12 Best Whiskey for Whiskey Sour

By Timo Torner / Last updated on May 9, 2023

A well-executed Whiskey Sour has just enough simple syrup to counteract the zing from fresh lemon juice. But the whiskey is what makes or breaks this cocktail, and we'll show you the best bottles available.
Best Whiskey for Whiskey Sour

The Whiskey Sour is a classic from the sour cocktails category. All cocktails for this category share the same basic template: A spirit base mixed with fresh lemon or lime juice and simple syrup. 

Summary Top Whiskey in Whiskey Sour:

  • Best Bourbon: Woodford Reserve Bourbon
  • Best Rye: Bulleit Rye Whiskey
  • Best Scotch: Talisker 10-Year
  • Best Irish: Teeling Small Batch

The beauty of the drink is, that you can tailor it to your liking by picking a whiskey that suits your taste. By choosing the right one, you can lift this cocktail from good to outstanding. 

We put together this list of the best whiskeys for Whiskey Sour, including recommendations for whom they are suited best, to help you make your next Sour cocktail perfect. 

12 Best Whiskeys for Whiskey Sour Cocktails

Most Whiskey Sour recipes use bourbon as base spirit. However, we also included some excellent rye whiskey, Irish whiskeys, and even Scotch that work great in the cocktail.

1. Woodford Reserve Bourbon

Woodford Reserve Bourbon bottle
  • Type: Bourbon
  • ABV: 45.2%
  • From: Kentucky, USA
  • Average Price: $38

Woodford's Reserve Bourbon is the first and truly a great fit. This bourbon is so smooth and rich that it works perfectly in many cocktails.

The taste is relatively mild and not too overpowering. That makes it a perfect base for an elegant and perfectly-balanced Whiskey Sour.

Woodford Reserve is a standard medium-bodied whiskey with vanilla and honey notes. When sipped neat, it might be a bit too weak. Yet, it is that mildness that complements the other components of your Whiskey Sour so well.

Its sweet notes match perfectly with the acidity of lemon juice and create a rich and tasty cocktail.

2. Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon

Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon
  • Type: Bourbon
  • ABV: 47%
  • From: Kentucky, USA
  • Average Price: $32

Elijah Craig Small Batch is the second bourbon on our list but results in a very different drink. In contrast to the mild and balanced Woodford Reserve, this bourbon is rich with cinnamon and wood spice notes. It also has the distinct sweetness the corn-spirit is known for, yet it's not overly pronounced.

Elijah Craig is bottled at 47% ABV and has an excellent balance of flavors and aromas. The bold flavor profile ensures you can still taste the base spirit even when used in a Whiskey Sour. Plus, the balance here is so good that you can easily forget it clocks in at a whopping 94 proof.

I recommend using an egg white when opting for this whiskey for your base. That will help balance the different flavors by adding creaminess to your cocktail.

3. Eagle Rare Bourbon

Eagle Rare Bourbon
  • Type: Bourbon
  • ABV: 45%
  • From: Kentucky, USA
  • Average Price: $73

Eagle Rare Bourbon is distilled at the Buffalo Trace Distillery. The name might ring a bell with Bourbon lovers because Buffalo Trace produces some of the top Bourbons, such as Blanton's.

Eagle Rare itself is super smooth and carefully crafted. When drunk neat, you can detect flavors like coffee, leather, and underlying hints of oak.

Eagle Rare is perfect for a Whiskey Sour as it combines the strengths of the above two Bourbons.

It is mild, well-balanced, and mixes perfectly with lemon juice and syrup. But it's also strong enough in taste to cut through the acidity of the lemon and stand out.

4. Bulleit Rye Whiskey

Bulleit Rye Whiskey
  • Type: Rye
  • ABV: 45%
  • From: Indiana, USA
  • Average Price: $30

Bulleit is better known for their bourbon expression produced at its facilities in Kentucky. However, their rye whiskey makes for an excellent Whiskey Sour and deserves a place on this list.

They outsourced the production for their Rye to MGP (Midwest Grain Products) in Indiana, which seems to work brilliantly for them. Bulleit Rye Whiskey is a beautiful spirit that works great in cocktails.

Aged for a minimum of five years, Bulleit Rye carries hints of vanilla, citrus, and oak. It is a milder and sweeter take on rye whiskey, making it approachable to non-Rye drinkers.

When used in a Sour Cocktail, Bulleit Rye is between bourbon and classic rye. Give this unusual base spirit a try, and you'll most certainly be positively surprised by its compatibility with cocktails. -Consider adding a tad less syrup to your Whiskey Sour than you normally would.

5. Rittenhouse Rye

Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey
  • Type: Rye
  • ABV: 50%
  • From: Kentucky, USA
  • Average Price: $28

Rittenhouse Rye is a product of Heaven Hill. -The company behind Elijah Craig Bourbon and Evan Williams.
Despite its low price point, Rittenhouse is a favorite among Rye lovers. The high ABV combined with the beautiful spice makes Rittenhouse one of the best Rye options for a Whiskey Sour.

