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What's the Right Way to Make a Whiskey Sour?

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Whiskey Sours look different in almost every bar. They can come served up, on the rocks, or over one big cube. They've been made with sour mix, pre-bottled cocktail mix, or with fresh citrus juice and sugar. Bartenders argue about whether including an egg white makes it a Boston Sour or a true Whiskey Sour.

Here’s the rub: none of these approaches are incorrect. Like most other pre-Prohibition cocktails, the Whiskey Sour’s history is largely speculative. We know that it was most likely around for a long time before it was given a name. The recipe first appears in print in Jerry Thomas’s 1862 edition of The Bartender’s Guide, but we can only speculate on what came before.

We do know that it follows a similar format—and is likely related—to the Daiquiri and the Gimlet. As the story goes, back in the heyday of the British Navy, sailors were given rations of liquor (usually gin or rum), citrus, and sugar. In an attempt to keep their troops reasonably sober for battle, officers including Admiral “Old Grog” Nelson advocated mixing their rations together with a bit of water.

Groggy Drinking

Thus, this mix of rum, sugar, lime juice, and water, a.k.a. "grog," was born. The concoction became popular enough that sailors brought it back with them. In England, drinkers preferred gin or brandy, and made it with those bases. At some point, the drink made its way to the U.S. Most commoners drank what they had access to—rum around seaports, brandy when available.

At some point someone used whiskey to make grog, and the Whiskey Sour was born.

Outside of a bit of fruit making its way in as garnish, it didn’t change a lot between its debut in Jerry Thomas’s The Bartender’s Guide and the end of Prohibition. After World War II, bars started to adopt sour mix, a novel product that simplified bartending. By the 1960s, sour mix had become the norm, and it wasn’t until the 1990s that bartenders began experimenting with fresh ingredients again, and that trend has since intensified.

Now, the version of Whiskey Sour you get depends on where you look. Freshly squeezed juices are almost expected in most restaurant environments nowadays, and if there’s sour mix, it may be homemade.

Hit The Bar

In its simplest form, the Whiskey Sour is delicate and delicious. Some bartenders argue that it should include an egg white, an addition that makes it creamier and gives it a much richer body. With that said, the egg white wasn’t a part of Jerry Thomas’s recipe.

Whether you call it a Boston Sour or a Whiskey Sour, it’s a darn tasty drink. Quite a few other variations are just an ingredient or two away. Substituting maple syrup for simple syrup will give you a Filibuster. Swap honey in for the sweetness and you’ve made a Gold Rush Cocktail. Float some red wine on top of the original recipe and it’s a New York Sour. To get more complicated, substitute lime for lemon and grenadine for simple syrup to make a New York Cocktail.

Whiskey Sour

Modified from Jerry Thomas’s Bartender’s Guide.

— Take 1 large teaspoon of powdered white sugar dissolved in a little Seltzer or Apollinaris water
— The juice of half a small lemon
— One wine-glass of Bourbon or rye whiskey

Fill the glass full of shaved ice, shake up and strain into a claret glass. Ornament with berries.

Whiskey Sour/Boston Sour

— 1 small egg white
— 1 oz. simple syrup
— 1 oz. lemon juice
— 2 oz. high proof whiskey

Combine all ingredients in a shaker, adding the egg white last. Shake vigorously without ice for 20 seconds. Add ice and shake again for 15-20 seconds more. Strain well into a coupe glass and garnish with a drop or two of bitters.

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What's the Right Way to Make a Sazerac?
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If you pronounce New Orleans "New Or-leens," or if you can’t get enough of those Big Ass Beers sold on Bourbon Street, you’re probably not actually from New Orleans. But if you’re feeling adventurous and missing the Big Easy, a Sazerac might be just what the doctor ordered. 

‘Tails and Stories

A few hundred years ago, you might have actually gotten a doctor’s order for a Sazerac. One of the drink's origin stories claims that it was invented by New Orleans apothecary Antoine Amedie Peychaud. According to this tale, Mr. Peychaud mixed up the drink with his eponymous bitters and served it in an egg coupe in his shop. 

A more likely origin story states that the drink was invented by a different New Orleans resident (though in the same neighborhood). Around 1850, Sewell T. Taylor sold his bar to Aaron Bird and went into the import business. One of his products happened to be Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils brandy. While Taylor was importing, Bird renamed his bar the Sazerac House and began serving a house cocktail that featured Taylor’s brandy and, as the story goes, bitters made by his neighborhood apothecary, Mr. Peychaud.

