A Survey of Sour Goblets (a.k.a. Sour Glasses) with an Exposition on the Difference Between Sours & Fixes

Ah the sour, that most famous of the short punches!  Short punches are those that contain no added liquid water (or other liquid aqueous ingredient) other than that obtained by method, such as shaking with ice.  The two main types of short punches are the sour and the fix.  The traditional difference between the sour and fix can be discerned by reading the following image of a page comparing historic recipes (click on the image to open it, and then click it again to enlarge it):

As can be seen, many so-called Whiskey Sours being served today are actually Whiskey Fixes, because they are served ‘on the rocks.’  Someone may ask, “Is the difference between a sour and a fix really that important?”  You bet your sweet jigger it is!  They are noticeably different in qualities of thickness (from possible egg white), temperature and dilution.   A sour will not become more watery than when it is served, but will slowly become warmer.   A fix will stay cold longer, but will become watery (which will work against any thickness you may want to add from egg white).  On a side note, the Margarita (in form a traditional daisy – that’s what margarita means in Spanish – daises being sours sweetened by modifying liqueur) was clearly born as a sour, but has become more commonly a fix.  Sours and fixes each have their merits and neither should be set aside.  It was not a desire to spend extra money on typesetting that caused bars in 1800’s to list both Brandy Sours and Brandy Fixes on their menus.

For a traditional sour, one needs a glass sour goblet (goblets have stems, tumblers do not).  Sadly, such glassware has almost become extinct.  I only know of one sour goblet that is currently available as new.  Unfortunately, it has the capacity of 4.5 fl-oz., making it too small for most full-sized sours containing the traditional 2 fl-oz. American jigger of total liquor.  This is a result of the breaking of the jigger into a smaller amount that happened in no small part due to forcing sours and other types of drinks into cocktail drag in the smaller cocktail goblet.  The wide, heat-allowing surface area of a cocktail goblet is not needed for sours in the way that it is for true cocktails (heat is not desired, it is just risked in true cocktails so that the larger surface area will release the aroma of the bitters and neutralize the sensation of the harshness of alcohol).  And don’t come at me with a faddish coupe, either.  By having a similar surface area while being even shallower in the bowl, a coupe will allow at least as much warming as a cocktail goblet.  I have all my sours (even such as the Sidecar and Cosmopolitan) in narrow-topped and deep sour goblets.  Image and pretense can suck eggs, for all I care – give me function.

A full-sized sour goblet should have a capacity of between 5.5 fl-oz. and 6.5 fl-oz.  That precious commodity is not manufactured anymore.  Aside from the capacity, the normal pattern for a sour goblet is that it should look a little like a fluted Champagne goblet, but without the ‘butt’ being wider than the top, and with a much shorter stem.

Full-sized sour goblets can still be found in out-of-the-way thrift stores and antique shops.  Here, again, are some.  See below the photograph for some description of each.

From left to right…

#1. Libbey #3775 “Whiskey Sour” – 4.5 fl-oz.   This is the sour goblet I mentioned previously as still being available.  It’s perfect for the Charlie Chaplin Sour (a traditional daisy, actually) and all others that contain enough sweetness in the liquor so as not to need additional sugar or syrup.  It is only good for a plain sour if you base it on the de-jiggered shot of liquor in the amount of 1.5 fl-oz.

#2. Libbey #8075 “Georgian Whiskey Sour” – 4.5 fl-oz.

#3. Unknown manufacturer – 5.5 fl-oz.  This is one of the most elegant (and easily breakable) sour goblets I have ever found.  It has a sheer rim and is very delicate.  I found and purchased two of them in a thrift store on the Oregon coast.  Only one survives in my care.

#4. Libbey #8475 “Citation Sour” – 5.5 fl-oz.  This is easily my favorite sour goblet.  It is relatively sturdy and has the perfect capacity.  My guess is that this goblet was discontinued by the second half of the 1980’s.  I have found examples of this goblet in thrift stores with such dedications as “A Night To Remember – Prom 1986” etched into them.  Perhaps when the goblet was discontinued, lots of them were bought by a business that sold glassware bearing special dedications.

