The Sour

After a brief interruption, we’re returning to our back-to-basics series we started with The Cocktail and The Martini. This week’s drink is the Sour – possibly the biggest and most versatile family of cocktails out there. Every Sidecar, every White Lady, every Pisco Sour is a variation on the simple, delicious theme of spirits, sugar, citrus and ice. Figure out the right balance for just one, and you’re on your way to mastering them all.– Andrew



Illustration by Shauna Lynn for Oh So Beautiful Paper

The Sour

2 Parts Spirits
1 Part Citrus Juice
1 Part Sugar

Combine everything with lots of ice. Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass and enjoy.

This recipe is a suggestion, not a rule. Spirits, citrus, sweetener, and, most importantly, the ratios are all up for grabs. You can pick any spirit you like and match it with a citrus. Rum pairs so perfectly with lime and whiskey with lemon that you’d think those fruits were created for the special purpose of tarting up your liquor, but those are guidelines: think whiskey and grapefruit juice for a Brown Derby. Gin seems to love any citrus you can throw at it. The only real rule here is: the fresher the citrus juice, the better your cocktail will taste.


Above, I listed sugar as the Sour’s sweetener, but that’s another suggestion. You can sweeten a Sour with actual sugar – preferably super-fine – or simple syrup, which blends more easily. Or a liqueur, as with the Sidecar or the Margarita or the Aviation or the unfortunately named Corpse Reviver #2. Or another syrup, like grenadine, as with the Jack Rose. You’ve got options.

Ok, so: you’ve got your spirits and your fresh citrus and your sweetener of choice. All that’s left is figuring out your preferred ratios. This is critical! Too much citrus and you could have a nearly undrinkable tart mess. Too much sweetener and you have a candy-saccharine disaster. There’s no magic solution, and the best ratio is the one that tastes best to you. My ratio above might be too sweet or too tart for you. David Embury’s mid-century classic The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks suggests a ratio of 2 parts spirits to just 1/2 part sour and 1/8 sweet – which means my grandparents were drinking Sours that were tarter than I could stand. But maybe you would love it. Experiment until you find what you love.


Your ratio will also depend in part on your sweetener. Agave syrup, perfect for tequila and mezcal sours, is enormously sweet and can be used sparingly. A liqueur like Cointreau will be drier, while grenadine will carry a bit of tartness of its own. Your ratio will also depend on your spirit. A sweeter spirit, like a brandy or a bourbon, might need a bit less sugar. Or maybe you have a particularly quality spirit – maybe a single malt whiskey you want to showcase – for which you’d lower both the citrus and sweetener to half an ounce each or less.


Ok, all that said, here’s my favorite (as seen in Nole’s beautiful photos): the Daiquiri. 2 oz rum (aged or clear) with 1 oz lime juice (freshly squeezed) and 1 oz simple syrup. Shaken with ice and strained. Simple. Perfection.

Don’t forget to let us know if you try any of our recipes. And if you do make one at home, you can use #osbphappyhour to share photos of these (or your own creations) on Instagram.

Photo Credits: Nole Garey for Oh So Beautiful Paper

  1. For some reason I almost never reply to your beautiful posts here, but I just wanted you to know that I love what you do. While I’m a typography, graphic design, calligraphy and letterpress fanatic, I especially love getting your Happy Hour posts! It’s such a fun subject with history, art, science, culture, and celebration all wrapped up together.
    I appreciate all your in-depth knowledge, doing the research for me and sharing it with us here; as I find it all so fascinating but didn’t grow up with much ‘formal education’ on the matter. And it’s nice to have some insight on ‘the finer things’ handed to you in easy-to-glean articles, always so beautifully presented too.
    So thank you, and please continue your lovely works here! They don’t go unnoticed.

    • Krystal, thanks so much for posting such a sweet note. I’m always happy to hear that Nole’s readers enjoy our cocktail posts. I didn’t grow up with any formal education on drinks either, and am definitely more of an enthusiastic amateur than an expert. (I think most people these days are in the same boat.) Please let us know if you ever try any of our recipes!

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