Behind the Bar Stick People

3 Cocktail Masters Share the Secrets to an Exceptional Whiskey Sour

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Dale DeGroff, Eric “ET” Tecosky and Shel Bourdon, clockwise from left, know what it takes to make an incredible Whiskey Sour.

A Whiskey Sour can tell you a lot about a bartender’s style and skills. The classic cocktail is a great template for adding personal flourishes, and it’s tricky enough to separate the pros from the amateurs.

The Gentleman Jack Whiskey Sour Classic has the perfect judges to find the most innovative and delicious twists on the classic sour. Shel Bourdon, Dale DeGroff and Eric “ET” Tecosky have decades of experience at some of the best bars in the world.

During their remarkable careers, this trio of cocktail luminaries has enjoyed a variety of transcendent takes on the classic recipe. They’ve also seen all the ways bartenders have gone wrong when preparing a sour. Before you submit a recipe for a chance to win a trip to Bar Convent Berlin, take some advice from the people who will be judging it.

Meet the judges of the Gentleman Jack Whiskey Sour Classic. And discover what they’re looking for in an original Whiskey Sour.

  • Shel Bourdon

    Bourdon is the national director of bars for Thompson and JDV Hotels. Part of her responsibility is making sure the bartenders at every property can make an excellent version of every classic cocktail.

    So what’s most important to the Whiskey Sour? “Balance and acidity,” says Bourdon. “The whiskey should shine through, without the egg overpowering the drink.”

    Incorporating the egg white is the most treacherous part of making a Whiskey Sour. But Bourdon has a simple way to avoid letting the egg white dominate your sour: Add an aromatic garnish so the egg isn’t the first thing someone smells when taking a sip.

    Bourdon also talks about the importance of creating a recipe that emphasizes your strengths behind the bar. That’s the surest way to stand out in the Gentleman Jack Whiskey Sour Classic.

    “It’s obvious when a bartender is trying a technique they wouldn't regularly use in everyday service,” says Bourbon. “Practice and present a drink that represents who you are and where you came from and shows thoughtful inspiration.”

  • Dale DeGroff

    DeGroff set off a cocktail revival during the ’80s at the iconic Rainbow Room in New York City. Since then, he has won two James Beard Awards for wine and spirits professional and written two acclaimed and popular cocktail books: “The Essential Cocktail” and “The Craft of the Cocktail.” DeGroff has certainly earned his nickname, King Cocktail.

    His inventive and playful approach to the Whiskey Sour—and many more classics—helped him reinvent the bartending profession. It’s something every competitor in the Gentleman Jack Whiskey Sour Classic should emulate.

    “Once you’ve laid down the basic architecture, the sky's the limit,” says DeGroff. “You can finish it with smoke—add smoky mezcal or single-malt scotch. Try a different sweetener, like a touch of maple or an infused simple syrup.”

    DeGroff’s point is that every element of the Whiskey Sour is an opportunity to add personality and flavor. You just need to articulate how an unconventional choice elevates the classic Whiskey Sour.

    “You don’t have to stick with the classic formula, but use your words,” says DeGroff. “Tell me why you did what you did.”

  • Eric “ET” Tecosky

    Tecosky has done pretty much everything in the bar business. He has mixed drinks at famous Los Angeles bars, served as bar manager at Jones Hollywood and released a line of premium bottled olive juice—perfect for Dirty Martinis—called Dirty Sue.

    But it’s his position as U.S. brand ambassador for Jack Daniel’s that gives him unique insight into what Gentleman Jack can add to a Whiskey Sour.

    “Starting with Gentleman Jack gives a bartender a giant step in the right direction when it comes to quality and flavor,” says Tecosky. “The double-charcoal-mellowing process results in smoother, lighter, slightly sweeter whiskey. In cocktails, Gentleman Jack is a team player and allows all the flavors in a cocktail to be represented and not overpowered.”

    Even with the smooth presence of Gentleman Jack, you need to be careful not to lose the balance of your cocktail. “In its simplest form, the Whiskey Sour is not a complicated cocktail, but if one ingredient is off, even a little bit, it can throw the whole thing out of balance,” says Tecosky.

    Think you’re ready to impress these judges with a Whiskey Sour? Share your most innovative and delicious recipe for a chance to win a trip to Bar Convent Berlin.