What We're Drinking: New York Sour

The sourness from the lemon and the barrel from the whiskey draw out the raw fruit flavors of the wine in the New York Sour. Your choice of red wine will determine the overall flavors you get from the drink.

Surprisingly, the New York Sour, which dates back to the late 1870s, was created in Chicago by a bartender who claimed to have invented the Manhattan.

While the Manhattan claim can’t be confirmed, the New York Sour can safely be attributed to this bartender, though the cocktail’s name changed a few times after its conception. It was known as the Continental Sour and the Southern Whiskey Sour before becoming the New York Sour, most likely after some New York bartender popularized it and changed its name (a common occurrence in cocktail history).

Regardless of what you call it, this drink begs the question of why bartenders were messing with a perfectly great whiskey sour. During that time period, a few sources reported that bartenders around Chicago were “constructing sours with a claret snap.”

At that time, claret referred to any red wine, not just the red wine from Bordeaux. And the term snap meant floating a bit of red wine on the top of the drink. Apparently the creator of the New York Sour said in an interview that “the claret makes the drink look well and it gives it a better taste.”

The guy has a point. It’s a very pretty drink, and the sourness from the lemon and the barrel from the whiskey draw out the raw fruit flavors of the wine. Your choice of red wine will determine the overall flavors you get from the drink. Tempranillo offers a lot of plum and dark fruits, Shiraz is full of cherry, California Cabernet exudes currant and black berries and Missouri Norton brings dried fruit, currant and spices.

In order to get those fruit flavors from the wine, you have to mix the drink up. If you sip from the straw right away, all you’re going to taste is the whiskey sour.

So order the drink. Admire it. Take a picture if you care. Then swirl that straw around and blend together the flavors that make this drink a classic.

New York Sour

Serves | 1 |

  • 2 oz whiskey, preferably rye
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • ¾ oz simple syrup
  • red wine
  • lemon wedge for garnish

| Preparation | Add whiskey, lemon juice and simple syrup to a cocktail shaker. Add ice, shake and strain into a Collins glass filled with crushed ice. Float red wine on top and garnish with a lemon wedge.


Floating liquids

When a recipe calls for you to float one liquid atop another, it may seem as though it’s asking you to perform magic. But it’s actually an easy trick. In the case of the New York Sour, simply hold a spoon upside down over the glass and slowly pour the wine onto the spoon’s backside, letting it cascade into the drink. Some drinks, such as the Pousse Café, require you to know the densities of different liquids to properly float one on top of the other. You can find density charts in a few recent cocktail books or online. Once you know the densities of the liquids you’re working with, the procedure to layer drinks in this fashion is the same as the one you use to make a New York Sour.

Matt Seiter is a co-founder of the United States Bartenders’ Guild’s St. Louis chapter, a member of the national board for the USBG’s MA program and a continuing educator for all desiring knowledge of the craft of mixology. He is a member of Drink Lab and is the creator of the Sanctuaria Cocktail Club.

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