Thought to be originally an American cocktail, the Whiskey Sour has been consumed by British Navy officials much before the drink was originally given any name. These officials, while on long sea voyages, could hardly ever source fresh, clean water. Thus, cocktails were conjured to become a substitute of sorts. Sailors would often carry alcohol with them to tide through difficult times at sea. The drinks that remain best at room temperature are whiskey and bourbon and these became the obvious choices.
Citrus fruits like lime and lemon were generously added to the sailors’ drinks to combat scurvy, a disease with which many grappled at the time. The sailors named this concoction the Grog (which may well be one of the root words behind the English word groggy, which means to feel sleepy or tired). Sugar and water (whatever little was available) were added for taste, and the beverage was consumed by all on board.
The Whiskey Sour finds three main mentions in culinary histories. The first one was documented in an 1862 book titled The Bartender’s Guide: How To Mix Drinks, by Jerry Thomas. Thomas’ seminal work with an original recipe for Whiskey Sour remains unchanged across the world to date, maybe just the kind of ice cubes used has undergone some transformation. The second reference to the cocktail appeared in an 1870 edition of a Wisconsin newspaper, the Waukesha Plainsdealer. Yet another account of the genesis of the drink dates back to 1872, when a former ship steward, by the name of Elliot Staub was believed to have ‘invented’ the mixed beverage at a bar in Iquique (in modern-day Peru).
Out of the multiple variants of the beverage, the New York Sour is the most well-known and widely accepted as the closest to the real deal. The New York Sour has gained much popularity owing to its distinct colour profile of a bright red wine atop the light brown of the whiskey concoction underneath. Nowadays, Whiskey Sour makers add egg whites to the drink (a step that is not part of the original recipe) to give it some frothiness. This is called the Boston Sour. This variant is also very well-liked since the pungent hit of the egg white not only undercuts the effects of the whiskey but also lends a creamy aftertaste to the cocktail.