Ask Your Bartender: Sour Mix in Two Parts

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Sour mix is a gateway drug. It can lead you down a very dark path, or it can open up a new world of fresh flavors or ingredients. As proof of this, I submit to you two examples:

One scenario involves the novice bartender using prepackaged mix as a medium for all sorts of vile concoctions. Let’s face it: bland, weak, artificially-flavored sour mix is the vodka of non-alocholic mixers. Add some raspberry to it, it tastes pretty much like raspberry. Add some whiskey and it’s, uh, flavored whiskey. I guess.

But this other path is one that I’ve been asked a lot about lately, and is the subject of this article: how do you make and properly apply fresh sour mix to cocktails?

Hey Bartender

I have a simple question. Why is it that 90% of the time when I order a whiskey sour I get a giant glass of Country Time Lemonade with a shot of Jack Daniels in it? Or worse, Squirt with some Black Velvet? Sour mix is just lemon and sugar right? I don’t understand why this is such a hard drink to get made correctly. Maybe it’s because I live in Nebraska.


Hey Bartender

I’ve been reading your blog for quite some time now (since well before the layout changed) so I’ve come to learn through and through that you despise pretty much any premixed cocktail mixers; Sour Mix, Bloody Mary Mix, etc… there are places online that offer ways to make “homemade” sour mix etc… but seeing as I haven’t developed with them one of those creepy checking-their-blog-for-updates-everyday thing that I have with your blog, I thought I would ask your advice on making homemade equivelents. For example, a good whisky sour from scratch, or even just simple syrup.

How do you personally prepare these cocktail mixers ahead of time on the job or on a drink-to-drink basis at home?

Anyways, thanks for the good reading.


Hey Guys

First of all, it’s not just Nebraska, it’s everywhere. The reason you’re getting something that tastes like Country Time Lemonade is because that’s pretty much what bottled sour mix is. Bars in this country use bottled sour mix for a variety of reasons:

  • It’s cheap.
  • It never spoils.
  • It doesn’t require any preparation time.
  • Nobody remembers how to do it the right way.
  • It tastes delicious.

Just kidding. It actually tastes like shit.

So the question is, how do we do it the right way? Well, first I want you to make yourself some simple syrup. That’s right, one part hot water, one part sugar. Stir it until it’s clear, put it in a nice-looking bottle, and away you go.

Now get yourself some sort of juicer, any kind. There are hand juicers, motorized juicers, attachments for your KitchenAid, crank/press juicers, just about every imaginable method for extracting juice from a piece of fruit awaits you at your local MegaMall. Just make sure you pick up a little strainer, too, because bits of pulp in your drink are a big no-no.

With your new juicer, that bottle of simple syrup, and a bag of lemons at your side, you’re just about ready to go. Squeeze and strain that lemon juice into a pretty bottle and meet me back here when you’re done.

I’m going to show you how to make a whiskey sour today, but you can substitute any primary liquor for the bourbon. Yes, even Midori. I guess.

There are a lot of conflicting whiskey sour recipes on the internet right now. Most will tell you to use one part lemon juice to one part simple syrup. That’s pretty standard but it’s a little sweet for me and I think bourbon is sweet enough already, so here’s my whiskey sour recipe:

Whiskey Sour

2 oz bourbon
1 oz fresh lemon juice
.75 oz simple syrup

Shake ingredients with ice and strain over fresh rocks in a short 8 oz glass. Garnish with a lemon wedge.

That’s it! Just remember: as with any recipe you’ll find, it’s open to interpretation. If this one’s too sour for you, just add a little more syrup.

Now, what about a more versatile “sour mix” that you can make in larger quantities and use in place of Country Time Lemonade?

