Drink History: What Is a Sour and How, Exactly, Is It Made?

Answering life's big questions.

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You've undoubtedly ordered (or heard someone order) a whiskey sour, a sidecar, or even a classic daquiri in the last few months, all of which belong to the family of "sours" that have packed up and moved in on pretty much every "cool" cocktail menu these days. But what is a sour, really?

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"It was first written in the bartenders' guide book by Jerry Thomas in 1962, although sour cocktails existed even prior to that," says Miri Kolici, the beverage director at Upstairs at the Kimberly Hotel. "Nowadays, everybody has their own version of this classic recipe."

The "sour" referred to in the drink's name is the citrus, by the way—either lemon or lime juice, and sometimes both.

Kolici says that a classic sour recipe is equal parts sugar, water, lime juice, and lemon. "We steam the water so the sugar dissolves, then add the lime and lemon juice. When a prepared sour mix is not available, we do it on the go by mixing sugar, water, lemon, and lime in a shaker until the sugar dissolves."

Kolici's guide to making a good sour:

1. Any strong base liquor. (Kolici recommends bourbon, pisco, or rum.)

2. The sour. (Lemon or lime juice, always freshly squeezed.)

3. The sweet. (AKA simple syrup.)

And there you have it. Now, get drinking.

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