Bartender Re-education: The Sour

Bartender Re-education: The Sour

Spirit + (Lemon or Lime) + Sugar  + Shake + Strain = Sour

I could have stopped there for the fastest blog post ever.  That is just how simple the sour is.  But, my growing disdain for barrel aged cocktails and self-important bartenders (irony and disdain aside, there are exceptions like Jeff Morgenthaler because he is handsome, talented and we can all learn a thing or two from him) has led me to start my bartender re-education program focusing on the basics.

When I’m behind the bar, and I want to show how great a simple drink can be when made correctly, the simple sour is the one I chose to showcase most often.

Slow down nerds, I’m not even talking about egg white in a sour, you can read about that here.  I’m just talking about a 3 part sour, which is the drink that 99% of all guests want when they say,

“Uh, I don’t know, I want something not too sweet. I don’t like things that are too sweet.”

To which I respond,

“Well, most people don’t like the taste of cat piss, should I avoid that too? How about you tell me like what you like instead of what you don’t like?”

Or when I’m in a helpful mood I say,

“No problem.”

Take any base spirit, gin, whiskey or EVEN VODKA and go 2 parts, to one part FRESH SQUEEZED juice to one part SIMPLE SYRUP.  Then SHAKE and STRAIN over FRESH ICE or in a CHILLED GLASS.  This recipe works every time and never fails and I have never had even the slightest criticism such as, “Well, it seems a bit pedestrian but it will suffice.”

As for sour mix, don’t.  Seriously, there is no reason to buy or use a bottle of chemicals and artificial coloring. It’s a highly processed substitute for limes, sugar and water. Limes are fairly easy to squeeze, I’ve been through several thousand in my lifetime and seemed to suffer no ill effects or even “juicer’s arm.”  Simple syrup can basically be made with hot water from the tap with an equal part sugar by volume.  So that is pretty un-excusable to fuck up.

You know, like do it yourself dentistry.

Even better than using a trusty base spirit like gin or whiskey, there is the magic of liqueurs.

“I, Andrew Bohrer, on a weekly basis, make an Amaretto sour for at least one guest in my bar, and they fucking love it.”


The liqueur sour works wonders in the exact same way: 2 parts liqueur to 1 part sour to 1 part simple syrup yields a cocktail balanced for a Cabbage Patch Kid.  My amaretto sour still bowls people over, I’ll add a dash of bitters when I’m feeling fancy (always).  But for less of a Care Bear Stare style sour, try this handy formula:

1 part base spirit-any- maybe GIN

1 part liqueur-any – perhaps MIDORI

1 part sour-lemon or lime- MAYBE BOTH

1 part sweet- SIMPLE SYRUP



Hell, throw a cherry on there.

Q: You know what you got?

A: The crowning achievement of 1980’s mixology, a drink fit for a Kardashian, the stately Midori Sour.

Good move Suntory, if I was going to spend a few million to revive a brand I would have done the same. And thank you Kim Kardashian, maybe we can make this cool again.

Remember the sour.  It will save you.  Even better than remembering the sour, give, “brown bitter and stirred,” a rest for 3 summer months and just give the people and yourself, what we all need: a simple sour.


Order one up this month.

This entry was posted in amaretto, Bartender Re-Education Plan, Cocktails, Eggs, midori. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Bartender Re-education: The Sour

  1. Liberty Bar says:

    “But, my growing disdain for barrel aged cocktails …” That’s recockulous. What’s wrong with barrel-aged cocktails? Why is that any less interesting or innovative than is ice? Ice? Put a piece of really, really cold water that has ceased to be viscous in a glass, pour spirits over… Great. Exciting…

    Want a real reason to find disdain? How about ‘skinny’ drinks? Or, maybe the alcoholism that is rampant in our industry… But – barrel-aged cocktails? You mean taking a cocktail that is already interesting and improving it? Adding a new character to a spirit by putting it into a barrel and allowing the these natural sugars & tannins to affect it in a truly unique, novel & interesting manner? THAT is innovation. THAT is character. But, disdain? Really?

    I’m kinda surprised that you’d say that.

    • caskstrength says:

      There is nothing wrong with barrel aged cocktails, rather there is everything right with them. In that same way there is everything right about innovation. However, too often these days innovation forsakes good foundation. Barrel aged cocktails are only as good or bad as the drink going into the barrel.

      They can sometimes be just like putting a crappy manhattan over a hand carved chunk of ice.

      But good is good an can’t rely on gimmicks.

      And Andrew F, I love l Liberty’s barrel aged cocktails and their vodka sours.

  2. Absolutely. It doesn’t have to be brain surgery when the recipes are so simple and delicious.

    Do you find that lemon or lime juice works best for the Amaretto sour?

    • caskstrength says:

      For me, I like lemon in that one and for most sours. I’m personally more likely to add a splash of lime to the lemon before I go all lime.

      Lime also kind if dominates the, “daisy,” drink family so I prefer to give it a break.

  3. Neil says:

    Reminds me of the time my mom wanted to get all fancy with something other than the Gallo jug wine in the fridge and brought out a packet of powdered Tom Collins mix. Probable exatly the same as the stuff above in a different box. Ah, the 70’s.

  4. Frederic says:

    No adjustment for a liqueur sour (like an Amaretto one) — it’s the same 2:1:1 as a Whiskey Sour? Do you just assume that a person who orders the former wants something sweet?

  5. Al says:

    I tried to participate by ordering a simple whiskey sour at a bar in Berkeley last night but it was a failure. I was ordering from a waiter so that was less than ideal, but i asked for a whiskey sour with just bourbon, lemon juice (no sour mix) and some simple syrup. What I received seemed to be a little bourbon and a lot of lemon juice out of a bottle, with no sweetener. It was not good but I will keep trying.

  6. Pingback: Between the CHEATS (MxMo – LXV: Equal Parts) « Bartending Notes

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