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.
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.
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.
And if you need a dish to try this with, I’ve got my eye on this Szechuan Shrimp as a great pairing.
Recommended Bar Tools
You don’t need every slick, beautiful bar tool out there, but there are several I’ll recommend. (As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. However, that does not affect the cost of the items below.) My favorite pieces usually come from the Cocktail Kingdom section of Amazon:
You may already have these bar essentials, but just in case:
Spicy Whiskey Sour – Better than a Lemon Drop
- 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.
- 3/4 cup lemon juice
- 3/4 cup sugar
- Peels from the fresh lemons you just juiced – just the peel, no pith.