Its intense notes of caramel and cocoa blend well with spices like cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg. This boozy rye whiskey is strong enough to remain the undisputed star of the show when mixed with lemon juice and syrup.

This rye is a beautiful choice for anyone who loves their Whiskey Sour more on the dry side.

6. Wild Turkey 101 Rye

Wild Turkey 101 Rye
  • Type of Whiskey: Rye
  • ABV: 50.5%
  • From: Kentucky, USA
  • Average Price: $25

Wild Turkey 101 is another high-ABV Rye from Kentucky. Like Rittenhouse, Wild Turkey is a pretty spicy representative of its kind - even a little spicier, in fact.

The taste of Wild Turkey 101 is bold, with pronounced notes of rye and wood spice. The hint of smoke and an overall warmth tame the bite of this intense rye whiskey.

In a Whiskey Sour, the spiciness of this rye stands up strong against the acidic lemon juice and sweet sugar syrup. The result is a smooth, distinct cocktail with quite a bite.

It is a perfect choice if you want to make a spicier Whiskey Sour, but not so great if you prefer the drinks on the sweeter side.

7. Nikka Days

Nikka Days Whisky
  • Type: Blended
  • ABV: 40%
  • From: Japan
  • Average Price: $57

Nikka is one of the most influential whisky producers in Japan, with a long tradition of producing exquisite whiskies.

Nikka Days also knows how to impress discerned whiskies drinkers. The whisky has a bright, floral, and fruity flavor profile combined with a surprisingly high level of smoke.

Nikka Days is a smooth and creamy spirit, perfect for sipping neat or on the rocks. But when used in cocktails, it shows its full potential.

For all fans of smokey drinks, Nikka is an excellent base in a Whiskey Sour recipe. -Even though it's not from Scotland.

8. Talisker 10-Year

Talisker 10 Scotch Whisky
  • Type: Single Malt Scotch
  • ABV: 45.8%
  • From: Scotland
  • Average Price: $69

Talisker 10 Years is a Single Malt distilled by the oldest distillery on the Isle of Skye, producing maritime and powerful Single Malt Scotch Whisky since 1830.

Every sip takes you to this remote island. Already in the nose, you can smell the saltiness from the sea. The complex taste, peat-smoke flavor, and peppery finish make Talisker a favorite of many discerned Scotch drinkers.

Typically, Talisker Single Malt mixes exceptionally well with strong black coffee and ginger. But it is also a brilliant choice for a Whisky Sour. It creates a quite complex take on the cocktail with many unusual nuances for this drink.

Try to make it with 1.5 oz of Talisker, 0,75 oz lime juice, 0.5 oz simple syrup, and two dashes of aromatic cocktail bitters. The addition of bitters adds a little complexity which also helps to bring out the distinct flavors of the whisky in this cocktail.

9. Dewar's 12-Year Scotch Whisky

Dewar's 12 year old Scotch
  • Type: Blended Scotch
  • ABV: 40%
  • From: Scotland
  • Average Price: $28

Dewar's is the most awarded blended Scotch in the world. It won more than 500 awards, far more than any other.

Dewar's 12-Year-Old Blended Scotch Whisky is double-aged to ensure its extra smooth consistency. The level of dedication doesn't go unnoticed and convinced even the British royal family. Since 1893, Dewar's has been the royal purveyor of whisky to the court without interruption.

For a Scotch, Dewar's 12 is relatively light on smoke. Some smoky peat flavor is still present but only slightly. Instead, the taste is a little sweet and floral, with a hint of toasted barley and almonds.

If you want to start experimenting with Scotch in your Whiskey Sour, Dewar's 12 is a great option. It brings elegant floral notes to the drink along with hints of smoke that make for an intriguing flavor profile.

10. Lagavulin 16

Lagavulin 16 Scotch
  • Type: Single Malt Islay Scotch
  • ABV: 56.1%
  • From: Scotland
  • Average Price: $100

Lagavulin 16 is a beautiful Islay Scotch and an absolute smoke bomb. The flavors are very intense and concentrated. When drinking it neat, you get bold peaty smokiness combined with notes of malt and Sherry. 

Cocktail recipes rarely call for Lagavulin. However, I find it fantastic in a Whiskey Sour - if you're really into smoky drinks, that is.

To optimally mix a Whisky Sour with Lagavulin 16, best use a split-base approach. That means half of the base should be Lagavulin, the other half another whiskey - I recommend Dewar's 12. This split base helps to balance the strong smoky notes in the drink.

Then, use maple syrup instead of regular simple syrup, an egg white, and two dashes of Angostura bitters. The result is an intriguing and complex Whisky Sour with very pronounced peaty notes. A combination you most likely never had in any Sour Cocktail before.

11. Teeling Small Batch

Teeling Small Batch
  • Type: Blended Irish Whiskey
  • ABV: 46%
  • From: Ireland
  • Average Price: $38

Teeling is a young, up-and-coming whiskey brand from Dublin, Ireland. It is also currently one of my favorites from the Green Island.

Teeling Small Batch is aged in Rum casks and is famous for its unusual fruity flavors: apples, cherries, oranges, apple pie, chocolate, and hints of fresh-cut grass make this whiskey so unique.

