‘Sour’ cocktails, simplified

Apple Brandy Sour
Apple Brandy Sour

The sour once occupied a place of pride at the bar. "When American meets American then comes the whiskey sour," declared the Atlanta Daily Constitution in 1879.

From the 1860s into the 1960s, the sour was "one of the cardinal points of American drinking," according to historian David Wondrich in his 2007 book on early American cocktails, "Imbibe" (Perigee Trade).

A sour is a simple drink: base spirit, citrus juice and a sweetener, such as simple syrup. Within cocktail circles, there is much discussion over small points of taxonomy between sours and similar drinks. To wit, a Collins is a sour that is built over ice, with soda water; a fizz is a Collins that is shaken, often with egg white; a daisy uses a liqueur or grenadine as a sweetener, rather than simple syrup.

A true tequila sunrise, for instance, is simply a tequila daisy. The original, served in Prohibition-era Tijuana, used lime instead of orange juice and creme de cassis instead of grenadine. If we think about the Spanish word for daisy, then we can begin to understand how another very famous drink evolved from the sour family. Just switch out the creme de cassis for an orange liqueur like Cointreau, and the margarita is born.

The introduction of orange juice into sour cocktails - into any cocktail, really - has always been a source of consternation. As Wondrich writes, in pre-Prohibition days it was "not an acceptable cocktail ingredient." Perhaps it is my own history, but orange juice has never been my favorite ingredient, either.

But a few weeks ago, I rummaged around a used-book sale and came across a 1995 edition of Charles Schumann's "American Bar." What makes Schumann's cocktail guide a curious American classic is that Schumann is German, owner of a famed bar in Munich. The mid-1990s were pretty dark days for American cocktails. They followed a bad decade of drinks such as Fuzzy Navels and Amaretto Sours and Redheaded Sluts - and lots of orange juice and sour mix and peach schnapps.

It was interesting to see how Schumann was a man of his era, yet able to elevate his drinks to something higher. For instance, his Apple Brandy Sour is a perfect marriage of spirit and fruit: a fresh autumn day in a glass.

Even more surprising is his Apple Sunrise, an apple-brandy-based take on the old tequila sunrise. Schumann calls for orange juice, which is a very 1980s choice. He then eschews grenadine, opting for creme de cassis. The result is surprising and delicious.

Apple Brandy Sour

Makes 1 serving

Few drinks are simpler and more appealing than a real sour, meaning one that uses real lemons and sugar instead of artificial "sour mix." You can make a sour with just about any spirit. This rich, autumnal rendition is made with apple brandy: either Calvados from France or a good domestic apple brandy, such as Clear Creek or Laird's 71/2 Year Old Apple Brandy.

Rather than use one of those too-sweet, neon-colored maraschino cherries from a jar, try making your own. See Todd Thrasher's recipe for Preserved Cherries in the Recipe Finder at washingtonpost.com/recipes. Adapted from "American Bar" by Charles Schumann.


1 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 ounce simple syrup (see recipe)

11/2 ounces apple brandy (see headnote)

Preserved or maraschino cherry, for garnish (see headnote)

Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice. Add the lemon juice, simple syrup and brandy. Shake well, then strain into a rocks or old fashioned glass. Garnish with the cherry.

Simple syrup

To make simple syrup, combine 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of water in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a slow, rolling boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 5 minutes. Transfer to a heatproof container and let cool to room temperature. It can be refrigerated, covered, for several months.


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