New York Sour

To quote the Atlanta Daily Constitution in 1879, “When American meets American then comes the whisky sour.” The Sour, and in particular the whiskey variety, enjoyed immense popularity across America from the 1860s up until the 1960s. According to David Wondrich, classics scholar and cocktail historian extraordinaire, the Sour’s popularity was driven by two things: it was simple, and it was flexible. Simple indeed – spirits, sugar, water, lemon, ice. Done.

With regards to its flexibility, a particular modification of note from the classic recipe was to top a Whiskey Sour with a red wine float. This was sometimes referred to as “the claret snap” (apparently bartenders of the time referred to all red wine as “claret” regardless of whether it was from Bordeaux or not.) There has been some controversy as to who invented this flourish, but all signs point to Chicago as the place of its invention, some time in the 1880s. The cocktail went through a few name changes – “Continental Sour”, “Southern Whiskey Sour” – before settling on “New York Sour” in the early 1900s. One of the men who claims to have invented the drink accurately notes that “the claret makes the drink look well and it gives it a better taste.” An irrefutable fact, indeed.

Word has it that the New York Sour was a Prohibition-era favorite and the “in” drink to order in the New York speakeasies of the 1920s. Jason Kosmas and Dushan Zaric have surmised that this was probably due to the fact that the lemon and red wine masked the shitty whisk(e)y that infiltrated America in those dark days. Whatever the reason, it’s hard to deny that this red-headed drink is a handsome one.

Paternal Drunk - Post 6 - New York Sour - S

  • 2 oz. Masterson’s 10 Year Old Straight Rye Whiskey
  • ¾ oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ¾ oz. 1:1 demerara simple syrup
  • 1 Beking’s Poultry Farm egg white
  • ½ oz. Chateau de Maison Neuve Montagne St-Emilion 2010 red wine

Pour the whiskey, juice, simple syrup, and egg white into your shaker, and shake – without ice – with tremendous vigour. Once the egg white has emulsified to your satisfaction, add ice and shake again with the same savage ferocity. Strain over a single large ice cube in a chilled rocks glass and float the red wine on top with the utmost care. Express the oils from a lemon twist, discard, and garnish with blood orange half-wheel. Smile.

I used a Straight Rye, with loads of pepper and spice, to stand up to the other ingredients. I also like the fact that the Masterson’s rye is actually distilled in Calgary, Alberta using 100% Canadian rye, which is then bottled and sent to Sonoma, California. Somewhat akin to the Canadian hooch that crept across the border during the height of the New York Sour’s popularity.

This cocktail has surprising complexity and a delightful mouthfeel, no doubt by virtue of the egg white. The whiskey unloads its wallop – albeit somewhat subdued – along with the crisp acidity of the lemon, which is then followed by oakiness and red wine tannins. Stupendous. The preferred beverage when critiquing your child’s art.

And with that, my sour mood has come to a close.