Something happened to the sour. Whiskey sour. Pisco sour. Boston sour. Gin sour. Try ordering one of these drinks in your local watering hole (read, not craft cocktail bar), and one of two things will happen: you’ll get a bartender that isn’t sure what goes in it, or worse, you’ll get the drink that almost put me off the classic sours forever. What was that drink? What was wrong with it? What should it have been? Let me take you back in time with me…
The whiskey sour used to be my go-to drink when I went out. When I was still in my drinking infancy (which sounds kind of illegal, but wasn’t), I ordered them because it was something I could remember when put on the spot. I knew I liked citrus, and I didn’t want to order a Cosmopolitan or an anything-tini. A whiskey sour, in contrast to the Sex and the City favorites, sounded vaguely John Wayne-y and bad ass. So it became my drink. Did John Wayne actually drink whiskey sours?* I have no idea, and I certainly didn’t then. I was a 21-year-old undergrad, not a cowboy.
*Update — looks like he did actually enjoy whiskey, but possibly liked tequila even more.*
During the entire time that I was ordering these drinks, I don’t think I ever got a real one. What I got, every time, was a drink that was a simplified — bastardized — version of the original recipe. A true sour combines your base liquor, citrus (often lemon), a sweetener of some kind, and sometimes egg white or bitters. My whiskey sours checked off the base liquor, but then swapped out all of the other ingredients for sour mix, which tastes like a combination of Country Time Lemonade powder, motor oil, and yellow highlighter pens. You can buy sour mix in pretty much any supermarket or liquor store. Please don’t.