I'm not sure that the whiskey sour has developed a wimpy reputation, but I have one decent piece of anecdotal evidence. I was at Leon's Lounge a few years back with my friend Dulin, who doesn't drink much. (He's an Irish Catholic outlier.) Dulin ordered a whiskey sour, and the bartender — this was a bartender, not a mixologist or struggling actor or student working his way through school — looked at him like a gym coach might look at a kid who just took a granny-style free throw. "You don't want that," he said. He was gruff but right. Most places forgo the traditional recipe, which calls for fresh juice and sugar or simple syrup. Instead they make whiskey sours with bitingly tart premade mix. I'd rather chase Old Crow with Sour Patch Kids. Or even better, go with a subtle alternative like the Ramble at Branch Water Tavern (510 Shepherd, 713-863-7777). The drink, created by Alba of Branch Water and Grand Prize, is actually a variation of the Bramble that uses bourbon instead of gin. The modification gives it a smoky quality — a heavy counter to the sweet, citrus flavor of the crème de mûre and lemon juice. On Tuesdays they cost $3 during happy hour (4 to 7 p.m.), so you can get classy for cheap. Wednesdays through Fridays each feature a different $3 whiskey cocktail special.
2 ounces Jim Beam bourbon
1 ounce simple syrup
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1 ounce fresh lemon juice
½ ounce Edmond Briottet crème de mûre (blackberry liqueur)
Shake the bourbon, syrup and juice over ice. Strain into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice and slowly pour the crème de mûre over the top. Branch Water has an enormous selection of American whiskeys, but there's no need to use really good stuff in a drink like this.