A Tale of Two Sours

Whisk(e)y Sours, that is–we’re up to ‘w’ in our travel through the Alphahol and that means delving into the oak barrels and coming up with what exactly?

I may have mentioned before that I’m not a big whisk(e)y fan. Until very recently I couldn’t stand the stuff and wouldn’t drink anything made with it thanks to an unfortunate encounter at a wine and spirits tasting. The bourbon I was served burned my throat, robbed me of breath and made my eyes water–it probably didn’t help that I’d been drinking a lot of sweet wines prior, but the port I tried afterwards smoothed things over between me and the wine guy. At any rate, I’ve come to respect well-made whisk(e)ys.

To ‘e’ or not to ‘e’, what’s in a spelling?

Ever wonder what the difference between whisky and whiskey is? At first I thought it was just an American versus European style thing but that’s not it because Irish varieties are spelled with the ‘e’ but Scotch without. True, most people who mean Scotch just say Scotch, but it’s still whisky so it counts. In North America, Tennessee, Kentucky and the other USA varieties add the ‘e’ while Canadian whisky does not. Other than who uses it and who doesn’t, there’s really not much more to it.

So What’s the Real Difference?

Whiskey is pretty much any grain spirit that’s aged in oak for as much time as needed to develop the flavors or scents necessary to be a pleasant drink. The type of grain makes a big difference in the finished product, also how it’s treated. Scotch is traditionally prized in the Single Malt category, made only with malted barley whereas Bourbon uses primarily corn and, in the case of Sour Mash, reserves a portion of the previous fermentation to add to the next batch in a method that reminds me, in turns, of sourdough starter and the Amish Friendship Bread that gets passed around from time to time.

(This, of course, is gross over-simplification. I’m just trying to distill it into a highlight reel for the sake of an overview.)

Mixing With It

So, probably the most common Whiskey drink most folks think of is the Whiskey Sour which, as I understand it, is generally made with Bourbon. Well, here’s the thing: you can make a Sour out of pretty much any base liquor so I decided to make a Scotch Sour and a Bourbon Sour and see how they compared.

Whiskey Sour

1.5 oz Whisk(e)y
1 oz Simple syrup
3/4 oz Lemon juice (as fresh as possible)

Combine over ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled old fashioned glass and garnish with an orange slice and a cherry (also known as a flag).

Both the Bourbon and Scotch sours were made in exactly the same way and here’s how, for me, they compared. Visually, the Bourbon Sour is darker than the Scotch Sour–no worries about labeling the glasses for this test. The Bourbon also has a stronger smell (I used Jim Bean Kentucky Sour Mash Bourbon) and, as one would expect, a stronger flavor. More insistent. The Scotch Sour (made with Glenfiddich Single Malt 12 Year) was lighter in color and smoother in flavor, it took both the sweet and the sour in stride and retained it’s crisp pear notes (seriously, before last month I would have NEVER thought to think pears when I thought Scotch).

Obviously I preferred the Glenfiddich Sour, it’s much more palatable. I think I’ll keep the Sour Mash for the Bourbon Chicken.