Master the New York Sour Whiskey Cocktail Recipe

Ned King didn’t set out to master the New York Sour. The drink first landed on his cocktail menu as the solution to a problem. Since opening his intimate 30-seat bar, Gigantic, in Easthampton, Massachusetts, in 2018, King struggled to balance the need to offer wine by the glass with the fact that cocktails account for over 80 percent of sales. “You have to have wine. I don’t expect to make money off it, but if I open a bottle, I don’t want to lose any money,” he says. Though he offered the New York Sour strategically to move wine more quickly, the cocktail soon became a customer favorite and a reflection of Gigantic’s Gilded Age–meets-glam aesthetic.

King has put years of thought into developing his ideal Whiskey Sour recipe, and it’s that spec that forms the base for his New York variation. He calls for two ounces of bonded Rittenhouse rye, a full ounce of lemon juice and half an ounce of 2:1 syrup made with cane instead of white sugar. That last move is no surprise, as he’s nearly eliminated 1:1 syrups from his recipes altogether, noting that with rich syrups, “there’s less water being integrated into the drink before you’ve shaken it.” For King, the robust measure of lemon, meanwhile, gives his sour recipe the assertive brightness he’s after, while the rich syrup imparts optimal viscosity, “residual sweetness,” and a “golden hue” from the unbleached sugar.

When it comes to the float, King has strong opinions. “This is one of the most important aspects of the New York Sour that I see screwed up all the time–when you see them and it’s half wine, half cocktail, that’s not good.” His recipe calls for what he describes as a “gentle float”—just half an ounce of wine poured atop the rye sour base. “A lot of people will put too much [wine in] because it looks nice to have it be half and half, but you need to be able to get to the Whiskey Sour in the same sip as the red wine.” For King, the interplay between the two elements is at the center of the drink’s allure.

As for the wine itself, King had to consider the dual purpose of his house red: as something to be equally enjoyed neat as well as mixed into cocktails. Though he carries only biodynamic, low-intervention wines, for the float he avoids those with the common “barnyard” note, citing their overwhelmingly pungent aromas. “You don’t want to smell that before you take a sip of a [New York Sour], even if it tastes good.” Where most recipes call for malbec, shiraz or gamay—wines with big fruit notes and bigger name recognition—King settled on Pedro Gonzalez Mittelbrunn Castilla y León, made entirely from a native Spanish variety called prieto picudo. “I like how sharp the dried fruit flavor is on it,” King says. “[It] has a light viscosity, but it’s very dry and kind of got a currant-raisin-spice character that I think is really nice [and] goes well with the rye.”

The New York Sour has become such a fixture at Gigantic that the “claret snap”—an old term for a red wine float—has become a calling card for the bar. Margaritas get the red wine treatment, as do New Amsterdam Sours, which feature a base of genever, lemon juice and pineapple syrup.

But one thing you won’t see at Gigantic is an egg white in the New York Sour. Sometimes known as a Greenwich Sour, the addition of egg white makes the drink too dry, according to King. “People do them because you get three layers and it looks pretty, but it’s not right,” he says. “I have an aversion to it.”

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