The 5 Best Whiskeys for Whiskey Sours

Updated 09/15/19
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A round copper bar tray with a whiskey sour and a grapefruit slice with rosemary garnish in a pretty lowball glass.
Jennifer Pallian/Unsplash

Sours, or citrus-based cocktails, are among the most classic cocktails—and the whiskey sour is no exception. In fact, its first recipe dates back more than 150 years. Since then, the whiskey sour has consistently contained just three core ingredients—whiskey, citrus, and sugar—but its contents still continue to evolve. Although bourbon is cited in most original recipes, some popular twists include rye whiskey (even the first recorded recipe lists it as an alternative) and even scotch.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of personal taste: Maybe you enjoy sweet and spicy flavors or are really into nonconformist notes, such as black tea and vanilla. Here, we unpack the refreshing tipple that is the whiskey sour. Peruse the five of the best bourbons to mix into whiskey sours (across a range of flavor profiles), eight products to help you serve in style, and exactly what's needed to make a whiskey sour that rivals any top mixologist.

A Touch of Citrus

A glass bottle of Buffalo Trace Bourbon with a green top.
Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon $23
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Because it contains a hint of citrus (with candied-toffee notes), Buffalo Trace is one of the best bourbons to compliment a whiskey sour. Whether you choose to use a raw egg white, no matter. This classic bourbon holds up regardless. But Karen Fu, beverage director of Donna Cocktail Club, a bar in Brooklyn, New York, makes a convincing case for the oft-optional ingredient. She says that adding the egg white is “a good way to experience the texture, foam, and mouthfeel that sours call for.”

A set of four square linen cocktail napkins with a crown stitched into the corner of each one.
Sferra Royalty Cocktail Napkins $44
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Smooth and Sweet

A glass bottle of Templeton Rye Whiskey with a brown label and cork top.
Templeton Rye $28
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While most traditional whiskey sours are crafted with bourbon, rye whiskey is increasingly becoming a favorite among mixologists and bar-goers. As one of the smoothest ryes on the market, Templeton is a brand that showcases the spirit's natural sweetness but is spicy and earthy enough to counterpoint the sugar and lemon.

A pair of lead crystal double old fashioned glasses on square marble coasters.
Waterford Aras Set of 2 Double Old Fashioned Glasses with Coasters $175
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The Purist's Go-To

A bottle of Basil Hayden's Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
Basil Hayden's Kentucky Straight Bourbon $39
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Steeped in over 200 years of tradition (and as complex as it is presentable), Basil Hayden's is an ideal choice for whiskey purists. This go-to bourbon carries subtle notes of black tea and peppermint and is ideal for crafting a refreshing and sophisticated whiskey sour.

Four lowball glasses with a glass decanter filled with whiskey.
Cathy's Concepts Tipsy Whiskey 5-Piece Decanter Set $105
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Smokey and Sultry

A bottle of Glenfiddich 14-Year Bourbon Barrel Reserve with a blue label and top.
Glenfiddich Single Malt Scotch $45
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For those unafraid to stray off the beaten path, a scotch-based whiskey sour is well worth a try. Highlighting the smokiness of scotch as well as the oak, vanilla, and honeyed finish of bourbon, this surprisingly well-priced scotch creates a rich, earthy whiskey sour.

A copper double-sided 50ML jigger.
Treasure & Bond Copper Plate Jigger $7
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Crisp and Spicey

A bottle of Four Roses Bourbon with yellow labeling.
Four Roses Bourbon $18
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Four Roses has long been one of the most versatile bourbons for mixed cocktails; it's no surprise that it’s also one of the best whiskeys for making whiskey sours. This dependable workhorse is smooth and spicy with a bit of a bite.

On a budget? Four Roses bourbon whiskey is a respectable, affordable spirit found on the shelves of most package stores.

How to Make a Whiskey Sour

Ingredients:

2 oz. bourbon
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
3/4 oz. simple syrup (or 1 tsp. fine sugar)
1 egg white (optional)

Method:

  1. Add bourbon, lemon juice, egg white (optional), and simple syrup to a cocktail shaker.
  2. Cover, and shake for 10 seconds.
  3. Add ice and shake until the shaker gets super-cold, or for about 20 seconds.
  4. Strain cocktail through a Hawthorne strainer, and then, through a fine-mesh strainer into a coupe, an old-fashioned, or rocks glass filled with ice.
  5. Feeling fancy? Garnish with an orange slice and maraschino cherry.

Ready to Outfit the Bar?

Don't even think about mixing the best whiskey sour this side of Kentucky without the proper accouterments. Serve guests stylishly with these four bar essentials that help highlight your crack bartending skills.

A wooden bar cart on casters in the midcentury style.
World Market Walnut Mid Century Bar Cart $200
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A set of four gold-tone ridged square coasters.
Souda Set of 4 Fin Coasters $65
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A sleek stainless steel cocktail shaker.
Alessi Cocktail Shaker $130
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A rack holding gold-tone bar tools with a marble base and two cocktails beside it.
Williams-Sonoma Gold Bar Tools Set $80
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