Sour Cocktail - How to Make Sour Cocktails

Sour Cocktail

If you want to take your cocktail game to the next level you need to know the sour cocktail. Inside and out. The great thing is that, like most classic cocktail recipes, the sour is pretty simple. Get it right and you have an amazing drink.

A sour cocktail is a blend of spirits, citrus, and sugar. Nothing more, nothing less. The sour is more than a just a simple and delicious cocktail. It is the core of a whole family of cocktails. When you get this formula down, you will know how to make dozens of other drinks.

It’s also a good drink to develop your palate with. The sour is a great drink for learning about balance in cocktails. When you want to experiment with developing your own recipes, it is a great place to start.

The Recipe

The standard sour cocktail recipe is two parts spirit, one part sweet, one part sour. Because you are combining liquids of different densities, spirits, and citrus, you shake the drink with ice. The sour component in the classic recipe is almost always lemon or lime but we’ll explore other ideas for adding acid to your signature sour. The sweet component is usually a simple syrup. While the average person is familiar with a whiskey sour or an amaretto sour, this is a recipe that can be made with almost any base spirit.

The sour cocktail is more than one drink. It’s a family of drinks. You can get an idea of how versatile this cocktail is. The Daisy, the French 75, and the Collins are all classic cocktail recipes that we are going to explore in this series that belong in this family tree. If you have ever had a Gimlet, a Margarita or a Cosmopolitan you’ve had a sour. In this post, we hope to inspire you to create a whole new world of cocktails.

Sour Cocktail

This is the standard sour recipe. The spirit can be any strong spirit (40% ABV or higher). Many bartenders will adjust the lemon/lime juice and simple syrup down to 3/4 ounce each.


  • 2 oz. spirit
  • 1 oz. fresh lemon or lime juice
  • 1 oz. simple syrup 1:1


  1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice.
  2. Add spirit, lemon or lime juice, and simple syrup to shaker.
  3. Shake vigorously for 10-15 seconds.
  4. Fine strain into glass.

Recipe Notes

This recipe is part if the series Seven Classic Cocktail Recipes

The Glass

The classic whiskey sour glass is a stemmed glass wider at the top than the bottom. Usually straight sided and somewhere around four or five ounces. A Daiquiri or a sour that relies uses egg white might get served in a coupe glass. A Gimlet will often get put in a martini glass. Seeing as this is a drink with many variations you’ll see different approaches to barware. Feel free to play around and find what makes your drink look and taste its best.

The Spirit

The base spirit is wide open. Any categories of spirits will work well in a sour cocktail. The main thing is to start with at least half the volume of your cocktail as spirit.

The Sour

A classic sour cocktail relies on lemon or lime juice for its acidity. Orange and grapefruit juice may have great flavor but they are not acidic enough to achieve the balance that this cocktail is famous for. You can add citric acid or acid phosphate if you choose to use a different citrus. You could also try using another acid altogether like a shrub but you have to pay attention to the all-important sugar and acid balance.

The Sweet

Typically this drink is sweetened with a simple syrup. This is one of the easiest places to look for ideas to change things up. Different sugars and flavored syrups can introduce various flavors to your cocktail. The classic Sour cocktail recipe relies on a 1 part water to 1 part sugar simple syrup.

Egg whites

Egg whites are a common addition to many sour cocktails. They are added to enhance the texture and mouth feel of the drink. Properly aerated an egg white will make a nice foam head on your drink. For more information on working with egg white take a look at this post.

The Method

In most cases, you are going to use a standard shake to mix and dilute this cocktail. If you are using egg whites in your drink you will want to shake a little longer and follow up with a dry shake.

The Ice

Considering that the sour is a family of drinks the ice you use will depend on your desired result. Cubed ice is typically used in a whiskey sour or an amaretto sour. Daiquiris and sours served in coupe glasses or with egg white foams are sometimes strained and served without ice. Crushed ice is often used in sours that are lengthened with a carbonated beverage. Use your judgment and experiment.

Classic Variations

Whiskey Sour

The Whiskey Sour is the first drink many people think of when you mention a sour cocktail. This classic Whiskey Sour recipe is a great place to start.

Pisco Sour

The Pisco Sour is another great cocktail that has benefitted from the classic cocktail revival. If you haven’t tried this drink you owe it to yourself to check it out. Take a look at our Pisco Sour recipe.


The Margarita may be the most beloved of all the sour variations. Margarita is Spanish for Daisy and the drink belongs to the Daisy subset of the sour family.

La Floridita Daiquiri

The La Floridita Daiquiri is also known as the Hemingway Daiquiri. A favorite of the famous writer and drinker from the La Florida Bar in Havana Cuba.


The cocktail revival of recent years has renewed interest in the Sidecar. This classic brandy-based cocktail recipe is strong, rich and delicious.

White Lady

The White Lady is a gin based sour cocktail. It is essentially a Sidecar with gin instead of brandy. This drink is also often made with an egg white foam.


Try This


Bitters aren’t commonly used in a sour cocktail, but they can act as a subtle flavor enhancer. One or two drops of angostura in a sour can make everything taste brighter. If you go for a full dash, flavored bitters can take your drink in a new direction.


You can back up your base spirit with another spirit or liqueur. You see this in a margarita where your two ounces of tequila become one and a half ounces of tequila and a half ounce of orange liqueur.


A little bit of spice can transform a drink. It can be as simple as a little salt or black pepper, grated nutmeg or cinnamon. More exotic spices are a great way to take a drink some place new. Saffron, cardamom, Szechuan peppers are all surprising additions to a cocktail.


Experimenting with different flavored syrups is a great way to add a punch of flavor to your drink. You can try making a syrup with different sugars. Demerara, agave, honey, and molasses are great choices. Or, you can make flavored syrups including, elderflower, vanilla, or cardamom.


If you are feeling restricted by the lemon or lime juice you can try switching up the acid, or the sour, in the drink. You could try citric acid or acid phosphate. These acids will allow you to help balance the drink without using lemon or lime juice. You will have to do a little research and experimentation to get the balance right.

Another commonly recommended approach is to use shrubs or drinking vinegar. The problem with shrubs is vinegar is not as acidic as lemon juice. So again, you will have to experiment to get the balance right. The same rule applies to other citrus fruits. Both grapefruit juice and orange juice are considerably less acidic than lemon and lime juice.

This is a part of the series Classic Cocktail Recipes Every Bartender should know. The recipes are a framework for understanding the structure of cocktails. They serve as a great jumping off point for developing new cocktail recipes.

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