Proportional Variance in the Whiskey Sour

Whiskey Sour II

On this last Saturday was the session that covers the first part of the punches in the Elemental Mixology Standard Drinks Course.  There were nine students present.  The Whiskey Sour is one of the most famous short punches of all time, and so I decided to have the students make four different versions of that classic drink, to test their preferences in regards to proportions.

Elemental Mixology adheres to the pre-prohibition tradition of making all drinks of a jigger (2 fl-oz.) of liquor, so the amount of whiskey in the drink was not an issue.

Since sours are short punches, that is, punches without added water as a separately-measured ingredient, one obvious way to make a sour is to simply use the traditional American 2-1-4-3 proportions for punch – two parts sour, one part sweet, four parts strong, and three parts weak – but to leave out the three parts weak.  One could describe such a sour as being 2-1-4.  If four parts whiskey equals one jigger (2 fl-oz. or 60 ml.), then two parts lemon juice equals a pony (1 fl-oz. or 30 ml.) and one part sugar equals a tablespoon (15 ml.).  Here is the recipe:

Sour 2-1-4

When the 2-1-4 Whiskey Sour was made, a majority of the class indicated that they found the drink satisfactory.  Virtually all found the balance between the sour and the sweet to be satisfactory.  Some, however, indicated that they would like the flavor of the whiskey to be a bit more pronounced.

To strike a very clear contrast, the next version of the Whiskey Sour made and tasted could be described as being 2-1-8.  This proportion retained the same balance between sour and sweet, but suppressed both of those elements in favor of the whiskey.  This is the proportion that David Embury favored for sours (even though, or perhaps because, he called them cocktails) in his 1948 book, “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.”   If eight parts whiskey equals one jigger (2 fl-oz. or 60 ml.), then two parts lemon juice equals a half-pony (1/2 fl-oz. or 15 ml), and one part sugar equals 1/2 tablespoon (1-1/2 teaspoons or 7.5 ml.).  Here is the recipe:

Sour 2-1-8

Only one person in the class thought that the 2-1-8 sour was an improvement over the 2-1-4 sour.  A few students felt that it was whiskey-pronounced enough to violate the general rule that the elements in a punch should be balanced.  Perhaps a better drink to spotlight the whiskey, but with some lemon flavor, would be the Whiskey Crusta Cocktail with its barspoon (2.5 ml.) of lemon juice hamonizing with the whiskey, rather than trying to balance it.  In terms of popularity with the students, the 2-1-8 Whiskey Sour was either the least favored, or the second-least favored.

I thought that the next proportional variation of the Whiskey Sour to try should be one that is commonly found online and in modern books.  I am speaking of the typical 3-2-8 proportion Whiskey Sour made of 2 fl-oz. of whiskey, 3/4 fl-oz. of lemon juice and 3/4 fl-oz. of simple syrup.  If we assume that the simple syrup being used is made of equal parts (by volume) sugar and water, and not some even-sweeter formula,  that would mean that the amount of sugar in 3/4 fl-oz. (22.5 ml.) of simple syrup would be just about 1 tablespoon (15 ml.).  That is because one part sugar dissolved into one part water yields just about one-and-a-half parts syrup.  The typical sour I am describing (with the sugar isolated from the water in the simple syrup) could then be described as 3-2-8 – each part being 1/4 pony (7.5 ml.)  Here is the recipe:

Sour 3-2-8

The opinion of the classroom was unanimous.  The 3-2-8 Whiskey Sour, however commonly prescribed by bartenders at large, was just too sweet.

That left one other obvious variance in proportion – the 2-1-6 Whiskey Sour.  If six parts whiskey equals a jigger (2 fl-oz. or 60 ml.) that means that each part is 10 ml. (1/3 pony or 1/3 fl-oz. or 1 dessertspoon or 2 teaspoons).  Then two parts lemon juice would be 2/3 pony (2/3 fl-oz. or 20 ml.) and one part sugar would be 1 dessertspoon (2 teaspoons or 10 ml.).  Here is the recipe:

Sour 2-1-6

The entire class found the 2-1-6 Whiskey Sour to be satisfactory.  The majority of the students indicated that they thought it was the best proportion of the day.  One student still preferred the 2-1-8 Whiskey Sour, and two or three still preferred the 2-1-4 Whiskey Sour.  They all agreed that if a bar were to select one proportion to always make for all customers, the 2-1-6 Whiskey Sour would probably be the best choice.

Of course, only four variations were tested that day.  Perhaps someone will discover an even better proportion and submit it to me for the happy task of trying it myself.

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