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What does a modern Sour look like?

London’s take on what is easily the broadest category of cocktail in a modern bartender’s arsenal.

Sour is easily the broadest category of cocktail in a modern bartender’s arsenal. Encompassing all drinks based on a spirit or liqueur that use citrus and a sweetener, there is no rival group for the number of recipes the Sour defines – be it punches, flips or even stirred-down and boozy cocktails.

Daiquiris, Gimlets, Margaritas, even the Caipirinha, can all be grouped under the large umbrella of the Sour family. And yet walk into most cocktail bars in London, ask for one, and you’ll probably be served some derivative of a classic Whiskey Sour using American bourbon with lemon, sugar and egg white.

In truth, for modern consumers, the word sour has moved on from a loose collective of cocktails to mean a specific style of drink, one which is an easy go-to. From Whiskey Sours to Pisco Sours, Clover Clubs and Amaretto Sours – this is the style of cocktail that embodies the modern London sour. Silky, lightly creamy, sharp, balanced to perfection. It’s the type of contagious drink you order in large rounds and that stands as a masculine cocktail alongside other Mad Men classics such as the Old Fashioned or a Martini.

undefinedA twist on a classic Rum Sour by Ace Hotel Gallery Bar

And as much as a Whiskey Sour might seem a world away from a Daiquiri, take out the egg white and you’ll find the drinks are suddenly much closer in texture and flavour, created by the triangle of spirit, citrus and sugar. Add in the egg white and you have a drink adored across London. It might read strangely on menus to those uninitiated to the technique of emulsifying the egg by shaking the hell out of it without ice – known as a dry shake – before adding in the ice to cool and dilute the cocktail, but it’s no more poisonous than a meringue, a protein shake or cake batter.

 “Bartenders learned long ago that they could create a creamy mouthfeel in a cocktail, without the flavour and fatty feel of cream, simply by adding a dollop of whipped egg white. But don’t listen to moustachioed speakeasy mixologists who might be inclined to tell you that the original whiskey sour recipe called for egg whites – it didn’t. The white does give the drink a wonderful texture, however,” writes Jeffrey Morgenthaler in Bar Book.

undefinedPopeye and Olive Oil at Callooh Callay

London can by no means claim the invention of the Sour just as bartenders cannot claim it was originally made with egg white. As cocktail historian David Wondrich notes in his book Imbibe “from roughly the 1860s to the 1960s the Sour, and particularly its whiskey incarnation, was one of the cardinal points of American drinking…two things seems to have driven the Sour’s quick elevation to indispensability. It was simple, and it was flexible.”

Yes, as history usually proves us Londoners where still drunk on punch, spending all day supping from the flowing bowl, while the Americans were whipping up individual Sours for quick drinking while they built a country and dominated global politics. But egg white was never truly in fashion across the pond until recently. A lot of this has to do with a difference in eggs – you may remember the news sensation in 2012 when everyone realised US eggs would be illegal in the UK and vice versa. It’s all to do with cleaning and salmonella (we vaccinate against salmonella they don’t, they sanitise their eggs, we don’t).

undefinedAmarito at Seven Tales

All this meant that by the early 2000s London had a distinct style of Sour compared to New York. And while America certainly started the innovation – from Blackthorn Sours (sloe gin, pineapple syrup, and a splash of apricot liqueur), Sours a la Creole (brandy and Jamaica rum with lime juice and a little ice cream on the top), Dizzy Sours (rye with a dash of Benedictine and a Jamaica rum float) and Jack Frost Whiskey Sours (applejack, egg and cream) – the bartenders of London have made the drink their own. Whether it's working with unusual ingredients such as beetroot butter to create the same effect as egg white or bringing into play vermouth, amaros and oils to change the classic make up, this city is busily creating new and exciting Sours all the time. 

So before you let someone order a round of Pisco Sours, it’s worth trying these modern London Sours.

Modern London Sours

With Egg White:

Amarito at Seven Tales -  Americano Rosa, Campari, grapefruit, lemon, egg white, raspberry dust.

Dapperman Sour at Petit Pois - Pernod Absinthe, grapefruit, lime, mint, egg white.

Popeye and Olive Oil at Callooh Callay - Belvedere vodka, Cocchi Americano vermouth, spinach and pine nut orgeat, lemon, sugar, egg white, olive oil. 

Bum Bum Train at Ace Hotel Gallery Bar - Hendricks gin, dessert wine, parsley, lemon, sugar, egg white. 

undefinedBum Bum Train at Ace Hotel Gallery Bar

Without Egg White:

Hawaiian Stone Sour at Satan’s Whiskers -  Scotch, pineapple juice, lemon, sugar.

Taproot Sour at Berners Tavern - Somerset cider brandy, beetroot butter, lemon.

Iberico Sour at Dandelyan - Acorn ham mezcal, tapatio reposado, lemon, endive, oak honey.