The Rick Dalton Whiskey Sour
"'Cause baby, baby, baby, you're out of time."
“It’s official, old buddy. I’m a has-been.” —Rick Dalton
Whiskey Sour Memories
With apologies to every publicist I’ve ever responded to with, “Thank you for thinking of me, but I do not pitch or cover National ______ Days,” I’m pleased to share that this Thursday, August 25 is National Whiskey Sour Day.
I’ve always been a fan of the old-school Whiskey Sour, which conjures memories of watching my ‘70s-era father shake up a batch in the vintage oversized glass cocktail mixer that I inherited from him that now holds a place of honor on my bar cart. I’m pretty sure he didn’t use egg whites and he certainly added artificial commercial sour mix, but, just like the Shirley Temples he’d order for me when I tagged along with him at the American Legion, there was definitely a neon-red cherry garnish.
One of the oldest category of drinks, the Sour is a direct descendant of Punch, consisting of a spirit, citrus, sugar, and water and serves as the template for classics like the Margarita, Daiquiri, and Cosmopolitan. This basic Sour recipe has been around since the 1700s when sailors in the British Navy added the juice from lemons or limes to their watered-down rum during long journeys at sea to fend off scurvy and other ailments. The Sour made early in-print appearances in Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders Guide in 1862 and Wisconsin’s Waukesha Plain Dealer in 1870. By that time whiskey became the go-to base spirit for the Sour and by the early 20th century the drink was typically served straight up in a Sour glass—a stemmed glass with a rounded cup. By the 1960s and through the dark cocktail days of the 1980s, artificial sour mixes and foaming agents were the norm and the Whiskey Sour was often served over ice in a rocks glass.
In The Oxford Companion to Spirits & Cocktails, David Wondrich writes, “Fortunately, in recent years such shortcuts have become unfashionable, and, in the best establishments, at least, the sour has returned to its pristine excellence.” Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s reboot of the much-maligned Amaretto Sour helped spark a renewed interest in that retro look of a foam-topped rocks glass garnished with a lemon peel and cocktail cherry. In my book, Amaro, I slightly tweaked Morgenthaler’s reformulation and paired the higher-proof bourbon with a gateway friendly amaro and that Amaro Sour was one of the breakout cocktails from the book.
But the reason many people are thinking about the Whiskey Sour these days is thanks to Quentin Tarantino’s 2019 film, Once Upon a a Time… in Hollywood, where the drink is a much-to-his-detriment favorite of Rick Dalton (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), a once popular actor struggling with his fading relevancy against the rising undercurrent of late-1960’s counter-culture, whose career is on a fast decline to Movie of the Week guest star status.
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