Building Your Home Bar: Whiskey Sour

Each article in this 52-week series will feature one new cocktail and one new alcoholic addition so that, bit by bit, you’ll build out a stellar home bar.

Cocktails are delicious and all, but where does one start? How does one learn to craft the perfect, balanced drink without dropping an entire paycheck on making that delicious cocktail? This is the cocktail conundrum.

And this is the Napa Valley Wine Academy solution. I’m going to ease you into mixology slowly. We will start simple, work to piece together our bar, and learn as we go. Each article in this series—Building Your Home Bar—will feature one new cocktail and one new alcoholic addition. 

Along the way, you’ll slowly pick up mixology techniques, equipment and principles. By the end of the series (will it ever end?!) you’ll have a slew of cocktails to make and riff off, the knowledge to design your own unique cocktails—plus a full bar.

Our approach to keeping this simple means adhering to some simple rules:

  • A maximum of one new alcoholic ingredient per article.
  • Classic cocktails only. We know “classics” are inherently subjective, but we’ve chosen well. 
  • For each article, we’ll include a new, classic recipe, your weekly purchases, preparation instructions, and any new techniques.
  • We’ll keep writing until we’re tired or we hit 52 cocktails (one new cocktail per week for a year).

WEEK 1

Whiskey Sour

We’re going to kick off this series with a Whiskey Sour. There are many reasons to start with this classic cocktail, I’m going to give you six:

  1. No one in their right mind will argue with this: it’s a legitimately classic cocktail. 
  2. It’s a simple cocktail with only one spirit. You can choose between bourbon or rye whiskey for this cocktail; however, for the purpose of this article, bourbon is preferred. 
  3. It’s an introduction to the classic ratio of 2 : 1 : ½ 
    1. 2 parts spirit
    2. 1 part sour
    3. ½ part sweet
  4. You can experiment with this 2:1:½ ratio with other ingredients. It’s a fun way of creating your own unique cocktails!
  5. It’s an easy recipe for you to tweak until it tastes right for you. Too sour? Back off a little on the citrus. Not sweet enough? Try changing the ratio to 2:1:¾. Too boozy? Back off on the bourbon. Experimenting is fun! 
  6. It’s a part of the Sours family, a large group of cocktails which will usually have a star ingredient (in this case, bourbon or rye), with balanced support from sweet and sour additions.

Let’s check it out.

cocktail drink with green background

Vital Info

Family: Sours (Simple)

Recipe:

2 oz (60mL) bourbon or rye whiskey

1 oz (30mL) fresh lemon juice

½ oz (15mL) simple syrup

1 maraschino cherry (garnish)

½ orange wheel (garnish)  

Method: Add liquid ingredients and ice to a shaker and shake. Strain into a cocktail glass (chilled sour glass preferred). Add the garnishes and serve!

Snap a photo, and tag us @napavalleywineacademy with the hashtag #NVWAHomeBar.

Weekly Purchases

Alcoholic Addition:

 Bourbon Whiskey

Contrary to popular belief, Bourbon can be produced anywhere in the United States (not just Kentucky). The raw ingredients are dominated by corn, with supplementary assistance from rye, malted barley and/or wheat. Bourbon is distilled fast to produce a pretty raw spirit; however, this will mellow over several years in heavily toasted oak barrels. This maturation process will dominate the character of the bourbon, and you can expect aromas and flavors of vanilla, caramel, chocolate, honey, and maple. 

Bourbon is key to a lot of cocktails, so this purchase will put you in good stead for your cocktail journey. In fact, you’re likely going to need to purchase more. 

Equipment Additions: 

The Cocktail Shaker

This is one of the more important tools for mixology. It both mixes and rapidly chills a concoction. 

Most people will gravitate to one of these options: 

Cobbler Shaker: this is a three-part shaker, which includes a glass or tin, a straining lid and a cap which sits on top. This is a great shaker to start with as you don’t need to invest in a separate strainer.  

