11 Best Whiskeys for a Whiskey Sour You Won't Soon Forget

Published November 15, 2021
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Whiskey sour cocktail on tray

When you wander down the whiskey aisle, the choices can understandably feel overwhelming. The easiest option can be to grab your favorite bottle, whether or not it'll work for the whiskey sour you have in mind, then dash away home. But I did some digging and found the best whiskey for a whiskey sour. Now all you need to do is locate that bottle on the shelf.

Best Whiskeys for any Whiskey Sour

Best for Traditional Whiskey Sours: Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon

The best choice for the original whiskey sour flavor. Read more.

Best House Whiskey: Four Roses Bourbon

A whiskey that'll make any whiskey cocktail go from good to great. Read more.

Boldest Flavor: Rittenhouse Rye 100

For when you want a bold rye flavor in your whiskey sour. Read more.

Best Flavored Whiskey: Traverse City Cherry Bourbon

The ideal whiskey for a subtly flavored whiskey sour. Read more.

Best of Mash Whiskeys: Jack Daniels

For those who want a whiskey that pairs well with sour. Read more.

Best of Canadian Whisky: Lot 40 Canadian Rye Whisky

If you want something other than an American whiskey, this is for you. Read more.

Best Budget Pick: Old Overholt

The best pick for a great whiskey without breaking the budget. Read more.

Best for a Bite: Wild Turkey Rye

This whiskey if for those who want their sour with a spicier bite. Read more.

Best of Ryes: Bulleit Rye Whiskey

An ideal pick for when you want a rye that isn't too bold but just right. Read more.

Best of Blended Whiskeys: Old Elk Blended Straight Bourbon Whiskey

For those who want a more complex whiskey flavor. Read more.

Best of Aged: Uncle Nearest 1884

For a whiskey that isn't shy about its bite. Read more.

Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon

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A spicy yet rich and full-flavored whiskey, the Elijah Craig Small Batch delivers in a big way. The sharp palette holds firm in the whiskey sour, making itself known without being the only flavor.

The singular flavor of warm spices with the subtle smoke, due to charred oak barrels, makes it an everyday whiskey for a memorable whiskey sour. Smooth and slightly toasty with a gentle bite, don't mistake this whiskey for simple.

What we like
Spicy flavors balance the sour
Subtle smoke adds depth
What to keep in mind
Could be too biting for some
Not as smooth as other whiskeys
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Four Roses Bourbon

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Four Roses deliver an incredibly smooth bourbon for an exceptionally small price. It's one of my favorites to keep on hand for experimenting or trying out new recipes. It has a gentle spice and sweet nose, with a soft yet crisp and smooth taste.

It has the subtle hint of fruit, including apple, with an easy, mellow finish, lingering just long enough. It holds up well in a whiskey sour, adding a slight fruit flavor to an otherwise sour citrus cocktail.

What we like
Notes of fruit, including apple
Smooth and mellow
Soft finish
What to keep in mind
Doesn't pack as much of a bite to cut through the sour
Not as oak-forward in flavor

Rittenhouse Rye 100

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Rittenhouse Rye packs a spicy, biting flavor into every sip. Its flavor verges on domination in every drink, held back by the mixed ingredients only just enough to remind you it's a cocktail and not straight whiskey with a hint of sour.

Rittenhouse's notes of caramel and rich cocoa, dusted with spices including cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla, pave the way for the lingering maple flavor that's quickly followed with its signature spiciness and strong bite. But there's a memory of smoked wood that lingers after each sip.

What we like
Isn't overpowered by the sour
Spicy flavor makes for a distinctive cocktail
Bold and smokey
What to keep in mind
Can dominate other flavors
Some may find it too spicy or sharp

Traverse City Cherry Bourbon

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A sweet whiskey may seem an unusual profile for a whiskey sour, but the Traverse City Cherry Bourbon delivers an unimaginably flavorful whiskey sour. The subtle yet sweet fruit taste balances the sour citrus juices with the tart and juicy cherry, blending for a new cocktail.

The cherry flavor is second to the bourbon flavor, setting a firm line that this isn't similar to a flavored vodka. Its flavor is closer to a tart cherry that's been infused with whiskey after sitting on the bottom of your glass. Overall, it gives an earthy whiskey flavor with layers of cherry carefully woven in.