#5. Libbey #6866 “Sour” – 6 fl-oz.  This roomy sour goblet was probably discontinued by Libbey in the early 1970’s.  It appeared in their catalogs through 1971, but not in their 1973 catalog.  I have been fortunate enough to have found them in sufficient quantity to use them as a standard sour goblet for my courses.

#6. Unknown manufacturer – 6 fl-oz.  The mid-century, straight lines of this goblet make me think that its design probably dates from the 1960’s.  I found two of them in a Goodwill thrift store.

#7. Federal Glass #154 “Executive Whisky Sour” – 6.5 fl-oz.  This relatively-large sour goblet is also obviously a mid-century design.  It is surely a 1960’s design.  Federal Glass shut down in 1979, but I was able to buy an unused case of them from someone who knew someone who worked in a restaurant supply store while Federal Glass was still around.

Sour goblets deserve a come-back.  If you are looking for some, I wish you luck.  Maybe someone will notice our need and supply us again.  It would be nice to have the option of a traditional sour again, instead of just another fix.

Happy drinking!

Taste Testing: American Dubonnet versus French Dubonnet

Quinquina Dubonnet was once an item imported to the U.S.A. from France.  For a time it was the most important quina wine used in American bars.  Quina wine (or quinquina wine) is an aromatized wine, and the sibling of vermouth wine.  The general difference is that where vermouth wine must contain wormwood (vermouth in old German), quina wine must contain quinquina, or cinchona (cinchona officinalis or cinchona calisaya — natural sources for quinine).  For a wine-less taste of cinchona, try some un-mixed cinchona bitters, such as Campari.

Cocchi Americano is a currently well-reputed quina wine from Italy.  In Italy it is called China Americano, china being Italian for quina (the word china was apparently too confusing for inclusion on the label in the U.S.A.).  Old-formula Kina Lillet (kina being a re-spelling of quina) and Maurin Quina each have their secure places in history.  RinQuinQuin is nice, if you can find it and want your quina wine also flavored with peach kernels.  But Quinquina Dubonnet was once the venerable warhorse that always led the pack of quina wines.

It is said that it was during the second world war that Dubonnet was licensed for production in the U.S.A.  It is sure that the original item was, and still is, made in France.

If you will look carefully at a bottle of Dubonnet in the U.S.A., you will see that, though it proclaims itself the “grand aperitif de France,” it is actually made in Kentucky.  [The ‘blanc’ bottling of Dubonnet is purely an American creation and does not exist from the original French maker.  It will not be considered here.]

There have been murmurs throughout the decades that, contrary to claims, American-made Dubonnet just isn’t as good as French Dubonnet.

I recently let some students taste the two, side-by-side and un-mixed.  They all indicated that the difference was stark, and that the original French Dubonnet was better.

My brief impressions of tasting both are as follows:

Dubonnet from France is deep red in color.  Its flavor is that of a moderately sweet wine with hints of fig and a noticeable cinchona mid-and-after-taste.  It is lovely and would be fine for un-mixed use.

Dubonnet from the U.S.A. is pale red in color.  To me, its flavor is that of stale wine with a little non-descript bitterness added.

I would much prefer Dubonnet from France.  I go to the trouble of obtaining it and keeping it on hand.  If so-called Dubonnet from the U.S.A. were my only option, I would skip using it altogether (including in mixed drinks).

When tasting Dubonnet from France, it becomes clear why this became the default quina wine in American bars and showed up in notable drinks for a time.  When tasting Dubonnet from the U.S.A., it becomes clear why so-called Dubonnet is no longer a must-have item in the American bar.

Handling note: As with all wine-based products, the worst way of keeping any quina wine is to open it and then leave it untreated at room temperature.  This allows oxidization and ruins the wine.  Also bad is the refrigeration of quina wine or vermouth wine, in my opinion.  I feel that storage under refrigeration irrevocably degrades the wine itself, and only slows oxidization without stopping it.  The best option is to re-seal the bottle after opening with some wine preservative gas.  This replaces the inert, heavier-than-oxygen gas that was in the headspace of the bottle as placed there by the manufacturer at the time of bottling.  This is as close as one can get to preventing oxidization completely.  Once open and then gassed, store your quina at room temperature and re-gas it each time after opening.