The Ingredient That Will Upgrade Your Homemade Whiskey Sour

Like so many classic cocktails, the venerable whiskey sour we know and love today has been around for decades — actually centuries — but that doesn't mean people in the 21st century should make this sweet-and-sour elixir according to the exact same recipe that first appeared in print way back in the 19th century. Even if folks might feel a little lost at sea when looking for ways to upgrade this cocktail at home, it's definitely a far cry from the impromptu blend of whiskey and citrus long-ago sailors quaffed to stave off scurvy, and probably boredom, during actual extended voyages at sea.

The first recorded recipe for a whiskey sour appeared in "The Bartender's Guide: How To Mix Drinks" written by Jerry Thomas in 1862. Thomas' concoction included bourbon or whiskey, lemon juice, a dash of seltzer, and powdered white sugar. Sounds good, but maybe a bit messy. Fast forward more than 150 years and bartenders are routinely replacing the white sugar with simple syrup — rich simple syrup, to be specific. People who enjoy whiskey sours at home can do the same.

It's just so simple

Part of the appeal of a whisky sour is the crave-inducing pucker-up blend of sweet and bitter the cocktail brings to the palate, but sugar — even of the powdered variety — can be tricky to incorporate. That's why some bartenders choose to replace the sugar with simple syrup. Unlike its granulated counterpart, simple syrup brings plenty of sweetness to balance the bitter citrus but doesn't leave a gritty coating on the bottom of the glass. And it's incredibly easy to make at home.

In its basic form, simple syrup is a one-to-one blend of water and granulated sugar that's been heated until the sugar melts, then chilled before use. Perhaps a better fit for whiskey sours, rich simple syrup is a variation made from two parts sugar to one part water. Another tweak? Consider using demerara sugar instead of granulated sugar for a syrup with more depth of flavor and color. And there's no need to haul out a saucepan to make rich simple syrup every time you crave a whisky sour. Refrigerated in an airtight container, a batch of simple syrup will last for about a month. Rich simple syrup has an even longer shelf life of up to six months. It's even okay to make and freeze a batch to quick-thaw when an impromptu occasion calls for a homemade whiskey sour.