What we like
Cherry flavor creates a dynamic cocktail
A fruity yet woodsy flavor
What to keep in mind
Unlike traditional whiskeys
May not want a flavored whiskey sour
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Jack Daniels

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This Tennessee sour mash whiskey is made up of corn, rye, and barley malt, which is distilled then charcoal filtered. It's a whiskey that is mildly sweet with notes of caramel and vanilla on the surface and a strong whisper of charred wood. It delivers a crisp flavor, with only a gentle bite.

What Jack Daniels gets right is its sweet and oaky flavor, those shadows of spice and charcoal separating it from other whiskeys on the market. It's the whiskey that plays best with citrus flavors, making it an incredible pairing with whiskey sours.

What we like
Charred flavor makes for a tasty whiskey sour
Subtle sweetness balances well
What to keep in mind
May not want a sour leaning whiskey
Can be too mellow for some

Lot 40 Canadian Rye Whisky

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While it's quick work to reach for an American whiskey when you're building a whiskey sour, don't overlook Canadian options. Lot 40's whisky has flavors of baking spices and stone fruits, with a strong statement of spice and citrus.

The zest on the nose leads to bold oak and toffee flavors with a sweet yet refreshing finish. It's a well-rounded, approachable rye that skips the usual bite.

What we like
Sweet with a slight spice
Has traditional oaky flavors
What to keep in mind
Not as bold as other ryes
May want more of a bite for balance

Old Overholt

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Old Overholt is a flavorful and budget-friendly rye whiskey. It has a sweet nose, with hints of graham cracker and vanilla floating to the surface, and a subtle spiced nuance.

Compared to other whiskeys, the body isn't as bold, but it makes its rye background known. There's a quiet taste of orange citrus, spices, and wood with a quick finish, and just the smallest of lingering flavors.

What we like
Well-balanced rye
Wood and leather flavors
Nose isn't overwhelming
What to keep in mind
Could have a bolder profile
Not as spicy as typical ryes
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Wild Turkey Rye

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Ryes sometimes teeter between the bold and the brave. Wild Turkey's rye confidently strides into the brave territory. One of the spiciest ryes on the market, the bite is tempered by the vanilla and spices, with layers of smoke and warmth throughout.

The nose has a citrus, albeit spicy, feel, complementing the sour in the cocktail. The finish is crisp and clean, with bold rye and spice flavors, lingering until the next sip.

What we like
Deep char gives it that extra smoke
Broad spiced notes give it that signature rye taste
Firm bite
What to keep in mind
Can be too bold
The amount of spice and bite may not be for all

Bulleit Rye Whiskey

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Bulliet is a familiar name with whiskey, but their rye is the best option for a whiskey sour. Despite the size of their operation, Bulliet Rye is made from locally sourced ingredients.

The whiskey isn't bottled until it has aged a minimum of five years, allowing the flavors of vanilla, citrus, and spicy oak to truly shine. As it finishes, flavors of spice and caramel provide a sweeter taste to contrast the bite of rye.

What we like
Approachable rye
Sweet with the right amount of bite
Bold but smooth
What to keep in mind
Some may want a rye with more bite
Could be a touch too sweet

Old Elk Blended Straight Bourbon Whiskey

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Old Elk uses nearly four times the amount of malted barley compared to other distilleries, resulting in a lighter and slightly sweeter whiskey than others. In combination with the rye and corn, a robust flavor is born.

The sweet vanilla and caramel nose, with a touch of almond, is followed by the taste of maple syrup, more almond notes, as well as a chocolate and wood flavor. The whiskey lingers after each sip, but is a smooth extension of the first sip.

What we like
Smooth
Wood and almond forward
Complex but bold
What to keep in mind
Unusual almond flavors not for everyone
Some may not enjoy the chocolate notes
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Uncle Nearest 1884

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Aged for 8-14 years, Uncle Nearest isn't a whiskey for the faint-hearted. Although smooth, its potent bite will certainly keep the sour from overpowering the spirit.

Each blend is personally and carefully curated. The resulting whiskey a blend of citrus notes and light flavors making a stark contrast to the bite it imparts on the finish. The nose of white pepper and honey is a warning of the spicy and sweet flavors to come. A dry palate with a short but smooth finish rounds out this whiskey.

What we like
Strong bite with a sweetness to balance
Smooth
What to keep in mind
100 proof can be a bigger flavor than some want
Could be too sweet for those who want only a big bite

The best whiskey for a whiskey sour is the one that matches the flavor profile you're searching for. There's a whiskey for all budgets: those that want a stronger bite, those that want a mellower sip, and those that want something unique or conversation-starting. There's a whiskey and whiskey sour for all.

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11 Best Whiskeys for a Whiskey Sour You Won't Soon Forget