry for garnish


  • Combine bourbon, lemon juice, simple syrup and egg white in a cocktail shaker. Shake well for 20 seconds. Add at least a cup of ice and shake for another 20 seconds.
  • Strain the mixture into a cocktail glass filled with ice and garnish with the lemon wedge and maraschino cherry on a skewer.


To Make Simple Syrup: Mix 1/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup water over medium heat in a small saucepan until the sugar is dissolved; remove from heat and cool before using in cocktails.


Nutrition Facts
Classic Whiskey Sour
Serving Size
1 Cocktail
Amount per Serving
% Daily Value*
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Keyword cocktail, lemon, whiskey, whiskey sour
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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    1. You’re welcome. The classics are just that and I have to do more of them. This is one of my absolute favorites!

  1. very nice…plz tell me where the skewer came from….i have been searching. another

    drink to try is the Lynchburg lemonade…awesome! even easier to make and leaves one

    1. I get asked about them a lot but they’re no longer available. I have searched for them but any stores I find with their photo indicate they are no longer available. I wish I had some…I could sell them every day! 🙂

    1. Such a great cocktail is too often ruined with premixed sweet and sour mix. It’s SO easy isn’t it to just juice a lemon! I love them too; I’m gonna love some tomorrow night during the Oscars too!

  2. I can’t wait to try this cocktail recipe out, I don’t like it straight but I love mixing it with other drinks to make unique tastes. I would recommend buying whiskey online as there are websites out there who do really good deals.

  3. my first drink ever many, many years ago was a whiskey sour, it came in a very small glass and always had a cherry and orange on a toothpick, and was foamy. I have tried them at all kinds of restaurants and they bear NO resemblence to the ones of old, help whats going on guess no one drinks them anymore, always thought they were a good little drink.

    1. That foamy part is from the egg whites! I prefer them made at home; a lot of restaurants use a mix for the sour element and I prefer using fresh juice…you should try making them; they are so good!

    1. Shoot sweetie…wish you were closer; I would have one in your hand in a heartbeat! Feel better.

    2. Thanks again for the hookup on this. It was great meeitng you and R. I’m sure we’ll bump into each other again at another Pharmacie party. BTW, my article won’t be in print till Oct. since the mag is a bi-monthly.

  4. Honestly Barb, I would not know a whiskey sour from a Manhattan and I am getting quite an education here. Love this series, I can learn and pretend to be sophisticated! 🙂

    1. Trust me I am learning some things on the way too…I’m enjoying the ‘classic’ series; trying cocktails that were my parents favorites back when I was only drinking a Shirley Temple. 🙂

  5. I’ve got a bottle of unopened bourbon at home, and until now I had no idea about what I was going to do with it. Until now……cool drink!

  6. Yummy! That’s what I’d call delicious! It could be the main attraction on my birthday party next week, thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Well, whatever you choose to be your main attraction Julie…I hope it’s a fun birthday celebration. Cheers!

  7. Barbara I can only imagine the fun you must have putting these posts together! I’m not a huge spirits drinker, but you always make these cocktails look very desirable.

    1. You can not deny too that it absolutely packs a bit of a punch…there is no denying the bourbon in this drink is there? Cheers!

    1. You can also made this is a plain short highball glass too; I did the martini just because I thought it was pretty. 🙂

    1. I tried it first without the egg white and I did like it a bit better with a bit of froth…but the flavor is the same either way. Cheers!

    1. Thanks Vianny…it makes ALL the difference; I can not imagine buying a dry or even a bottle of mix when this is so dang simple. Cheers!

  8. I’ve only seen a Whiskey Sour in a highball glass but love the classy martini glass. And that shot where you can look right into the glass is very cool and very tempting! You cocktail temptress, you!;)

    1. My parents used to just make them in a short glass so I guess the moral of this story is…they are good in any glass!

  9. Great minds think alike. I have been meaning to write about Whiskey Sours for the past year, after a friend in Boston reintroduced them to us. Love them! I just posted a version this morning too! Yours looks delicious and I send a cheers your way!

  10. The *old* stuff is always classic. Beautiful photos of a wonderful cocktail. Congratulations with the partnership with Liquor.com Barb. I love your cocktail skewer!

    1. Thanks Paula…I’m so glad I found the skewer! I have pulled so much stuff into my dining room where I take photos and I couldn’t find them. Duh…it was still in the drawer of my actual bar area!

    1. Well, I do now but that first sip I imbibed as a kid thinking I was sneaking my mom’s lemonade? Well, I’m pretty sure I spit it out on her. 🙂

    1. Now you know that made me for real chuckle out loud right. Duh! Because if you had asked me before I made this cocktail from scratch I would have been hard pressed to say myself but let’s blame the ingredients that we wouldn’t be able to pronounce on a bottle of something we would not really want to drink, OK?

  11. I love that you made this cocktail Barb. I have not ever had a Whiskey Sour (that I recall) but like you it brings me back to my parents era of Cocktail Hour; a civilized habit of a daily after work cocktail at home when everyone got off work at 5 and no one was beholden to life 24/7 due to cyberspace. I have spent many years of my cocktail life as a devoted Manhattan drinker and the Liquor.com video got my attention too, wondering how a Whiskey Sour is made. Hands down these classic cocktails should be a staple of anyone’s cocktail existence. I’d take one over a Fuzzy Navel any day.

    1. I’ve been having a lot of trips down memory lane recently and that is surely one of them. How I would long for a work day that stopped on a dime at 5pm and knew a cocktail would be close at hand. Ah…for the good old days!

  12. We are so in sync. As I’m baking something with whiskey, I see this post. Definitely leaving that bottle out for this evening or earlier.

    1. I love baking with bourbon; I’ll use other types of liquor occasionally but I’m not sure I love anything better with a sweet component than a whiskey. Cheers Ken!

  13. Whiskey Sours have to be one of my top favorites of all time. They’re so refreshing, and like you said–not too sweet. Usually. 😉 Fortunately, I’ve hardly ever met one that I didn’t like.

    1. The truth is Elle that this cocktail is new to me. Well, to my adult me. I recall sneaking a sip of my mother’s once and just about died; no, that really is not lemonade Barbara. For some reason that experience left me keeping them at a distance. I can certainly see why a kid would not love one; the bourbon really is front and center…which is exactly why I loved it now!

      1. Ha! I was saying on Facebook that the first one I ever had was at my cousin’s wedding. I was not yet 21, but it was an open bar and I guess I looked old enough. Someone recommended one to me and I’ve never looked back. They’re so clean and refreshing. Same thing with Tom Collins. Love those, too!

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