In the 1870s and 1880s, Europe's grape crops were decimated by an infestation of American aphids. In just four years, French wine production was cut by 67 percent, and even the most dedicated cognac drinkers switched to whiskey. For New Orleans, that meant switching to rye whiskey that was shipped to the city down the Ohio River and through the Mississippi. Thomas Handy, who owned the Sazerac Bar during that time period, likely switched the drink's main ingredient. This take on the signature cocktail is the one that found its way into the 1908 edition of The World's Drinks and How To Mix Them, with the recipe calling for "good whiskey," not Sazerac cognac. 

The origins of the Sazerac’s name is vague. It’s possible that it was a nod to the fact that it was the bar's house cocktail, but it’s also possible that it’s a reference to the brand of brandy. In those days, “cocktail” referred to a specific alcoholic drink format. As put forth by The Balance and Columbian Repository in 1806, a “cock-tail” is “a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” If you wanted this type of drink with whiskey in it, you would ask for a Whiskey Cocktail. If you wanted Sazerac brandy (until the aphid plague, at least), you'd ask for a Sazerac cocktail.

Hit the Lab

Sazerac Recipe:

2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
.25 oz simple syrup (or a sugar cube)
2 oz good rye whiskey (use the good stuff)
lemon peel for garnish

Place the sugar cube into an absinthe-rinsed rocks glass. Dash the bitters onto the cube and muddle. Add whiskey and one large ice cube and stir to combine. Garnish with a lemon twist.

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What’s the Right Way to Make a Caipirinha?
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The Rio Olympics start in just a few weeks, and all eyes are on Brazil. To celebrate, we decided to focus on the country’s most famous cocktail creation: the Caipirinha.

In form, the Caipirinha is pretty much a Brazilian Daiquiri. It’s made from sugar, lime, and cachaça. Cachaça could be considered a cousin to rum, but it is altogether unique. While most rum is made from molasses, cachaça is made from fresh sugarcane juice.

Unlike rum, which can be made anywhere, cachaça can only be made in Brazil. Though it’s often sold unaged, it is usually matured in woods that are native to Brazil, like peanut and balm. As with wine, beer, and whiskey, different kinds of wood affect the product inside differently.

The classifications of cachaça aren’t based on the type of cask in which it’s aged. It can get a bit confusing: Spirit that is not stored in wood or is kept in stainless steel vats before it’s bottled is often called branca (white). But cachaça aged in wood that doesn’t color the liquor may also be labeled as branca. This category goes under several other names, including prata (silver) and clássica (classic).

Cachaça that’s stored or aged in wood is usually labeled as amarela (yellow), in reference to its color. These may also be labeled as ouro (gold). Envelhecida (aged) cachaça, a subtype of amarela, is a bit more involved: it’s considered aged if more than 50 percent of the content of the bottle has been aged for at least a year in a barrel that’s 700 liters or smaller.

Cachaça is the “third most produced distilled drink in the world,” according to Alcohol In Latin America: A Social and Cultural History. Though more than 5000 brands existed in 2008, it was relatively ignored outside of Brazil until the recent resurgence of craft cocktails. In fact, until 2013, it had to be labeled “Brazilian rum” to be imported into the U.S. As a result, it’s often mistaken by many people for being a type of rum.

Unfortunately, we don’t really know anything definite about the origins of the Caipirinha. Like the Mojito and the Old Fashioned, the formula was perhaps first used in folk medicine. Carlos Lima, the executive director of IBRAC (the Brazilian Institute of Cachaça) told Casa e Jardim that a mix of lime, garlic, and honey with a pour of cachaça was probably used in São Paulo around 1918 as a remedy for the Spanish Flu.

As the story goes, someone eventually decided to skip the garlic and honey. Then, to balance the acidity of the lime, sugar was added. Over time, the drink spread into bars, ice entered the equation, and it became the Caipirinha we know today.

HIT THE LAB

Like the Mojito, the classic Caipirinha recipe is quite simple, but it’s also been the subject of many, many variations. We’ve included the International Bartenders Association (IBA) recipe as well as a modern take on the drink.

Caipirinha
Modified from the IBA website.

2 ounces Cachaça
1/2 of a lime
1 tablespoon sugar

Muddle lime and sugar in an Old Fashioned glass. Fill with ice and pour cachaça over it. Stir and enjoy.

Prata B. (Puerto Rico Asta Ah Brazil)
Recipe by Luis Ramos, bar manager of Bourbon and Branch in San Francisco.

1 3/4 ounces Avua Prata Cachaça
3/4 ounce lime juice
3/4 ounce pineapple gomme syrup
1/2 ounce Pedro Ximenez sherry
1/4 ounce Punt e Mes
Grated nutmeg, lime zest, lime wheel for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a Collins glass. Add crushed ice and stir until glass frosts. Top glass with grated nutmeg, lime zest, and lime wheel.

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