Independent Wine Education Guild

The History of the Whiskey Sour

It’s unclear by whom and when August 25 was first declared Whiskey Sour Day, but the story behind this classic cocktail has both medical and local roots. Traditionally composed of lemon, sugar and whiskey, variations today often include the addition of egg white, a dash of red wine or a maraschino cherry garnish. And while these days whiskey sours are consumed for pleasure, it is widely believed that the cocktail’s initial popularity grew out of a need to prevent and cure scurvy, a disease of malnutrition caused by a lack of vitamin C.

During the age of exploration from 1500 -1800, local and Indigenous knowledge of the curative effect of citrus fruits and other vitamin C-rich plants began to spread to seamen desperate to save the lives of their fellow sailors. Despite the dismissal by the classically trained medical establishment, many navies began ordering their sailors to consume citrus fruit on their long journeys as a scurvy remedy. It was during this time that sailors began to mix their rations of beer, rum, whiskey or gin with leftover citrus fruit while at sea.

Ackerman Saloon 1856

Over time, this beverage was brought to land and softened with the addition of sugar. The first record of a sour listed on a menu was at a bar in Toronto known as Mart Ackerman's Saloon in 1856. The first known written recipe was featured six years later in the The Bartenders Guide by Jerry Thomas. Here is the original 158-year old recipe:

  Whiskey  Sour                                                                                                 (Use a small bar-glass)

  • Take 1 large tea-spoonful of powdered white sugar dissolved in a little Seltzer of Apollinaris water
  • The juice of half a small lemon
  • 1 wineglass 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

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Independent Wine Education Guild