Last week I made a cake with bourbon, and this week I thought it might be fun to use whiskey in a different way. I thought I’d try drinking it.
When I was in college I worked as a waiter at a restaurant on Main Street in Lake Placid, and one winter I caught a nasty cold and lost my voice. Trying to wait tables in a busy restaurant with no voice is not an easy feat, but like most waiters, I needed the money and couldn’t get my shift covered.
At the time my usual drink of choice was a gin and tonic, and I thought whiskey was the nastiest diesel fuel known to man. Next door to the restaurant was a ski shop and a few times a week the guys working there used to come by for a drink after work. They saw me sipping hot tea and lemon at the end of the bar and told me that if I put a shot of whiskey in my tea I’d be able to talk for the rest of the night. The bartender poured me some Crown Royal and I gave it a shot (literally).
I choked it down but my throat immediately felt better, and my voice improved enough for me to get through my shift without incident. I actually think it was probably the hot tea that helped my throat, but at the time I was sure the whiskey did the drink. I started three more shifts that way and by the end of the week I’d developed a little bitty taste for whiskey.
At first I was a strict Crown Royal man, but it didn’t take me too long to start trying other whiskeys. Shortly after college I got into bourbon and have been hooked ever since. Lately I’ve been drinking a lot of rye whiskey though, and I’m becoming a really big fan. While I think bourbon is my favorite whiskey to sip straight, I think I may actually prefer rye for cocktails and mixed drinks.
The main difference between bourbon and rye is the ratio of ingredients that make up the mash. They share many ingredients but corn must be the main ingredient in Bourbon, while rye is made with, you guessed it, rye. Bourbon usually tends to age a bit longer as well. Flavor-wise, I think bourbon tends to be a bit smoother, sweeter, and more balanced while rye is a bit of spicier and more assertive.
I think the smooth subtle flavor of bourbon can get a bit lost in cocktails, but rye has enough backbone to hold its own against bitters and citrus and mixers.
Lately I’ve been in the mood to make a whiskey sour the old fashioned way, with egg white shaken into the drink to give a smooth foamy texture. The combination of superfine sugar, fresh lemon juice, and egg white blows bartenders sour mix out of the water. If you’ve never tried a whiskey sour made this way, you don’t know what you’re missing.
The only small twist I made to make this bright summery cocktail more appropriate for the fall is to substitute real maple syrup for the superfine sugar, and add some fresh thyme to green things up a bit. If you’re a whiskey fan, you’ve gotta try this.
If you’re worried about drinking raw egg, you can use pasteurized eggs or egg whites from a carton, but I feel completely safe in knowing that I buy high quality eggs from small farms and don’t need to worry.
This cocktail is bright and fresh and satisfying. The rye whiskey and fresh lemon juice play off of each other perfectly and the addition of egg white gives the shaken cocktail a smooth, creamy, almost silky mouthfeel. Adding maple and thyme to this classic drink give just a hint of Autumnal earthiness without being too blatant. The flavors are the perfect subtle compliment to the lemon and whiskey. Thyme adds an herbal woodsiness, and the maple is a wonderfully sweet and smoky replacement to the superfine sugar traditionally present in a whiskey sour.
Maple & Thyme Whiskey Sour
1/2 oz real maple syrup (grade B preferably)
1 dash orange (or citrus) bitters
1 oz fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
2 oz good rye whiskey (or any good American whiskey)
1 egg white
1 small thyme sprig to garnish
Using a cocktail muddler, muddle the long sprigs of thyme with maple syrup and orange bitters in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Smoosh ‘em and smash ‘em and stir ‘em up real good.
Add lemon juice, whiskey, & egg white and close the shaker. Shake and shake and shake and shake and shake like you’ve never shaken a cocktail before. If this were 2003 you might want to shake it like a polaroid picture.
Remove the lid, add a good handful of ice, and close it back up. Give it a few more good shakes, just until the cocktail is niiiiice and cold.
Strain into a martini or coupe glass. Most cocktail shakers have a built in strainer, but you may want to use a small mesh strainer to catch any loose thyme leaves. (I didn’t. There were a few but they didn’t bother me.)
If desired, garnish with a cute & dainty little thyme sprig.