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Spicy Whiskey Sour – Better than a Lemon Drop

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Spicy whiskey sour in a coupe with a lemon wheel and red chili pepper flakes
Spicy Whiskey Sour – Better than a Lemon Drop

Step away from the Lemon Drop – you need more complexity and flavor in your life so say hello to this Spicy Whiskey Sour. You’ve got sweet bourbon, intense lemon simple syrup and touch of Cynar and serrano bitters to class up your sour game.

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A Whiskey Lemon Drop? What?

This is one of those cocktails that got away from me. I had every intention of keeping things simple, staying with a straight substation of whiskey for vodka, but it was still missing something. Many classic vodka drinks lack complexity to me. Their only flavors derive from the syrups, bitters and other additions, not from the base spirit itself.

Since I normally work with aged spirits like bourbon and rye, using vodka leaves me wanting. I spend my time thinking that the cocktail is adequate, but never that it’s stellar. I suppose I agree with Fred Minnick, the bourbon author, when he extolls “Vodka Sucks” since it has such a lack of flavor compared to whiskey and rum.

But here’s the thing. In the end, everyone’s palate varies, and what I love is not necessarily what everyone else loves. And I still wanted to see what I could do to improve the Lemon Drop by using whiskey.

Spicy whiskey sour in a coupe with a lemon wheel and red chili pepper flakes
Spicy Whiskey Sour – Better than a Lemon Drop

Converting the Lemon Drop to Whiskey

I started by looking up a standard Lemon Drop recipe – vodka, lemon juice, simple syrup, and triple sec. I knew I would swap out the vodka for whiskey, but I needed to also increase the lemon notes as whiskey is stronger and flavorful.

I’ve recently made a batch of lemon simple syrup and it’s going in everything right now. I’ve used it in this Lavender Lemon Old Fashioned and this Blackberry Bourbon Cooler. As I made it I infused the syrup with lemon peels as it cooled. As result it’s a cross between a lemon oleo saccharum and a true simple syrup.

The addition of the lemon peels extracts more of the bright lemon essence during the steeping process. It’s much more intense that a lemon simple syrup made with just lemon juice. So, I cut down on the amount of lemon juice I needed and used the sweet/tart lemon simple syrup instead.

Spicy whiskey sour in a coupe with a lemon wheel and red chili pepper flakes
Spicy Whiskey Sour – Better than a Lemon Drop

Bitter Flavors in this Spicy Whiskey Sour

Once I built the spicy whiskey sour cocktail with the bourbon, lemon simple syrup, orange liqueur and lemon juice, it was good, but it needed a surprise or a kick to it. It was missing complexity to me.

I settled on adding two things – a little Cynar (a bitter Italian digestif), and some Pineapple Serrano bitters. Those two things increased the depth of flavor by adding bitterness. In addition, the serrano bitters added heat on the finish. The spicy whiskey sour isn’t spicy to drink, but the finish has a kick.

For a garnish I wanted something colorful, but simple and the addition of chili pepper flakes to a lemon wheel meets both criteria.

So take a minute to shake this up. It’s worth the 30 minutes (mostly unattended) to make the lemon simple syrup. You’ll want to put it in your ice tea, your champagne cocktails, your tiki drinks, even your coffee. Try it. It’s amazing, I promise.

Spicy whiskey sour in a coupe with a lemon wheel and red chili pepper flakes
Spicy Whiskey Sour – Better than a Lemon Drop

And if you need a dish to try this with, I’ve got my eye on this Szechuan Shrimp as a great pairing.

Did you try it? I love getting unsolicited DRINK pics from you when you try out a cocktail. Send them along to me on social media. Join me on my social channels at @cocktail_contessa on Instagram and Cocktail Contessa on Facebook and use the hashtags #cocktailcontessa and #bourbonismycomfortfood.

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Spicy whiskey sour in a coupe with a lemon wheel and red chili pepper flakes

Spicy Whiskey Sour – Better than a Lemon Drop

Heather Wibbels
Let this Spicy Whiskey Sour wake you up and knock you down with its intense lemon flavor, spicy finish, and rounded whiskey notes pulling through each sip. It’s perfect neat, but you can serve it on the rocks if you prefer. As long as you’ve got a spicy garnish to heat it up you’ll love sipping your way through this tipple.
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Course Drinks
Cuisine Bourbon Cocktail
Servings 1


  • 2 oz bourbon – 90-100 proof
  • ½ oz fresh lemon juice
  • 1 oz lemon simple syrup
  • ½ oz orange liqueur (I used Solerno Blood Orange liqueur)
  • 1/4 oz Cynar, or your favorite amaro
  • 3 droppers of Pineapple Serrano bitters
  • Garnish: lemon wheel dusted with chili pepper flakes


  • Combine bourbon, lemon juice, lemon simple syrup, orange liqueur, Cynar and bitters to your shaking tin. Add ice and shake for about 30 seconds. Double strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with a lemon wheel dusted with chili pepper flakes.


**Lemon Simple Syrup:
  • 3/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • Peels from the fresh lemons you just juiced – just the peel, no pith.
Combine the juice and sugar in a small saucepan on medium heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved and it’s at a very low simmer. Add the lemon peels, stir, and let sit for about 5 minutes on low heat. Turn off the heat and let the whole mixture steep for 45 minutes. Strain out the peels, bottle and refrigerate the lemon simple syrup. It will keep about 2 weeks, a little longer if you add some vodka to it.
Keyword cynar, lemon, lemon drop, Whiskey Sour
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
By on August 14th, 2020

About Heather Wibbels

Heather Wibbels is a whiskey enthusiast (Executive Bourbon Steward, no less) with a passion for cocktails. She loves researching and designing cocktails, drinking cocktails, and teaching cocktails. Mostly whiskey cocktails, given her Kentucky location

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