This Guide To Sour Cocktails Will Serve You Well This Spring

Pucker up.

sour cocktail guide

Sour doesn’t always need to have a negative connotation, especially when it comes to cocktails. In fact, recently, “sours” have gotten a sweet rebrand when it comes to boozy bevs, and these tipples are majorly trending. Whether you’re a cocktail novice or enthusiast, you’ve probably seen some variation of a sour on a cocktail menu — and you’re about to see more. Sour cocktails are taking U.S. cocktail culture by storm and declaring it to be their era. So, what exactly are they and why are they dominating drink menus and social media?

In the simplest terms, sour cocktails are comprised of a base spirit, citrus juice, sweetener, and most of the time, an egg white for the foamy texture on top. (The egg white is sometimes substituted for aquafaba, the viscous water from chickpeas that mimics egg whites.) But when it comes down to brass tax, Sebastian Tollius, beverage director at Eleven Madison Park says the most important thing about this classic category is that each drink within it lives up to the name. “What defines a sour cocktail is its tartness, which comes from the citrus juice, balanced by the sweetness of the added ingredients,” he says.

One of the reasons sours seem to be everywhere is because they lend themselves to variation with all their ingredients. “The flavor profiles for sour cocktails can be endless,” Tollius explains. “Whiskey is one of the most popular spirits to make a sour with, however, other options including bourbon, gin, and tequila shine as well, each adding a unique depth and complexity to the drink's flavor profile.”


Even the citrus component is versatile. “Typically, lemon or lime juice provides the citrus kick, but you can also experiment with grapefruit, orange, tangerine, or more unusual options such as yuzu,” he continues.

But just because the imagination is encouraged when it comes to creating sour cocktails, doesn’t mean there aren’t any rules. The first is to be mindful of the base spirit you choose because that’s where Tollius says the cocktail gets its personality and cautions that it’s best to avoid spirits that have overpowering flavors. “Spirits like heavily peated scotch or strongly flavored liqueurs may overwhelm the delicate balance of sweet and sour, detracting from the overall enjoyment of the drink,” he says. “Sour cocktails are all about balance.”

Clare Gordon, a northeast regional spirits ambassador for Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits, adds another sour faux pas. Flavored spirits. “Since the sour and sweet ingredients will provide flavor, in addition to the base spirit, adding a peach-flavored vodka, or a strawberry-flavored gin, will take away from the overall taste profile,” she says.

Sour Cocktails Rules Of Thumb

When it comes to grabbing ingredients at the store for your sour cocktail adventure, Gordon has an easy tip for choosing the right bottle for your base spirit, whatever that may be. “Higher-proof spirits tend to be the best for mixing cocktails,” she advises. “I look for the word straight on labels, indicating a minimum of two years of maturation without additives.” Another ingredient she calls “essential” for a sour sip is bitters, because they add complexity and richness to your cocktail. “I also recommend having a sweetener on your bar cart, such as simple syrup, agave nectar, or honey, to balance the citrus flavors,” she adds.

Tollius echoes this last advice. “I highly recommend that at-home enthusiasts make their sweetener elements. Infusing a simple syrup with another flavor can take a cocktail to a whole new level. Using a liqueur or fortified wine as the sweetness in a cocktail is another favorite way to enhance my sour cocktails,” he says.

Liqueurs are another element Gordon agrees about as they serve multiple functions in a sour cocktail. “Liqueurs are also an easy and shelf-stable way to jazz up your sour. I am particularly fond of apricot liqueur with whiskey, as well as amaro. A quarter teaspoon of amaro montenegro can add a world of depth and structure to a simple sour,” she notes.

And of course, who can forget the “sour” part of a sour cocktail? Both experts recommend having fresh ingredients like lemons, limes, and grapefruit on hand.

Lastly, there’s one last tip Tollius has for at-home mixologists to make your drink an enchanting elixir. “At-home enthusiasts can simply follow the ‘golden ratio’ — 2:1:1 — two parts base spirit, one part sweet, and one part sour,” he imparts.

Ahead, expert-approved sour cocktail recipes that will make your lips pucker with passion.

