I feel it only fair to warn you, this post contains the word “moist” four times.
I know. But sometimes it’s necessary.
We’ll get to that later, but first, to business.
Whiskey Sour business.
We’re just a few short weeks away from Whiskey Sour Day on August 25 and while you’ve probably heard of a Whiskey Sour, I’m going to guess that you’ve probably never had one.
Having been around since 1870, and being hugely popular until about the 1960s, it’s fallen out of favour.
Up until about 1960, it was the go-to cocktail for many Americans.
David Wondrich’s excellent cocktail tome Imbibe! quotes the 1879 Atlanta Daily Constitution even going as far as to say “when American meets American then comes the Whiskey Sour.”
Like most cocktails, it was likely invented in the USA, although modified from the tradition of British Royal Navy sailors (let’s just call them sea-men because that’s more fun) taking their daily ration of a lemon or lime and mixing it with booze – traditionally rum.
This is where the Brits get the name “limeys”.
Different spirits were tried and there are many variants on the Sour, but we have Prohibition to thank for its crowning glory, the egg white.
The period 1920 to 1933 wasn’t a great time for professional development for American bartenders and most had to decamp to Europe or Cuba. The egg white is a European influence and joined the standard recipe post-Prohibition when bartending became a legal pursuit in the USA again and skills learned from over a decade abroad were brought home.
It’s a tasty cocktail and easy to make – don’t let the egg white put you off, that’s just a bit of shaking to turn it frothy.
Plus you can do that thing where you use the shell to separate the yolk from the white and feel like you’re some sort of kitchen genius.
Simply mix 3 parts Bourbon with 2 parts lemon juice and 1 part sugar syrup in a cocktail shaker with an egg white and then give it a good, strong dry shake – at least 30 seconds.
A dry shake is when you shake the cocktail ingredients without ice. This process again shows how ignorant I was of how critical ice (shape, size and timing) is in cocktail making when I started this blog.
Finally, shake it again with ice, then strain into a glass.
So it’s simple and delicious. Why isn’t it having a boom?
If we look to popular culture as a barometer for a cocktail’s cool, we see Martinis getting Swingers and James Bond, Old Fashioneds getting Frightened Rabbit and Ryan Gosling in Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Compare this with the daggy-but-delicious Pina Coladas which get creepy Rupert Holmes’ pre-Tinder workover.
Or our Whiskey Sour.
Since peaking with Marilyn Monroe’s 7 Year Itch, has more recently been relegated to mentions in Barry Manilow and Hall & Oates songs (and am I the only one surprised to learn that Hall & Oates are confident enough to still have Out of Touch in their set-lists for concerts in 2016? Surely that’s just leading with your chin?).
Anyway, not quite as cool.
But together, we’ve done a stellar job of bringing back the Rusty Nail, so I’d like you to consider a Whiskey Sour sometime this month.
You’ll need to tinker a bit to find your preferred level of sweetness, but I do recommend using Bourbon instead of Rye (and although it’s got the “e”, don’t use an Irish Whiskey).
Bourbon is a lighter, sweeter flavour than most whiskies, especially Scotch, which means it mixes better in cocktails. Personally I don’t like it as much as Scotch for straight sipping, but it makes a mean cocktail.
Things to know about Bourbon.
Bourbon is protected under USA law, meaning that you cannot call something Bourbon unless it meets a few criteria.
- It needs to be made in the USA (not necessarily in Bourbon County, Kentucky)
- It needs to be made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn
- It needs to be aged in new, charred oak barrels (since they can only be used once, the barrels are then generally shipped to Scotland for use in ageing Scotch Whisky – something that would be a problem for world Scotch production if the law changed to allow for Bourbon to re-use barrels)
There’s some other stuff too, but those are the biggies. So you can only drink American Bourbon – be it Jim Beam (Kentucky), Jack Daniels (Tennessee), Hudson Baby Bourbon (New York) or any of the hundreds of others on the market.
Many of these distilleries have rich histories, but before you plan a visit, we need to talk about something delicate.
(Gird your loins, here it comes.)
Although Prohibition was repealed under Federal Law in 1933, it can still be imposed under State and Local Laws and there are many Counties in the USA that are “dry” counties ie liquor cannot be sold there.
The Jack Daniels Distillery is in Moore County, Tennessee, a DRY county.
This means if you go to the Distillery, you can’t reward yourself for all that learning with a drop of the local product at the end. It cannot be sold in stores or restaurants in the County.
And obviously, there are no bars.
I must have done the XXXX Brewery tour in Brisbane half a dozen times during University (and for my non-Aussie Muddlers, XXXX is pronounced “Four-ex”).
Yes, yes, hops, yeast, water – but what exactly does your product TASTE like? (Kind of shit, if you must know, but University students are rarely discerning judges of alcohol).
Jim Beam is produced in Bullitt County, Kentucky. This is a WET County. Meaning – you guessed it – you CAN buy a drink.
My favourite Bourbon, Jefferson’s Aged at Sea, is from Kentucky’s Oldham County which transitioned from DRY to MOIST in December 2015, meaning that alcohol can be sold in certain situations.
So on a continuum here, MOIST is better than DRY, but WET is better than MOIST.
That’s it for the moist. We’re done. You made it through (but read this if you wonder why that word seems so distasteful).
After all that, we need a drink and some good news.
Order yourself a Whiskey Sour (and I can report that Opera Bar at Sydney Opera House does not disappoint on this front).
And the good comes in the form of a song.
Whiskey Sour Day falls on the birthday of one Declan Patrick Aloysius Macmanus (not Rove McManus whose first name you should bank for future Trivia Nights as John, also remember that the Capital of Burkina Faso is Ouagadougou for another likely gimme).
You may know Macmanus better as Elvis Costello and he has saved SSM’s perfect record of 1980s references by releasing a song in the dying days of the 1980s.
You likely don’t know this song and I can’t find a clip for it, but listen to Dip Your Big Toe in the Milk of Human Kindness for the Whiskey Sour reference and then watch the Oliver’s Army film-clip to see EC drinking cocktails that are most likely Blue Hawaii and a Pink Lady.
And finally, in the words of British comic Dorian Crook, who may indeed model his entire look on Elvis Costello, the only three things you need for a perfect night are
“a whisky sour, a meteor shower and a cab that arrives before you put your hand out.”
Think about that as you watch the Perseid Meteor Shower this month and tell me you weren’t destined for a little Sour.