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“One of my favorite things about the classics is how infinitely they can be tailored to personal taste,” says Eryn Reece, head bartender at Banzarbar in New York City. When it comes to the Whiskey Sour, there are a few ways you can make it your own: Egg white or no egg white? Cherry or no cherry? Up or on the rocks? And, most importantly, what type of whiskey?
From spicy rye to rounded, vanilla-forward bourbon, the type of whiskey you choose will completely change the flavor profile of the classic cocktail. Looking to tailor your Whiskey Sour according to your whiskey tastes? Look no further than this expert-approved list of the best whiskey brands for Whiskey Sours to get right now.
Best Overall: Elijah Craig Small Batch
Region: Kentucky | ABV: 47% | Tasting Notes: Brown Sugar, Oak, Baking Spices
Rich, spicy, with just a touch of grounding smoke, this crowd-pleasing bourbon stands up to the tangy lemon and sweet simple syrup in a Whiskey Sour. It makes itself known, leaving no doubt about the cocktail’s base spirit.
Reece likes how this bottling makes for a “rustic, traditional version” of the drink. Indeed, a Whiskey Sour made with Elijah Craig is best served casually—in a tumbler over a few chunks of ice or strained into whatever cocktail glass you have handy. This is a cozy, everyday type of Whiskey Sour—and, luckily, the price point on Elijah Craig makes that possible.
Good to Know:
“A Whiskey Sour is meant to be a little sour, says Sam Levy, owner of Fern Bar in Sebastopol, California. "They call it a Whiskey Sweet for a reason; lay off the simple syrup.”
Best Budget: Four Roses Bourbon
Region: Kentucky | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Honey, Pear, Spice
“The best whiskeys for Sours, I believe, have the highest flavor profiles with vanilla, oak, and just enough heat,” says Marc Branden Shelton, founder of LKSD Kitchen and Paper Pizza Co in Downey, California. “I typically use a sweeter, softer bourbon.”
The gentle, fruity flavors of Four Roses perfectly balance out the sharp acidity of lemon juice, making for a Whiskey Sour that’s ideal for beginners or simply those who don’t want too much heat or edge on their cocktail. A Four Roses Whiskey Sour is easy to drink on a hot summer day. Scale up the recipe and make a pitcherful for a party.
Related: The Best Whiskeys
Best Top-Shelf: Nikka Days Whisky
Region: Japan | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Smoke, Pear, Floral
Nikka consistently makes some of the best spirits around and this new offering is no exception. This brightly flavorful Japanese whisky was crafted for everyday drinking—meant to be sipped alone, on the rocks, or in a cocktail. The blended spirit beautifully balances vibrant fruit and floral flavors with hefty smoke. It has weight but won’t overpower the other flavors in a Whiskey Sour.
If you’re a fan of Scotch Sours, give this one a try. A Nikka Days Whiskey Sour is complex and layered and keeps you coming back to discover more. Garnish with a really good quality Luxardo cherry and use the good ice.
Best Bourbon: Old Elk Blended Straight Bourbon
Region: Colorado | ABV: 44% | Tasting Notes: Oak, Orange Zest, Maple
Colorado bourbon? You bet. The state is producing some top-quality bourbons these days, including Old Elk, a rich and smooth spirit that goes heavy on the malt. While it certainly isn’t shy when it comes to proof, this bourbon doesn’t come across hot in a Whiskey Sour. Instead, the extra boost of alcohol helps amplify the sweet, zesty flavors of the bourbon.
“Its proof allows for the flavors of the grain to really shine in this cocktail,” says Mel Maddox, the distillery’s resident bartender. Try making this Whiskey Sour with an egg white for a creamy, frothy cocktail that could pass as dessert.
Best Rye: Rittenhouse
Region: KY | ABV: 50% | Tasting Notes: Cacao, Orange Zest, Spice
One of our top rye whiskeys, Rittenhouse lends its signature spice and heat to a Whiskey Sour. Levy and his bar manager Matt Katzin both like this bottling for its slightly higher proof. Because of that, Levy says, it can “stand up to mixing and the inevitability of being cut with water, citrus, and sugar.”
Essentially, that extra boost of alcohol means you’ll still be able to taste Rittenhouse’s spicy rye flavor once the drink is fully mixed. Drier than the bourbons on this list, those who eschew too much sweetness in their cocktails will love this Sour.
Related: The Best Rye Whiskeys
Best Flavored: Traverse City American Cherry Edition
Region: MI | ABV: 35% | Tasting Notes: Cherry, Cinnamon, Oak
Is the cocktail-soaked cherry your favorite part of a Whiskey Sour? Shake your next cocktail up with this cherry-flavored whiskey from the “Cherry Capital of the World,” Traverse City, Michigan.
Flavored with tart, locally grown Montmorency cherries, it retains its whiskey soul while still showing fruit-forward flavors. Because of this character, it doesn’t get lost in a Whiskey Sour, still adding earthy whiskey notes while layering on extra notes of rich, cherry sweetness. For a true Traverse City Whiskey Sour, garnish with the brand’s own cocktail cherries.
Best Irish: Knappogue Castle 12 Year Single Malt
Region: Ireland | ABV: 43% | Tasting Notes: Vanilla, Apples, Oak
When Reece wants to create an elegant Whiskey Sour, she reaches for this Irish single malt (one of our favorite Irish whiskeys at the moment), which she describes as “nutty and full-bodied.” Aged for 12 years in ex-bourbon barrels, it gains some of bourbon’s signature notes of vanilla and toast, while still holding onto classic Irish whiskey flavors of orchard fruit and honey.
It’s a truly refined whiskey, so it deserves to be served up in a coupe when shaken into a Whiskey Sour. Skip the cherry; this whiskey’s flavors are subtle and you’ll want to put your full attention on how they play with the lemon juice and simple syrup.
Best Tennessee: Jack Daniel’s Gentleman Jack
Region: Tennessee | ABV: 47% | Tasting Notes: Vanilla, Lemon Zest, Rock Candy
Unsure of what kind of Whiskey Sour you really want? Start here. Upon sipping a Whiskey Sour made with Gentleman Jack you’ll say, “Yes, that’s that Whiskey Sour flavor I have been craving.” It’s a relaxed Whiskey Sour with no pretenses.
The whiskey itself is soft and velvety, thanks to two rounds of charcoal filtering, so it makes for an extra-easy-drinking cocktail. Its flavors of lemon and crystalline sugar play beautifully with the actual lemon and sugar in the cocktail, while a touch of smoke shows through just underneath. This is the Whiskey Sour you’ll get out at your neighborhood bar.
Related: The Best Tennessee Whiskeys
Best Canadian: Lot 40 Rye Whisky
Region: Canada | ABV: 43% | Tasting Notes: Spice, Toast, Peach
“People typically reach for an American bourbon for Whiskey Sours—who can blame them? It’s a classic,” says Evelyn Chick, founder of the Stay At Home Cocktail Club. But the self-described “homegrown Canadian” prefers to stick with her roots and opts for Lot 40 in her Whiskey Sours.
“It is pot-stilled and has a fantastic range of notes from stone fruits to baking spices,” she says. A top rye of ours as well, it has bold levels of spice that further brighten the cocktail’s citrusy flavors. Chick likes to shake things up and add a few dashes of bitters (especially when making the Sour with egg white). “It can really change the structure of the cocktail to make for a more interesting sour,” she says, and recommends Bittered Sling’s Clingstone Peach. “It’s really an incredible combination,” she says.
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Justine Sterling is an experienced spirits writer and cocktail recipe developer. She has been writing about the wide world of drinking—from new spirits to cocktail trends to wines and beers—for over a decade.