Chestnut Sour


Tollius let imagination take the wheel with this bougie Sour. “The Chestnut cocktail lies more in the classic style of sour which incorporates aquafaba for that frothy texture, here we created a nutty and bitter style cocktail by incorporating chestnut orgeat and adding a touch of sweetness with pale cream sherry,” he says.


  • .25 oz Campari
  • .25 oz Espadin Mezcal
  • .5 oz pale cream sherry
  • .5 oz chestnut orgeat*
  • .5 oz lemon juice
  • 1 oz chicory and chestnut legent bourbon**


Add all the ingredients into a mixing tin and dry shake without ice to aerate and then shake with ice until fully chilled and diluted. Serve over a chilled coupe glass dusted with powdered Campari.

*Roasted Chestnut Orgeat


  • 680g toasted chestnuts
  • 1650g Water


Toast chestnuts for 25 minutes at 450°F. Add water and chestnuts into a container and blend using a hand blender until thoroughly mixed. Wrap the container with plastic wrap and let sit for 3 hours. Strain through a cheesecloth and ensure to squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Weigh out the liquid and divide by 8 and multiply by 7 to get the amount of white sugar to be added. Stir until fully incorporated and dissolved.

**Chicory & Chestnut Infused Legent Bourbon


  • 35g chicory
  • 35g chestnut
  • 750g Legent Bourbon


Add all ingredients to a container and let sit for 24 hours. Strain through a cheesecloth and rebottle.

Rum Dum

Pin Drop Rum

Take your sour and your palate on a journey to the Caribbean with this rum twist on the sour cocktail. The rum and sour flavors shine thanks to simple ingredients that don’t muddle your taste buds. Warning: You won’t be able to have just one!


  • 2 oz Pin Drop Rum
  • 0.75 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 0.75 oz simple syrup
  • 1 raw egg white
  • lemon wedge for garnish
  • bitters for garnish


Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake with ice. Remove the ice and shake one more time to create the foam. Strain into glass over ice. Garnish with lemon wedge and a few drops of bitters on top.

Classic Whiskey Sour


“A classic Whiskey Sour is one of my favorites due to its timeless appeal and the way it lets the whiskey shine,” Gordon says. “It showcases the rich and robust flavors of the whiskey while balancing it with the perfect blend of sweetness and tartness.”


  • 2 oz Redemption Bourbon Whiskey
  • .75 oz parts lemon juice
  • .50 oz parts simple syrup
  • 1 egg white


Combine all ingredients (no ice) in a cocktail shaker and vigorously shake for 30 seconds. Add ice and shake again until well chilled. Strain into a coupe glass.

Scotch & Sour


Scotch gets a sour makeover courtesy of Chambord. The raspberry liqueur brings a sweet smoothness to balance out the sour elements in this toasty cocktail. Perfect for a nightcap or entertaining, this delectable drink is a crowd-pleaser, no matter what size crowd.


  • 1.5 oz Chambord
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • 0.5 oz Benriach Scotch
  • 0.5 oz honey syrup
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
  • egg white


Add all ingredients into a cocktail shaker and dry shake. Add ice and shake again until chilled. Strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with bitters on top.

Ultra Apricot Sour

Tequila Herradura

Tequila and stone fruit bring the sass to this crisp sour. The apricot and lemon juice bring the perfect mixture of sweetness and tang that make this drink a new staple in your cocktail rotation.


  • 2 oz. Tequila Herradura Ultra
  • .5 oz. apricot liqueur
  • .75 oz. fresh lemon juice
  • .75 oz. Monin Ginger Syrup
  • .5 oz. white peach Puree
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1 egg white
  • edible flower petals for garnish


Shake all ingredients together to mix. Shake again with ice to chill. Strain into coupe glass and garnish with edible petals.

Empress Elderflower Sour

Empress 1908

Visually stunning and a treat for the tastebuds. The elderflower gin adds a delicate quality to thins drink as it brings out the bright botanical flavors!


  • 2 oz Empress 1908 Elderflower Rose Gin
  • .75 oz fresh lemon juice
  • .75 oz simple syruo
  • 1 oz egg white (or Aqua Faba)


Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice. Shake and strain to remove ice. Shake again without the ice. Fine strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with rose petals.