It has been said (in a thoroughly modern gloss) that the traditional American drink known as the fix is essentially a sour made fancy with pineapple syrup. That simply isn’t true according to historical sources. What is true according to virtually all pre-1920 fixes is that they are short punches always served with ice in them, where the sour is a a short punch not served with ice. That is the irreducible difference between fixes and sours – traditionally-speaking.
Below is a survey of some recipes for fixes that were published before 1920.
Of the ten recipes above, five are plain – being sweetened only with plain sugar. The other five are fancy – with four being at least partially sweetened with flavored syrup and the other with both flavored syrup and liqueur.
Assuming medium-sized lemons or bartender’s lime (Citrus aurantifolia, a.k.a. the Key lime), the sour juice amount ranges from about ¼ fl-oz. (“¼ lemon” or “1 lime”) all the way to about 1 fl-oz. (“juice of one lemon”). The most common amount for the sour juice is about ½ fl-oz., being either the juice of half a medium lemon or about 3 dashes from a bottle with a standard-sized mouth.
Four of the recipes include a slight amount of water suitable for dissolving sugar with. One includes “enough water” to make the drink fill the glassware. Only one explicitly includes a relatively large amount of water. Four of the recipes have no added water as a measured separate ingredient at all.
All ten of the recipes indicate that the drink will be served with ice in it. Eight of them indicate shaved or finely-crushed ice. One indicates cracked ice, and another indicates just “ice.”
The mixing method for most of the above is to stir the drink in the same ice it will be served in – making many pre-1920 fixes essentially the same as many post-1933 swizzles. The method in the last recipe, from 1914, seems most modern in that the drink is shaken and then strained over fresh ice.
Surveying pre-1920 fixes (including many not shown here) for majority opinion, reduced to a minimal set of features, this author finds that fixes are short punches (being made without added, liquid water as a measured ingredient) that are always served with ice in them. Your last Whiskey Sour might have been more of a Whiskey Fix!
As the nineteenth century drew to a close, punches began being published in recipes with less and less added water as a listed ingredient.
Notice that the earlier sources use a full fluid-ounce of water (half a wine-glass), but that the later ones use just enough to dissolve the sugar with. This development led to standard punches often being essentially the same as fixes. I like to call this historical phenomenon the ‘fixification’ of punches.
Notice that in the above source, the fix and the punch have become very similar, being made with at least ½ fl-oz. of sour juice (3 dashes), without any more water than needed to dissolve sugar with, and served in ice with fruity garniture and straw.
It may be tempting to conclude that the main difference in flavor between the two drinks above is that the punch is sweetened with plain sugar where the fix is sweetened with a fancy syrup (pineapple). But, as shown on the previous page, recipes for fixes were also often completely void of any fancy sweetener. In fact, some historical sources regularly made their fixes plain and their punches fancy.
Before the Volstead Act (prohibition in the U.S.A.), swizzles were thought of as an especially Caribbean, crushed ice version of the American cocktail and did not usually contain any juice. This type of drink was not any more immune to the punchification of drinks, in general, than the true cocktail. After the repeal of the Volstead Act in 1933, swizzles appear in books as punches generally (with sour juice) – and especially in an additionally-aromatized twist on the form of the old fix, in crushed ice.
Is a fix any less worthy than a sour? Of course it isn’t! Does a fix need pineapple syrup to be good? Of course it doesn’t. My favorite fixes don’t have it. One of the best fixes ever is the serano-accented rye whiskey fix known as the Future Fix — a drink by my friend, Greg Bryson.
Here are some of the ways I like to make my fixes: