Cocktail Sour – The Building Block of Every Cocktail

Well, the Cocktail Sour might not be the building block of every cocktail… but it’s pretty damn close.

If you’ve been drinking more more than a year, you’ve had a sour before. Say, you’ve had a Margarita, a Daiquiri, a Mojito, or a Gimlet… then you’ve had a Cocktail Sour. If you’ve had any cocktails at all, it’s very likely that it’s base was a sour. It’s the simplest recipe in the world, it makes incredible drinks, and it’s easy to add a little *pizzazz* to create a really impressive (but easy) cocktail.

“The Cocktail Sour Formula”

2 oz Spirit of your Choice
1 oz Sweetener of your Choice
1 oz Acid of your Choice

As you can see, that’s not much to work with. I’ts also incredibly easy to make and easy to manipulate. Most of the truly good recipes that you’ve been using will follow this same pattern:

2 oz Tequila
1 oz Agave Nectar
1 oz Lime Juice
2 oz Rum
1 oz Simple Syrup
1 oz Lime Juice
2 oz Brandy
1 oz Cointreau
1 oz Lemon Juice
Lemon Drop
2 oz Vodka
1 oz Simple Syrup
1 oz Lemon Juice
Whiskey Sour
2 oz Whiskey
1 oz Simple Syrup
1 oz Lemon Juice
2 oz Gin
1 oz Simple Syrup
1 oz Lime Juice

There you have it, my secret recipes. Some people are gong to look at this and say “but wait, there should be egg white in a whiskey sour!” Perhaps they might say a Margarita should have bitters and Orange Liqueur and God only knows what they might think should be in a proper Daiquiri.

Don’t make it complicated for no reason

Some of these are perfectly good points, but they only serve to make cocktail making a more exclusive club. You might not have three different kinds of orange liqueurs to choose from, but you almost certainly have sugar on hand. You might not feel comfortable with raw egg white in your drink, but should that mean you never get to experience a whiskey sour? I should think not.

Some of the recipes I’ve listed above are not going to align with the ABA Official Recipes and I stand behind them anyways because they are SIMPLE. They are FAST. With a halfway decent home bar you can make ALL of them in your own home; and finally, I stand behind them for one real reason: I get asked for my recipes ALL THE TIME. People are constantly asking what makes my lemon drop so good and are shocked when I give them a recipe with half the ingredients as another bars. Complicated doesn’t always mean better, and when it comes to cocktails. I believe it usually means a little bit worse.

Adding Pizzazz to a Cocktail Sour

That’s not to say of course that you shouldn’t jazz you drinks up a bit! If you check out my post on Lemon Drops you will find that I have lots of ways of jazzing up that drink that are simple and effective. Much of what I describe here will be the same advice.

Flavor the Liquor

This is probably my personal favorite way to add something special to a cocktail sour. A Cinnamon Whiskey or Orange Clove Rum will create a whole new experience with very little effort. I especially like this route when planning for a large party or a specialty cocktail. It shifts all the work to pre-party so you can relax and let your inexperienced guests make their own cocktails without compromising quality.

Change the Sweetener

Another fast, easy way to add a whole new element to your Cocktail Sour is to change which sweetener you use. In the examples above you can see that we used Agave Syrup in the Margarita and Cointreau in the Sidecar. Agave is a common substitute (at least here in the southwest) since it tastes sweeter as it gets colder (a rare thing) which makes is perfect for drinks made to be served extremely cold or even frozen.

Cointreau is one of many popular Liqueurs that will enhance your flavor along with your alcohol content. I’ve listed some of the most popular major brands below, but it doesn’t hurt to head down to your local liquor store and look for things that jump out at you. I tend to keep to more fruit or citrus-based liqueurs since I know I will use them eventually. The herbal stuff is usually going to be more for one specific drink that I happen to be craving and may stay on my shelf for a lot longer.

Common Liqueurs

Creme De Muir – Blackberry Benedictine -Herb Amaretto- Nut
Drambuie -Herb & Honey Heering – CherryCointreau – Orange
Creme de Cacao – chocolateCuracao -Orange Chartreuse – Herb
Grand Marnier – OrangeKahlua – CoffeeMaraschino – Cherry
Tia Maria- CoffeeeGallano – HerbStrega – Herb

Hopefully this gives you a little peek at how fancy names and liqueurs can cover the simplicity of a cocktails build. I might call a cocktail “The High Garden: Crystal Skull Vodka, Green Chartreuse, Creme De Muir, fresh Lemon” and make it sound so intimidating. In reality, I’ve taken my basic recipe (2:1:1) and applied a very expensive vodka, and split the Ounce of sugar between two fancy sounding liqueurs. The basic principle remains the same, but we’ve taken a $7 drink and turned it into a $15 drink by adding $1 worth of fancy sounding ingredients.

Add a flower? $20.

Flavored Simple Syrups

Also, consider buying or Making flavored simple syrups to really take your cocktail to the next level. It is super easy and captures the fresh flavor of fruits and veggies better than just adding them to your cocktail. I especially like this method for fruit based flavors (peach, strawberry, blackberry, etc.)

A Note About the Sour

There’s not much you can do to mix it up on the sour front but it’s important to keep in mind a few things. Your three major sources of sour will be Lemons, Limes, and Oranges. Some people are Lemon Poeple. I’m one of those. I’ll take lemons over limes in every drink, every time. Some people are Lime people. They like the intensity, the overwhelming sourness of it all. Some people find them both a little to much and might be more interested in orange juice.

If you are making a drink for yourself, use whichever one you want. If you are making a drink for a party, consider sticking to the accepted guidelines (Margarita with lime, Sidecar with lemon). As a general rule of thumb, I stick to the following:

Vodka: Lemon or Lime
Gin: Lime
Whiskey: Lemon
Rum: Lime
Tequila: Lime
Brandy: Lemon

Taking it Beyond the Sour

Some people might argue that my example above is definitely already beyond the sour but that’s alright. I’m not really here to argue semantics, but rather to show you how easy it can be to make new and exciting cocktails. To me, taking cocktails one step beyond the sour is when you add anything that IS NOT liquor, sour, or sugar. This could be bitters, mint, soda, basil, rosemary, wine, or a variety of fruit juices.

The Mojito is probably the best example of this in that it is, in essence, a daiquiri with mint and soda water. A South-side Cocktail is a Gin sour (with lemon) with mint and soda water. The French 75 is another Gin Sour topped with Champagne.

Once you realize the incredible versatility of the sour and its capacity to produce new cocktails, it’s just as easy to break down many classic cocktails into _______ sour + _______. If only from the bartenders perspective, this is an incredibly useful way of thinking. There are approximately 80 IBA official cocktails and 35 of them are outright plain sours or are a variation built upon the sour base. Just think, that gives you a little over 40% of the ‘official best cocktails in the world’ that are just ____ but with ____. That makes it look a lot less intimidating doesn’t it?

Cucumber Mojito: Sounds fancy. Is fancy. Is also easy.

Sours and Sour+

AviationBacardiBetween the
Clover ClubDaiquiriGin FizzJohn Collins
Mary PickfordMonkey GlandParadisePlanters
Ramos Gin FizzSaeracSidecarWhiskey
White LadyCaipirinhaCosmopolitanFrench 75
Hemingway SpecialLong Island
Iced Tea
Mai TaiMojitoSex on the BeachBaracuda
BranbleFrench MartiniKamikazeLemon Drop
Pisco SourRussian Spring PunchYellow Bird

I hope this has been useful and I look forward to hearing what incredible cocktails you might dream up now that you have the secret formula! Leave pictures and ideas in the comments!

Published by Spirit Sirens

Head Mixologist and Class Coordinator at Lucidi Distilling Co. in Old Town Peoria, Arizona. In my free time I eat good foods, drink good drinks and make mead with my brother. Soon to be on YouTube with Lucidi Distilling Co. making drinks and talking history and under Spirit Sirens, where myself and my partner Mariah talk about women in the alcohol industry and our experiences!

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