Although this holiday is technically a national holiday in the US and not in the UK, we have decided to embrace it anyway; I mean, who are we to discriminate against any holiday which sets out to celebrate alcohol? Besides, we Britons can’t help but love a historical backstory (especially those that start out on a ship somewhere), so to mark this occasion, here’s a breakdown of the famous Whiskey Sour.
A classic staple in the mixology world, the Whiskey Sour is a mixed drink which has been enjoyed by various merry consumers for centuries. So how did it first come about? I hear you ask. Well, like so many great tales, it started on board a ship. In the 1700s travelling via the mighty oceans was no easy feat, and many sailors came to accept that scurvy, malnutrition and sea-sickness were part and parcel of the process. However, this all changed when Vice Admiral Edward Vernon, an English naval officer (you see, Whiskey Sour Day should be a British national holiday), began mixing ingredients as an attempt to reduce the number of men falling ill with such illnesses. Sailors were given rations which included items such as limes and lemons in order to prevent scurvy- they just needed a way to ingest it.
They were also given some form of alcohol as something safe to drink. To prevent a ship full of intoxicated shipmates, the alcohol, usually rum once it was discovered, was diluted and lemon or lime juice added to mask the flavour of the rum. This was a very early version of the Sour. The sailors then very kindly brought the concept of the Sour home with them, and it’s gradually become refined to the cocktail we enjoy today. Typically, the British substituted the rum for gin or brandy, but the Americans preferred their Sour to be made with whiskey.
The recipe itself was first written down in Jerry Thomas’ 1862 book, ‘How to Mix Drinks’. The original recipe highlights the main ingredients of the Whiskey Sour, which are: whiskey, lemon juice and sugar. Nevertheless, many of the recipes you will see nowadays also include a dash of egg white, which is sometimes added to give the drink a creamier taste, as well as to make it more aesthetically pleasing. Thomas’ version also dictated a wine glass and shaved ice, whereas we prefer our Whiskey Sours to be ‘on the rocks’ in an old-fashioned glass, garnished with half an orange slice and a maraschino cherry.
The Whiskey Sour has proven to be capable of standing the test of time as it withstood the effects of prohibition, which resulted in many classics from the day becoming virtually unknown (a Bijou anyone?). With the simple and old- fashioned cocktails finding their way onto more menus and drink boards as they become increasingly fashionable, I believe the Whiskey Sour is here to stay.