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 (opens in new tab). "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 (opens in new tab).

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Samantha Leal is the Deputy Editor at Well+Good, where she spends most of her day thinking of new ideas across platforms, bringing on new writers, overseeing the day-to-day of the website, and working with the awesome team to produce the best stories and packages. Before W+G, she was the Senior Web Editor for Marie Claire and the Deputy Editor for Latina.com, with bylines all over the internet. Graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University with a minor in African history, she’s written everything from travel guides to political op-eds to wine explainers (currently enrolled in the WSET program) to celebrity profiles. Find her online pretty much everywhere @samanthajoleal.