Classic Sour Cocktail Recipes for Summer

July 28, 2017

One of the classic families of cocktails, the sour family incorporates many drinks you are familiar with and many you likely hadn’t considered before. Sour cocktails incorporate liquor + citrus juice + sweetener. Pretty simple to remember, eh? That said, the key is to have an overall balanced drink, and you may prefer a sweeter cocktail or a less sweet cocktail. Start with a ratio of 2 oz of liquor, ¾ oz citrus, and 1 oz simple syrup and adjust to your taste.

Building your sour cocktails

All spirit categories will work in a sour cocktail, but remember that lemon tends to work best with brandy and whiskey while lime tends to pair well with rum and tequila/mezcal. Gin can go either way. You can also incorporate other fruit juices such as grapefruit, pineapple, and pomegranate (in the form of grenadine). Adding egg whites is optional (though necessary in a Pisco Sour) and will result in a creamy top to the drink as well as adding some body to the drink.

Bartender serving margaritas / Photo Credit: Chris Bingham

Adding a liqueur instead of sugar is another way to vary the sour cocktail. The most popular sour variation is the Margarita. Adding to the sour formula of liquor, citrus, and sweetener, there is an addition of a liqueur. In the Margarita’s case, it is triple sec, an orange-flavored liqueur. The most famous brand of triple sec is Cointreau and we highly recommend it, but we also are fans of Combier and Luxardo’s triple secs. You can, however, make other substitutions such as curaçao or Grand Marnier which is a Cognac-based orange liqueur made in the style of curaçao.

The Recipes

Here we offer up three sour cocktails per spirit family: A Traditional Sour Cocktail, a Variation Sour Cocktail, and an Unheralded Sour Cocktail Variation, cocktails we think deserve your attention.


Aviation Cocktail / Photo Credit: Adrian Scottow

Traditional Sour Cocktail: Gin Sour

– 2 oz gin (try Caorunn Gin)
– ¾ oz lemon juice
– ¾ oz simple syrup
– (egg white optional)

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker. If using egg white, shake vigorously without ice. Then add ice and re-shake. Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe or on the rocks in a small old fashioned glass. Cherry garnish optional.

Variation Sour Cocktail: Aviation Cocktail

– 1 ¾ oz gin (try No. 3 London Dry Gin)
– ¾ oz lemon juice
– ¾ oz Maraschino liqueur
– 1 barspoon Creme de Violette

Add all ingredients to cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake. Strain into chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish with cherry (optional).

Unheralded Sour Cocktail: French 75

– 1 ½ oz gin (try Opihr Spiced Gin)
– ¾ oz lemon juice
– ½ oz simple syrup
– 2 oz dry (Brut) Champagne
– Thin lemon peel spiral for garnish

Add first three ingredients to cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into chilled Champagne flute. Top with well-chilled Champagne. Add lemon peel spiral as garnish. Note, if using a sweet Champagne (sec or demi-sec) or a Prosecco, you should adjust or omit the simple syrup according to your taste. This drink can and has substituted Cognac for gin. Try them both!


Pisco Sour at Señor Ceviche / Photo Credit: Bex Walton

Traditional Sour Cocktail: Pisco Sour

– 2 oz Pisco (we like Campo de Encanto Barkeep’s Whimsy)
– ¾ oz lime juice
– ¾ oz simple syrup
– 1 egg white
– A few dashes of Angostura Bitters

Shake all ingredients except the bitters without ice in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake some more. Pour into a chilled coupe glass. Add a few dashes of bitters on top of cocktail.

Variation Sour Cocktail: Sidecar

– 1 ½ oz Cognac (use VSOP or better. We like Louis Royer Force 53 VSOP)
– ¾ oz lemon juice
– ¾ oz triple sec (Cointreau)
– Shake all ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker.
– Pour and strain into a sugar-rimmed coupe glass.

Note: To prepare the glass, take a lemon and rub the outside of the glass about an inch in depth around half of the glass. Dip glass in a plate filled with sugar. Place glass in freezer while you prepare your drink. It is also important to note that the Cointreau will act as the sweetener. Since this is traditionally served in a sugar-rimmed glass, unless you really like sweet drinks, we’d avoid adding any additional sugar to the drink.

Unheralded Sour Cocktail Variation: Jack Rose

– 2 oz applejack (feel free to use apple brandy like Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy 100 proof)
– 1 oz lime juice
– ½ oz grenadine

Shake all ingredients in ice-filled cocktail shaker. Pour and strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with slice of lime.


Hand Shaken Daiquiri

Traditional Sour Cocktail: Daiquiri

– 2 oz white rum (We like Flor de Caña Extra Seco 4)
– ¾ oz lime juice
– ½ oz simple syrup
– or –
– 1 tsp superfine sugar

If using superfine sugar, place this and the lime juice in the cocktail shaker and stir to dissolve. Otherwise, place all ingredients into an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Strain into a chilled coupe. No garnish or garnish with lime wheel.