It is a blend made of various whiskeys that have been aged up to six years. Grain and malt whiskeys age separately in former Bourbon barrels and then blended and age again in American Rum casks for a whole year.

When used in a Whiskey Sour, Teeling brings in a lot of fruity flavors that are atypical for a standard Whiskey Sour. This one is a personal favorite and a great choice for everyone who wants to try something new and is not into smoky whisky or rye.

12. Jameson Irish Whiskey

Jameson Irish Whiskey
  • Type: Blended Whiskey
  • ABV: 40%
  • From: Ireland
  • Average Price: $32

Jameson is one of the most famous Irish Whiskey brands. Their whiskey is made from unmalted and malted barley and matures in former Sherry and Bourbon barrels.

Jameson has a really unique smell with sweet notes of caramel, fruity nuances of apple and vanilla, and wooden notes. While sweet aromas of vanilla, nuts, and caramel dominate the taste, you can also get a hint of sherry.

Jameson's mild and sweet taste makes it the ideal base for a Whiskey Sour. Because it is so smooth, consider increasing the whiskey ratio slightly.

Origin of the Whiskey Sour Cocktail

In 1862, Jerry Thomas was the first one to mention the Whiskey Sour recipe in his Bartenders Guide. However, the template for sour cocktails is much older, as its roots date back to the 1700s.

To prevent sailors from scurvy, the crew mixed a spirit (often rum) with lemon or lime juice and water. This concoction tasted great, provided them with vitamin C, and kept them hydrated.

Later the sailors brought the recipe to bars where bartenders twisted the recipe using other base spirits like whiskey, brandy, and gin. 

Bartender Tips to Make the Best Whiskey Sour

The bartender's secret to making a top Whiskey Sour cocktail consists of 4 parts:

  1. High-Quality Whiskey
  2. Dry shake for frothy foam
  3. The right amount of acidity
  4. Sweetness to balance acidity

High-Quality Whiskey

A high-quality whiskey is the main element of the cocktail and heavily influences the flavor profile of a Whiskey Sour cocktail. -It can make or break the drink. There are excellent options in every whiskey category, from bourbon to rye, Scotch, and Irish whiskey.

You don't need to buy the most expensive bottles that aged for an extended time. Aging is important when sipping whiskey neat or when making an Old Fashioned. 

For a great Whiskey Sour, you want a flavorful and full-bodied whiskey that brings sweetness, spiciness, or smokiness to your cocktail. Luckily, you can get these kind of whiskeys for as little as $30. 

Dry shake for frothy foam

Technically, using egg white in a Whiskey Sour isn't necessary. However, I prefer the frothy and creamy foam egg white creates in sour cocktails, and also bartenders tend to make the cocktail with egg white.

You need to apply the right shaking technique to get a fantastic, thick, and robust foam. That means, performing a vigorous dry shake before shaking your cocktail with ice will create a much better foam.

If you don't want raw egg white in your drinks, use aquafaba instead

The right amount of acidity

Fresh lemon juice brings bright and citric flavors to the drink and is essential to make a perfect version of a Whiskey Sour. If you prefer a more mellow lemon flavor, try aging lemon juice for a few hours before using it.

Sweetness to balance acidity

To shake up a perfect Whiskey Sour, you need the right balance of sweet and sour. Typically, a regular simple syrup (1 part water to one part sugar) is part of the recipe. In rare cases, rich syrup is used (2 parts sugar to one part water). Rich syrup creates a richer mouthfeel and is also sweeter than regular syrup.

The choice and measurements depend on the whiskey base. Some whiskeys are sweeter than others, using too much rich syrup with a bourbon will most likely make your Whiskey Sour too sweet. 

Best Whiskey Sour Cocktail Recipe

Ingredients: 

  • 2oz Whiskey
  • 0.75 oz Fresh lemon juice
  • 0.5 oz Simple syrup
  • 1 Egg white (optional)
  • 3 drops of Angostura bitters
  • Maraschino cherry and lemon peel (garnish)

Instructions:

  1. Add all ingredients into a cocktail shaker and dry shake vigorously for 10 to 15 seconds.
  2. Open the shaker, add ice, and shake for 8 to 12 seconds.
  3. Strain the cocktail into a rocks or Old Fashioned glass.
  4. Garnish with Angostura bitters and lemon peel with Maraschino cherry speared on a cocktail pick.

Top Twists on The Whiskey Sour Cocktail

There are some excellent Whiskey Sour riffs, here are some of our favorites:

Check out our Whiskey Sour recipe for a more detailed look at the various twists.

FAQs

Conclusion

Choosing the right whiskey for a Whiskey Sour is a matter of personal taste. Some prefer sweeter options like bourbon, others more spicy rye whiskey or smoky Scotch.

My general recommendation is to choose a bold-flavored option with a slightly higher ABV. These higher-proof options contain more flavor to stand up against the acidic lemon juice and sweet notes of sugar syrup.

Now it's time to get your cocktail shaker out and mix some delicious cocktails. Cheers!

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