A Sour is usually prepared from the following recipe :

The Juice of 1/2 Lemon.
1/2 Tablespoonful of Sugar. (I recommend using superfine, bar, or caster sugar when making drinks like this or the Daiquiri. If you don’t have any of those, just run your regular granulated sugar in your blender or food processor until it is pulverized nicely.)
Add 1 Glass of Spirit or Liqueur as fancy dictates, Gin, Whisky, Brandy, Rum, Calvados, etc.
Shake well and strain into medium size glass. One squirt of Soda water. Add one slice orange and a cherry.

So, “fancy” dictated to me, that I use St. George Spirits‘s Agricole-style R(h)um, Agua Libre for this sour!

I get into all sorts of discussions about the simplest drinks with my bar geeky friends. As far as I am concerned a “Sour” is: Spirits, Lemon (or Lime), and Sugar (or Simple Syrup). But I have gotten into heated discussions about whether the Egg White, which I consider an optional ingredient, is required.

The most common other optional ingredient is Egg Whites, which are required in certain Sours like the Boston Sour or Pisco Sour. Beyond that, you’re going to need another name. One of my favorite is the New York Sour, which includes a float of red wine on top of a traditional Whiskey Sour. Even more esoteric versions of the sour class of drinks are those like the Los Angeles Cocktail: a Whiskey Sour with egg white, which splits the sweetener with Italian Vermouth; and the Elk’s Own Cocktail: a Whiskey sour with egg white which splits the sweetener with Port Wine.

It is fun though, that the Savoy Cocktail book says, “Add 1 Glass of Spirit or Liqueur as fancy dictates.” So is a Fernet Branca Sour out of the question? What about an Elderflower Sour? Where does the sour stop and the Cocktail begin? Is it the moment you sub out the sweetener for something flavored? But if it is an actual “liqueur” sour, what is that?

My usual “Sour” recipe is 2 oz Spirit, 3/4 oz Lemon (or lime), and 1 oz of 1-1 simple syrup. I find it pleases just about everyone, unless they are among the 1 percent of drinkers who have a tweaked palates and truly prefer the aesthetic of actually “sour” drinks. This was far more spirit forward and light on sweetener and citrus than that recipe. I guess when you have a spirit you want to feature, like the St. George Agua Libre, this would be the way to go. However, I would also say this spirit forward, lightly sour formulation won’t be a crowd pleaser among 99% of modern drinkers. There’s also a pretty good chance they will be disappointed in the volume of this drink, especially if you’re pouring it into one of those giganto fishbowl cocktail glasses which are so popular these days.

One thing which is interesting is the use of superfine sugar instead of 1-1 sugar syrup (aka Simple) as a sweetener. On the sweetener front, this isn’t a big deal, but on the dilution front it may be. If you are using 1 oz of 1-1 syrup to balance your 3/4 oz of citrus, you are also adding approximately a half ounce of extra water to your drink. Though, in this case, the “squirt of soda” is a nice way to lighten the drink to the same place it would be if you were using simple syrup and add a touch of effervescence.

Music in the video from the new Lucinda Williams CD, “Blessed”. (Yes, I still buy CDs.)

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the drinks in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, the, uh, Sauterne Cup.

4 thoughts on “Sour

  1. I haven`t really thought any deeper about the difference in using sugar instead of simple syrup when it comes to dilution, maybe because i`m so lazy that i use my syrups all the time..except maybe when i make caipirinhas.Should be interesting to make this with both syrup and sugar. Gorgeous picture and nice garnish..

  2. How does the Agua Libre compare to other blanc rhum agricoles? I’ve only tried a couple, but they seem to share a fairly strong pear flavor.

    • I think it compares very well.

      It’s not the 100 Proof Jet Fuel that some White Agricole has a reputation for being.

      As always, St. George does a fantastic job of carefully distilling their product to retain much of the character of the source, almost making what could be described as a “Cane Eau-de-Vie”.

      It has a good amount of grassy vegetal related flavors. One person mentioned Green Beans as a descriptor, but I get a lot of Kalamata Olive-like flavor.

  3. A good and thought-provoking post.

    I keep struggling with that “what is a cocktail” question. And as you note above, it often appears in the form of “where does the sour stop and the Cocktail begin?”

    “Cocktail seems to be a very large, amorphous, big-tent kind of category…

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