*A note about the daiquiri cocktail. As white rum doesn’t add much in terms of sweetness like say a brandy or a bourbon, if the ratio of sweet to sour isn’t balanced properly, it will have nowhere to hide. For this recipe in particular, try this ratio and then tweak it to your preferred sweetness level. Additionally, the rum you chose will play a big part in the end result. Taste it first before making your drinks to judge the sweetness level of the rum. You may have to pull back on the sugar.

Variation Sour Cocktail: El Floridita

– 2 oz white rum (We like Denizen Aged White Rum)
– ¾ lime juice
– ½ oz grapefruit juice
– ½ oz Maraschino liqueur
– ¼ oz simple syrup (optional)

Place all ingredients into an ice-filled cocktail shaker and shake. Pour and strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with lime wheel.

Unheralded Sour Cocktail Variation: ‘Ti Punch

– 2 oz Rhum Agricole (traditionally white Rhum is used. We like Duquesne Rhum Blanc)
– 1 lime
– 1 tsp cane syrup

In a rocks/old-fashioned glass, add the syrup. Cut a lime into discs so that you get a little of the fruit and the rind. Squeeze the lime into the glass and chunk it in. Add the rhum and stir. This is traditionally served without ice. If you can’t find cane syrup, make a rich demerara syrup instead by taking Turbinado sugar and water using a 2:1 ratio. Please don’t use corn syrup!


Margarita from Cesar in Oakland, CA / Photo Credit: Neil Conway

Traditional Sour Cocktail: Tequila Sour

– 2 oz añejo or extra-añejo tequila (preferably higher than 80 proof). We like Tears of Llorona Extra Añejo.
– 1 oz lemon juice
– ½ oz simple syrup
– 1 dash Angostura bitters
– 1 egg white (optional, but recommended)

Place all ingredients in cocktail shaker and shake without ice first; this is to help emulsify the egg white. Add ice and shake again. Pour and strain into a chilled coupe, if serving “up” or pour into a rocks/old-fashioned glass if serving on the rocks. Garnish with cherry and/or orange slice.

Variation Sour Cocktail: Margarita

– 1 ½ oz blanco tequila (We like Siembra Valles Blanco Tequila)
– ¾ oz freshly-squeezed lime juice
– ½ oz Cointreau
– 1 tsp. Agave syrup

Pour all ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake and strain into a chilled, salt-rimmed glass (optional) You could also have it on the rocks in an old-fashioned glass. Both are delicious.

*A note on the Margarita: If you chose to use Grand Marnier instead of Cointreau, you may consider using a reposado or añejo tequila to match the Grand Ma’s intensity.

Unheralded Sour Cocktail Variation: Division Bell

– 1 oz mezcal joven (We like Del Maguey Vida)
– ¾ oz lime juice
– ¾ oz Aperol (an aperitif orange liqueur)
– ½ oz Maraschino liqueur

Place all ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Pour and strain into a chilled coupe or martini glass. Garnish with a grapefruit twist.

*A note on the Division Bell. This is a cocktail Phil Ward created upon opening his New York City tequila/mezcal bar Mayahuel. It is a variation of the gin cocktail, The Last Word. It has since become one of the new classic cocktails, and after you drink it, you’ll understand why.


Whiskey Sour at the Velvet Tango Room in Cleveland, Ohio / Photo Credit: Edsel Little

Traditional Sour Cocktail: Whiskey Sour

– 2 oz Whiskey (traditionally bourbon or rye, but feel free to use Irish or Scotch) We like Russell Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon
– 1 oz lemon juice
– ½ oz-1 oz simple syrup (equal parts water to sugar)
– 1 egg white (optional)

Shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker without ice first if using egg whites; this is called a “dry shake”. Next, add ice and shake some more. If serving on the rocks, strain and pour into an ice-filled rocks or old-fashioned glass. If serving “up” (without ice) strain and pour into a coupe glass. Garnish with cherry and/or orange slice.

Variation Sour Cocktail: New York Sour

Same as the Whiskey Sour, but carefully add an ounce of red wine to top off the drink. No garnish.

Unheralded Sour Cocktail Variation: Ward 8

– 2 oz rye whiskey (We like Knob Creek Rye)
– ½ oz lemon juice
– ½ oz orange juice
– ¼ oz grenadine

Shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Pour, strain, and serve in a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a cherry and/or orange slice.

A final note on sour variations:

The possibilities are endless and modern-day bartenders are taking full advantage of their customer’s adventurous nature. Want to use yuzu juice in place of your lemon or lime? Go for it. Want to use fresh herbs in your drinks? Make an infused simple syrup with thyme, rosemary, basil, cilantro…the sky’s the limit.

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