Measure & Stir

I make drinks

03. Sours

This is part of a series on Mixology Basics.


1.5 oz of a base spirit
.75 oz of a souring agent
.5 oz of a sweetener
Shake over ice and double-strain into a stemmed glass.

The above is my personal preference for a sour, which is also sometimes called a daisey. There are several canonical variations and considerations:

  • Only use freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice. Once released from their fruity prison, juices immediately start to break down, losing their volatile flavor compounds. The first thing to go will be bright, floral complexity on the sip. Day-old lime juice tastes like lime kool-aid, having lost everything but a vague limey citrus finish, accompanied by naked citric acid. Within four hours of juicing is preferred, and à la minute is best.
  • For that matter, never use any pasteurized or unfresh juice. If you are thinking of using pineapple juice in a drink, juice your own pineapple. Shelf-stable juices are particularly awful, as they have been boiled under pressure to a temperature of 121 C. This kills any microorganisms, deactivates enzymes, and removes 80% of the flavor. If you can’t get truly fresh juice, make a different drink.
  • It is acceptable to serve a sour up or on the rocks, according to your own preference and taste.
  • Bitters generally do not enhance the flavor of a sour drink. Quite the opposite, they dull the brightest flavors, leaving your drink tasting flat.
  • Liqueurs are not as sweet as syrups. If the sweetener is a liqueur, a barspoon (defined as 1/2 tsp) of simple syrup may be desirable.
  • Less experienced cocktail drinkers, or those with an incurable sweet tooth, will generally prefer their sweetener and souring agent in equal proportions, i.e., .75 oz of each.
  • Sours generally taste best if they are a few degrees warmer than they come out immediately post-shake. For this reason, I suggest NOT chilling the glass (see below) before pouring a sour.
  • More complicated sour compositions are easily possible. The simplest is to add a full ounce of a non-sour (i.e., succulent), juice, such as mango, pineapple, orange, strawberry, etc.
    • When working with succulent juices, be aware of their sweetness. Some juices can throw off your balance of sour to sweet. To adjust for this, mix in the following order: base spirit, souring agent, succulent juice, taste the drink, add an appropriate amount of sweetener.
    • Some “juices”, such as strawberry, are more properly called purées, on account of their thick texture. They will not go through your fine mesh strainer easily, and it is advisable to strain them finely BEFORE adding them to your drink, to make your post-shake pour go more smoothly.


Classic Sours

Within these guidelines, here are the most famous, common, and wonderful sours:

2 oz light rum*
.75 oz lime juice
.5 oz simple syrup

*Note that this drink is best served slightly overproof from the standard recipe. It is the foundation of all Tiki drinks, and it is eminently approachable. You will notice, of course, that it bears little resemblance to your standard frozen strawberry daiquiri served at resorts the world over.

Whiskey Sour
1.5 oz bourbon
.75 oz lemon juice
.5 oz simple syrup

This is the grand-daddy of sours. It is more than the sum of its parts, and one of the most delicious drinks ever invented. It is often served with a half ounce of egg white incorporated into it. This will cause it to develop a rich, frothy head and a velvety mouthfeel. For more about this, see Egg Whites below under Etc.

Floating a half ounce of red wine on top of the drink (performed by gently pouring the wine over the back of a spoon) makes this a New York Sour.

1.5 oz tequila
.75 oz lime juice
.5 oz orange liqueur
1 barspoon of simple syrup

The Margarita is a delicious drink, but many people prefer theirs with an unsalted rim. This is wrong. The salt wakes up the vegetal and briny flavors in the tequila, creating a unique and intriguing experience.

To salt a glass, first run a wedge of lime over the lip of the glass, and then dip the glass in a dish of kosher salt. Coarse salt is preferable to fine salt, both because of its pleasing appeance, and because it will result a smaller amount of salt on the palate per sip.

Like tequila itself, salt on the rim of a glass is an acquired taste, but like most acquired tastes, it is worth acquiring.

1.5 oz brandy
.75 oz lemon juice
.5 oz orange liqueur
1 barspoon of simple syrup
(optional) sugar on the rim of the glass.

Notice that this is a mad lib of a Margarita, or maybe it’s the other way around. The sugar on the rim is a more recent fashion, but I cannot deny that it is delicious. Unlike the Margarita, the sugar is optional. It does not make or break the drink: it is merely an indulgence.

1.5 oz vodka
.75 oz lime juice
.5 oz cranberry  juice cordial
.5 oz orange liqueur

The Cosmo is an interesting beast. With its addition of .5 oz cranberry cordial, it runs a little sweet vs. the standard sour proportions. Also note that cranberry juice cordial is not the same thing as cranberry juice, and while you could make your own, it is one of the rare instances where it is acceptable to use a store-bought, shelf-stable variety.

A juice cordial is a juice that has been diluted and sweetened, and nearly all commercially available cranberry juices are, in fact, cranberry juice cordials. Pure, fresh cranberry juice is bitingly bitter and sour, and will not make a good cosmopolitan without significant processing.

Everyone expects a cosmo to taste like cranberry juice cordial, so just use it. If you are feeling frisky, make it yourself.

Pisco Sour
1.5 oz pisco
.75 oz lime juice
.5 oz gomme syrup
.5 oz egg white

Unlike the whiskey sour, in the pisco sour, the egg white is not optional. We will discuss egg whites below, under the heading Etc., below, sub-heading: “Egg Whites”.

As for gomme syrup, this is a classic cocktail ingredient made by incorporating gum arabic into simple syrup, or by purchasing gomme syrup. Gum arabic is a hydrocolloid (a thickening agent that can make water more viscous) that gives the syrup a smoother, almost creamy mouthfeel.

Real Gimlet
1.5 oz gin
.75 oz lime cordial

A true gimlet uses a lime cordial, which is made by steeping lime peels and sugar in lime juice until they form a rich, tart, limey syrup. Almost no one does it this way because it’s inconvenient and because composing it as a standard sour tastes very similar.

The Gimlet that Everyone Actually Makes
1.5 oz gin
.75 oz lime juice
.5 oz simple syrup