Boston Shaker: this is a two-part shaker that has a mixing glass (usually an American pint glass) and a mixing tin. It’s simpler than the three-part shaker, but it can be a pain to get apart once it has formed a seal. If you go this route, you will want to invest in a strainer (see below).  

Jigger

A jigger is a small measuring device that is used to construct cocktails. They will often have two different-sized cones on each end. Be sure to check the size of the cones. At the very least, they can be helpful in measuring out ratios of cocktails. To ensure accuracy, superior taste, and consistency, we highly suggest this tool.

Strainer

If you’re using a Boston Shaker, purchasing a strainer, such as a Hawthorne strainer will save you a lot of stress and sticky mess. The strainer will merely help you separate liquids from solids. It’s an innocuous but important step for many cocktails. 

Preparation

Prepare the Ice:

If you have an ice machine in your fridge, you’re golden!

If not, some ice trays you fill the day before will do the trick. Alternatively, if you’re holding a party or festival, consider purchasing pre-made ice from your favorite ice vendor.

Prepare the simple syrup:

Simple syrup (sugar syrup) is an important ingredient in many cocktails. Not only will it add sweetness to the cocktail, but it will provide balance to the cocktail. 

Simple syrup can be purchased. However, it’s cheap and easy to make yourself.

Bring 1 cup of water to the boil, then add 1 cup of sugar. Stir until it dissolves (apply more heat if not dissolving). This should yield about 1.5 cups of simple syrup. This recipe can be scaled up or down.

Prepare the Garnishes:

Many view garnishes as optional, but they will add flair, pizazz, fun, and a little flavor to your cocktail. For this week’s cocktail, you will need 

  • 1 maraschino cherry (preferably a quality brand like Luxardo – always avoid ice cream grade Maraschino cherries) 
  • ½ an orange wheel, which you can fit on the glass (see picture below)

Technique to Learn: Shaking & Straining

Shaking:

Unlike crawling and walking, it is possible to shake before you stir. 

Shaking serves several purposes. Firstly, it chills the liquid, melting the ice and bringing the cocktail down to freezing temperature. Second, the aforementioned melting of the ice, a dilution of sorts, is an important ingredient of most cocktails – recipes are designed to factor in this dilution – it’s important! Finally, the shaking will help to blend the ingredients together. 

Now, stirring will do all of this, but not as quickly and not as forcefully. In fact, the forcefulness will come to the forefront in future recipes where emulsification is necessary. In addition, shaking will introduce bubbles which will impact the texture. 

It will take 10 – 15 seconds of vigorous shaking to bring the cocktail to temperature. So, fill your shaker ⅔ full with ice, add ingredients in the order provided, then shake. 

There are various techniques that mixologists use to shake drinks. However, we like to keep it simple, so whatever feels comfortable for you should be the technique you start with. Remember, you will want to ensure you have a watertight seal and that the shaker opening is not pointed at anyone (no one wants a cocktail in the face).

Straining:

Staining simply separates the liquid from any solid ingredients, typically ice. 

Your straining technique will depend on the type of cocktail shaker you are using. 

If using the Cobbler Shaker (three-piece shaker), your straining device is already built in! Simply shake your cocktail, remove the small lid, and invert to drain your cocktail into a glass. 

If using the Boston Shaker (two-part shaker), also leverage a ‘Hawthorne’ strainer. These strainers will fit atop your cocktail shaker. Simply hold it in place when you invert your shaker and the drink will strain through the strainer.

Want to continue learning about classic cocktails? The next articles in this series will be NVWA Membership exclusives, so sign up so you won’t miss them!

Cocktails thus far

  • Week 1: Whiskey Sour

Reference List:

  • Understanding spirits: Explaining style and quality. WSET Level 3 Award in Spirits Textbook
  • The Joy of Mixology (2018) by Gary Regan
  • The New Craft of the Cocktail (2020) by Dale DeGroff
  • The Oxford Companion to Spirits & Cocktail (2022) edited by David Wondrich & Noah Rothbaum

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