Spirits, citrus and sugar: the holy trinity that creates one of the oldest drink categories, the sour. While some famous sours get their own titles—the Gimlet, Margarita and Daiquiri for instance—the humble Whiskey Sour has no such special designation. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s any less a delicious or compelling drink than any of its siblings, especially when bartenders take the time to play with it, adding their own spins and takes on the beloved classic.
The Izak, from Massachusetts-based bartender Nick Checchio, enlivens the Whiskey Sour with the addition of some fresh squeezed orange juice, a generous splash of Italian amaro Cynar and, most notably, with spiced notes of cinnamon and dried harissa in a house-made syrup. The result is a nuanced but bracing sipper.
For the booze side of things, Checchio uses Evan Williams White Label bourbon. This affordable whiskey is a favorite of bartenders for its low price tag, good quality and high proof. Checchio also adds some Cynar to the drink, an Italian amaro well-loved for its slightly vegetal, heavily aromatic bittersweet properties. Though famously made with artichokes, it doesn’t actually taste like the vegetable, so don’t let its reputation discourage you from including it in this, or any other, drink.
The crux to the Izak, though, is the house-made harissa syrup, a heady mix of cinnamon, sugar and Izak N.37 from La Boîte, a New York City-based spice shop and blender. The Izak N.37 is a Tunisian spice blend that includes sweet chilies and cumin, so it lacks the traditional burn of harissa powders. If you substitute it with another harissa blend, be prepared for something with more kick. However, the crushed aleppo peppers that rim the glass are definitely hot, so if you’re making this for someone who has a low tolerance for heat, consider skipping this step.
- 1 1/2 ounce Evan Williams White Label bourbon
- 1/4 ounce Cynar 70 amaro
- 1/2 ounce lemon juice
- 1/2 ounce harissa syrup*
- 3/4 ounce orange juice
- Garnish: Crushed aleppo pepper rim
Rim 1/3 of a coupe glass with crushed aleppo pepper.
Add all the ingredients into a shaker with ice, and shake until well-chilled.
Double strain using a hand-held strainer into the prepared coupe.
*Harissa syrup: Toast 20 cinnamon sticks in an oven on medium-high heat for 3-5 minutes or until aromatic. Add 1 quart sugar, 1 quart water and 4 tablespoon La Boîte Izak N.37 harissa-inspired spice blend. Heat until all sugar is dissolved, then remove cinnamon sticks. Let the syrup sit overnight, then strain with cheesecloth and chinoise. Keep refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.