If a drinker’s only experience with the sour or its close cousin, the fix, were a cocktail made with sweet-and-sour mix instead of the traditional lemon and sugar, it would be easy to understand why said drinker would avoid this classic. Instead of the bright, zesty flavor that the well-heeled set might have enjoyed in New York’s Waldorf Astoria in the 1920s, sweet-and-sour mix creates a cloying, acidic taste that demonstrates why using freshly squeezed citrus is so important.
Fixes and sours both date back to the mid 19th century, when fresh citrus was the only option and ice was a relatively new luxury. A sour is generally a base spirit combined with lemon juice, sugar, and sometimes an egg white, and the fix contains the same ingredients but is garnished with seasonal fruit and sometimes fruit syrup. Both are usually shaken vigorously to provide a frothy layer once they’re strained into a rocks glass.
However, for the classic version, as well as for these modern twists, it’s best to avoid squeezing the citrus ahead of time. “The problem with the citrus juice especially is that as soon as you squeeze them, they start to oxidize, so the flavor is going to change over time,” says Armando Rosario, Director of Mixology for Southern Wine and Spirits of Florida.