A Whiskey Sour is a relatively straightforward cocktail. It relies on three elements: spirit, citrus and sweetness. But within that simple trio there are endless opportunities for experimentation and innovation. The Gentleman Jack Whiskey Sour Classic invites intrepid bartenders to start exploring those possibilities.
This year’s finalists rose to the challenge. These seven bartenders shared inventive and mouthwatering twists on the classic sour at the finals in Tennessee. Ian McLaughlin of Portland, Ore., was named the winner and earned a free trip to Bar Convent Berlin. But every one of these inspired recipes is worth celebrating.
Winner: Ian McLaughlin
Home bar: Botanist
Hometown: Portland, Ore.
McLaughlin entered the Gentleman Jack Whiskey Sour Classic with the intention of combining his bartending skills with his environmental consciousness. “It takes changes on every level to combat climate change,” he says. “Jack Daniel’s is recycling and reusing 99% of its materials, and I want to do my part, as well. I try to find every way I can recycle and reuse ingredients at my bar. Anytime a product is thrown away, I ask questions about what I can and cannot do with it.”
McLaughlin put that into practice by taking ingredients that would typically be thrown away—unused lime wheels, overflowing beer and more—and adding them to innovative house-made ingredients like strawberry beer syrup and aqua fava (a playful reimagining of aquafaba). These choices are what makes his recipe, the Gentleman and a Scholar, a delicious and eco-friendly twist on the sour.
Winner: Kyle Law
Home bar: Alley Cat Lounge
Hometown: Savannah, Ga.
“I wanted to use Gentleman Jack as a platform to trace the history and evolution of cocktails,” says Law, presenting his St. Catherine’s Sound at the Atlanta regional. “I built a sour as Jerry Thomas instructs in 1862’s ‘How to Mix Drinks,’ with whiskey, juice from half of a small lemon, and powdered sugar dissolved in seltzer. I took a note from Robert Vermiere’s 1922 book, ‘Cocktails: How to Mix Them,’ where he says, ‘A few drops of egg improves all sours.’ I followed the course of cocktail evolution to the 1980s, when sour mix reigned supreme, and continued on to the 1990s, when fresh juice became a staple at serious cocktail bars.”
That’s a lot of history to pack into one recipe, but Law is going to the Tennessee finals because he pulled it off. He starts with Jerry Thomas’ classic sour template and does the rest with a signature milk-washed and acid-adjusted sour mix. He used fresh juice (the 1990s trend) to create a natural sour mix (the 1980s staple) and milk-washed the sour mix to emulate Vermiere’s 1922 tip of adding a few drops of egg to improve a sour. The St. Catherine’s Sound is an amazing drink, which also works as a crash course in cocktail history.
Winner: Erica Long
Home bar: Machine: Engineered Dining & Drinks
“The Whiskey Sour feels like home. It’s where I began my journey to loving whiskey and where I discovered the passion that changed the course of my career and life,” says Long. “I wanted to make a drink that expresses my creativity but first and foremost my love of whiskey and this cocktail.”
Long’s love of the Whiskey Sour was evident in the cocktail she presented at the Chicago regional, the Sunday Morning Sour. She doubled-down on the sour’s silky and creamy texture by complementing the egg white with coconut milk and Tennessee clover honey. It’s a luxurious recipe that amplifies what’s already great about the classic Whiskey Sour.
“Maybe the Sunday Morning Sour can become that home, that passion starter, the place where it all began for someone else someday,” says Long.
Winner: Cesar Perez
Home bar: Whiskey Dicks Las Cruces
Hometown: Las Cruces, N.M.
Perez stood out at the Denver regional by going the extra mile with a couple of house-made ingredients. He created acid-adjusted pineapple juice to give his Tepiatl Sour the perfect amount of citrus. His cinnamon-piloncillo syrup lends his recipe a different kind of sweetness. What really sealed his place in the finals was the way it was tied together thematically.
“It was inspired by the cuisine and culture of the Southwest, specifically the metropolitan area of El Paso, Texas; Las Cruces, N.M.; and Juarez, Mexico,” says Perez. “The cocktail itself is an exercise in blending flavors of the Mexican drink tepache, a fermented and spiced pineapple drink, with its pre-Hispanic ancestor tepiatl, which loosely translates into ‘drink made with corn.’ This recipe is the perfect harmony of the modern and ancestral.”
Winner: Nick Hipwell
Home bar: Electra Cocktail Club
Hometown: Las Vegas
Most Whiskey Sours include egg white, but many of the competitors in the Gentleman Jack Whiskey Sour Classic searched for different ways to give the cocktail that rich, creamy texture. Hipwell introduced the most innovative approach at the Los Angeles regionals.
“I was researching alternative methods for creating the effect that egg white has in cocktails,” says Hipwell. “Greek yogurt was the ingredient that stood out, which inspired me to create a Greek-themed sour, with yogurt and a house-made pistachio syrup.”
In retrospect, it might seem obvious that Greece, a coastal country in the heart of the Mediterranean, could inspire a refreshing spin on the Whiskey Sour. But pairing Gentleman Jack and citrus with Greek yogurt and pistachio syrup was an unexpected choice that paid off.
Winner: Stephen Wood
Home bar: The Pressroom
Hometown: Lancaster, Pa.
Wood used ingredients from around the world to create a Whiskey Sour that showcased his one-of-a-kind style. It’s easy to see why the judges at the New York City regional really enjoyed his Alpenglow Asprow.
“Tennessee whiskey meets a bittersweet, fruity, herbal and slightly smoky amaro from the Italian alps,” says Wood. “The flavor of local Concord grapes from the Northeast U.S. and delicate jasmine flowers pair beautifully with the bright acidity of fresh lemon juice. The result is a Whiskey Sour created in the spirit of exploration.”
Winner: Thomas Upshaw
Home bar: The Jones Assembly
Hometown: Oklahoma City
“I was inspired by my love for anything Tiki and my desire to provide the texture of egg white in a Whiskey Sour without using aquafaba or egg whites,” says Upshaw. “I let the fluffiness of the pineapple and the creaminess of the orgeat take its place.”
It wasn’t just any orgeat that Upshaw brought to the regional event in Oklahoma City and finals in Tennessee. He went to the trouble of toasting the almonds himself and infusing the orgeat with cognac, amaretto and orange blossom water. He mixed that with Gentleman Jack, banana liqueur, and lemon and pineapple juice to create an irresistible spin on the Whiskey Sour, the Rock Da Boat.