Sour Mix

2 parts simple syrup
2 parts lemon juice
1 part lime juice

Make as much, or as little, as you want. Bottle it and use it anywhere, in place of the crap you find at the supermarket. Want a whiskey sour? 2 ounces whiskey, 2 ounces sour mix, on the rocks. Margarita? 2 ounces tequila, 1 ounce triple sec, 2 ounces sour mix. Pisco sour? 2 ounces pisco, 2 ounces sour mix, .5 ounces egg white. Enjoy, baby.

Now that you know how easy it is to make your own freshly-squeezed cocktails, maybe you’ll start demanding more from the bars you frequent. Tell them how easy it is and maybe we can all be on our way down a brighter path.

48 Replies to “Ask Your Bartender: Sour Mix in Two Parts”

  • Charles says:

    How long can you keep simple syrup? Well it depends on how you make it. Simple Syrup NF (national formulary) is 85 g sugar per 100 ml of water. This is approximately equal to the 2 to 1 syrup. Pharmacies keep this stuff at room temperature for as long as the manufacture’s expiration date (a year or more!) Microbes can’t grow in this due to high tonicity. More dilute syrups such as the 1 to 1 are subject to mold growth unless preservatives are added. So refrigerate this stuff and don’t keep it too long. Best advice is make the two to one and use half as much in your recipe and an equal amount of water, thus making 1 to 1 on the fly! From a pharmacist. Charles

  • Roark says:

    Can you make sour mix last longer by adding vodka a a preservative? I hear that works with simple syrup.

  • Ryan says:

    Yes adding vodka will extend the life span of simple syrup. At home I don’t use it every day so a small batch of 1:1 ( 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water, 2 oz vodka ) will stay healthy for at least a month and a half, which is the longest I have kept it without using it all.

  • Greygoosetall says:

    I own a local dive like bar in Georgia and we have used fresh juices from day one. Except OJ in the winter. We use Simply Orange then.

    I would never go back. In fact the three “upscale” places near me have all converted because their $10 drinks were horrid next to my $5 drinks.

    We make it every day but it’s allowed to be used for three shifts, or a day and a half. We are a live music venue and we get slammed so we can’t squeeze per order HOWEVER, the citrus fruits taste better between 4 and 8 hours than they do at squeezing.

    Try aging it four hours and make two drinks one with that and squeeze one then. You’ll agree

  • Colin says:

    What a great post! I would love it if more bars used a home made sour mix. I just want to play devil’s advocate here for just a second and point something else out. Remember that any bar using freshly prepared sour mix is going to drastically effect the price of the drink you order. Most people will be fairly upset when they find out their margarita costs $10, but that may be the kind of thing you run into with a place using product like this. Remember limes cost about a dollar a piece right now and there isn’t a whole lot of lime juice you can squeeze out of a single one 🙂

  • joyce says:

    Instead of simple syrup I use organic agave syrup. I love margarita’s, and I get tons of compliments on my homemade recipe. I get request for them every party I go to.

  • Pat says:

    Hi Joyce,

    I have been searching the web looking for something to add to a gallon of Margarita’s that are a little to sour. I ran across your statement about the organic agave syrup. Sounds like it would be something I would like to try. What do you think and how much would I add to a gallon just to take that little bite of to much sour out. Thank you for any advice you could give me and also do you share your recipe.
    Thanks again, Pat from Akron, Ohio

  • Jesse G says:

    The major reason that a drink containing sour ‘MIX’ sometimes tastes like crap is because of the bartender who makes it. Funny that Martinis and Manhattans were originally stirred and not shaken (thanks 007) and now EVERYONE shakes them. (technically called ‘bruised’)
    Sour ‘mix’ was invented as a mixing agent to add flavor and froth or ‘head’ to a cocktail. Hence the use of egg whites in original recipes. That being said, ANY drink containing sour ‘mix’ needs to be vigorously shaken. Simply shaking sour mix by itself actually changes the flavor of the mix itself in most cases. For some unknown reason, over the years as bartenders started shaking Martinis more and more, they started shaking cocktails with sour mix less and less. Now a days I RARELY see a bartender shake a drink with sour mix in it, even when they are trained to.

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