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

Answering life's big questions.

Drink, Tableware, Liquid, Classic cocktail, Ingredient, Cocktail, Alcoholic beverage, Fluid, Juice, Distilled beverage,
(Image credit: Design by Betsy Farrell)

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?

Drink, Liquid, Fluid, Ingredient, Glass, Tableware, Citrus, Cocktail, Classic cocktail, Lemon-lime,

(Image credit: Getty Images)

"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.

Follow Marie Claire on Instagram for the latest celeb news, pretty pics, funny stuff, and an insider POV.

Samantha Leal
Samantha Leal

I'm Sam, the senior editor at MarieClaire.com. I love shining a light on awesome people doing things that matter, cool products and hacks for everyday life, and advice you'll actually use. I'm pretty much always looking for the perfect GIF for any situation. When I'm not trolling the internet, I can be found dancing like a weirdo or napping like it's my job. Right now, I'm probably eating or drinking something filled with sugar or booze. (Sorry, mom.)