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Classic Cocktails: Have Your Whiskey Sour Two Ways


For years, the whiskey sour was a simple confection made of fresh lemon juice, syrup, an egg white and, of course, whiskey.

A whiskey sour without the egg white, with a cherry.

A whiskey sour without the egg white, with a cherry.

But when the cocktail fell out of vogue in the late 1960s, processed mixes began appearing as a way of simplifying matters for people too busy to squeeze a lemon. No matter that most of the sweet-and-sour concoctions on the market tasted only of sweet — with a strident chemical aftertaste.

Salmonella fears surrounding eggs led to the elimination of egg whites in cocktails and not just in the whiskey sour.

Soon, a century of tradition disappeared. And with it went once-popular drinks, such as the Ramos gin fizz, the round robin and the bourbon flip.

But the rise in popularity of hand-crafted cocktails has brought back the whiskey sour of the 1870s. There’s now a National Whiskey Sour Day, which was observed Aug. 25. But expectations are greater than ever.

People want a high-quality whiskey, no matter if you want a bourbon, an Irish whiskey or a rye, depending on your tastes.

Jake Corney, head bartender at Bohanan’s, 219 E. Houston St., prefers to use a bourbon that’s been aged in heavily charred barrels, such as Woodford Reserve Double Oaked. “You want a good, solid, spicy bourbon. Nothing too sweet,” he says.

Jeret Peña of the Brooklynite, 516 Brooklyn Ave., prefers rye, and you’ll see a vast assortment of them in his bar.

The Brooklynite's whiskey sour, made with an egg white.

The Brooklynite’s whiskey sour, made with an egg white.

“It’s like everything else I love, it’s misunderstood,” he says. “I love the spice element that is associated with rye.  The proper rye can cut through certain flavor profiles.”

Some still avoid the egg white but will squeeze the lemon fresh. The choice is yours.

“I am all about simplicity when making cocktails at home,” Peña says, adding that if you want to use egg whites and are leery about it, you could buy a carton of pasteurized egg whites. (Read the label first to make sure you’re only getting egg whites and no preservatives.)

Here are two variations on the whiskey sour. The first is the classic recipe, the second a playful variation on the original that adds more fruit juice but eliminates the egg white., which adds texture to the drink, Corney says.

It also helps to know your audience before you make the drink. Dale DeGroff, also known as “King Cocktail,” points out in “The Essential Cocktail: The Art of Mixing Perfect Drinks,” that the British want their whiskey sours to be sour while Americans want a sweeter drink, which may explain why many added maraschino cherries to the mix. You may want to start with less syrup and build it up to suit your taste.

Classic Whiskey Sour

This is the traditional way a whiskey sour was made before the advent of sweet-and-sour mixes and artificial lemon, Corney says.

2 ounces bourbon
3/4 ounce simple syrup
3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 egg white
Bitters, your choice

In a dry shaker (without ice), add bourbon, syrup, lime juice and egg white and shake vigorously. Then add ice and continue to shake vigorously until chilled. Pour into a cocktail glass. Top with 3-4 drops (not dashes) of bitters and make a swirl effect on the egg foam, if desired; otherwise, use a heavy single dash of the bitters of your choice. Carney prefers Angosturra for this drink. Serve.

Makes 1 cocktail.

From Jake Corney, Bohanan’s

Kilbeggan Secret Sour

Kilbeggan Secret Sour

Kilbeggan Secret Sour

This variation on the classic, from Joaquin Simo, head mixologist at Pouring Ribbons in New York, uses a touch of grapefruit juice and a dash of orange bitters to add to the sour tang of the drink.

1 ½ parts Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey
1 ½ parts club soda
¾ part dry vermouth
¾ part simple syrup
½ part fresh lemon juice
½ part fresh grapefruit juice
1 dash orange bitters
Lemon peel, for garnish

Combine whiskey, club soda, vermouth, syrup, lemon juice, grapefruit juice and orange bitters in a mixing glass over ice and shake. Strain into a Collins glass with ice. Garnish with a lemon peel.

Makes 1 cocktail.

From Joaquin Simo, Pouring Ribbon/Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey

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A Mist-ical Evening at the McNay


Tim Laird and Steven Hughes of Canadian Mist

When Steven Hughes was growing up, he never dreamed his studies would lead to a job with the title master blender/spirits scientist.

Likewise, Tim Laird’s visions of being a CEO had little to do with being “chief entertaining officer.”

Yet that’s what the two have become for Canadian Mist. Together, they’re a sort of a contemporary Martin and Lewis, traveling the country to extol the virtues of the whiskey cocktail in a manner that’s tasty, humorous and maybe even a little enlightening.

The duo will be at the McNay Art Museum, 6000 N. New Braunfels, this Thursday for a special presentation that benefits the museum, “Mistology: The Science Behind the Cocktail.”

The purpose? “We want to get you thinking differently about your whiskey cocktails,” Hughes said in a telephone conference call recently.

Mistopolitan

To do that, they talk about a few favorites, such as the old fashioned and the whiskey sour. Hughes presents the science behind the distillation of whiskey as well as the history of the cocktail, while Laird provides “the entertainment.”

“Did you know that the original whiskey sour was made with egg whites?” Laird said, adding that the recipe was once a mixture of whiskey, simple syrup, egg white and freshly squeeze lemon juice.

The perfect simplicity of that drink, like many other potent potables, got corrupted over the years with the introduction of corn syrup-filled mixers, prefab citrus products that have no real citrus in them and other shortcuts that cut the cocktail short on flavor.

But with a growing interest in handcrafted drinks across the country, thanks in part to period movies on cable and shows like the two-martini lunch world of “Mad Men,” an increasing number of people are refusing to settle for a second-rate drink.

That’s where Hughes and Laird step in. “We want to take the intimidation away from making cocktails,” Laird said. “We want you to have fun at home and entertain with these things.”

Mist Fizz

One drink on the menu is sure to be a surprise to some in attendance. The duo plan to present a whiskey version of the cocktail that practically flows in our veins here in San Antonio. I mean, of course, the margarita.

Their variation is made with Canadian Mist, a Canadian whiskey, as well as lime juice and agave nectar. Laird assured me that it was not meant to replace our old standby, but merely to offer a new way of thinking about it.

Whichever way you make it, don’t forget to use freshly squeezed lime juice, both said. It makes all the difference in the world in terms of flavor and is one of the basic building blocks of an outstanding cocktail.

“If we can get you to be more conscious of simple, fresh ingredients, that’s a great first step” Hughes said.

Only a few tickets remain for “Mistology: The Science Behind the Cocktail,” which begins at 6 p.m. Thursday at the McNay Art Museum, 6000 N. New Braunfels. The event is open to anyone 21 years of age and older with admission of $8 per museum member or $10 per non-member. All proceeds benefit the McNay. Call (210) 805-1763 or e-mail reservations@mcnayart.org.

For a pair of recipes for Canadian Mist-based cocktails, click here.

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