The problem: you're in the mood for a whisky-based cocktail, but you've drunk so many Old Fashioneds you're starting to smell like Don Draper. The solution: ask for a whisky sour. A mix of whisky, lemon juice, sugar, and egg white, the whisky sour was included in Jerry Thomas's 1862 book How to Mix Drinks—the original bartenders' guide—and, just like the book, it's stood the test of time. A whisky sour should be silky smooth, with a fluffy, meringue-like cap and a good balance of flavours—not too sweet, not too sour, and of course you should be able to taste the whisky, too. Here are some of Melbourne's best bars to try this classic concoction.
1806 | MELBOURNE CBD
There's no better place to learn about the history of cocktails than at this lush, old world Melbourne bar, whose menu features drinks from every era. So, in that spirit (pardon the pun), educate yourself with a whisky sour at the bar while you read this article. If you're not a whisky connoisseur, let 1806's knowledgeable bartenders guide you through the many whiskies available that will form the base of your drink. Like a bit of smoke in your beverage? Try the Bowmore Legend, which will add a hint of sexy smokiness to your whisky sour without overpowering it. Legendary stuff—just like the cocktail.
GOLDILOCKS BAR | MELBOURNE CBD
Once you've found this hidden gem (hint: head into Noodle Kingdom and take the lift), settle in and prepare to be pampered with table service and delicious drinks. Goldilocks herself would have no trouble finding somewhere comfortable to sit—there's intimate booth seating beneath tree-patterned wallpaper on one level, and an astro-turfed rooftop bar above. Drink in the Melbourne city views as you sip on a whisky sour. Presented in a coupe glass, a soft cloud of meringue gives way to bit of fire courtesy of Dewar's 12-year-old scotch, and there's just enough sourness to make your lips pucker. As Goldilocks would say, it's just right.
NANT | MELBOURNE CBD
A sophisticated little Melbourne bar in a historic building, Nant is designed to show off its namesake Tasmanian whiskies. Whisky buffs will love its tasting flights, and naysayers might just be converted by the award-winning drops, which are like drinking liquid silk (seriously). There's also a decent list of cocktails, though you'll need to go off-menu to indulge your whisky-sour habit. It's a light, ethereal version; there's so much lemon meringue-like froth, you'll think you're drinking dessert. This decadent creation uses Nant's American oak sherry wood single malt whisky, a smooth, sweet drop, though you can request other whiskies if you'd prefer. Once you've found your favourite type of whisky, you can keep a bottle in a padlocked box set into the middle of the communal table—all the more reason to return for another whisky sour.
LAIKA | ST KILDA
If you like a drink in classy surroundings, you'll like Laika. This luxuriously decorated bar – all plaster mouldings, leather banquettes and art deco light fittings—specialises in classic cocktails made as closely as possible to the original recipes. Head here for a textbook whisky sour, an almost creamy creation that strikes the right balance between the simple ingredients of whisky, lemon, and sugar. Many other sour cocktails are a variation on this recipe. Use gin instead of whisky to make a gimlet; use pisco to create a pisco sour; use your brains and try these excellent variations at Laika.
WHISKY & ALEMENT | MELBOURNE CBD
A moodily lit Melbourne bar staffed by whisky experts is: (a) the best place to learn about scotch, either through classes or by dropping in for casual tastings at the bar; (b) a great spot to try a whisky-based cocktail; (c) Whisky & Alement, or (d) all of the above. If you answered (d), you're right—congratulate yourself with a drink at this whisky-obsessed watering hole. Here, Ledaig 10-year-old whisky is the star of the whisky sour. It's a peaty, smoky scotch that adds breadth and depth to the mix—just like the bar, this one's ideal for true whisky enthusiasts.
EAU DE VIE | MELBOURNE CBD
Down an alley through an unmarked door, this speakeasy-style Melbourne bar offers boundary-pushing variations on traditional cocktails that would make Heston Blumenthal proud. Eau de Vie's unpronounceable version of a whisky sour—the Cungaidh Cocktail—is served in a replica antique medicine bottle, complete with a specially designed label and a striped paper straw, and it tastes even better than it looks. It's a clever marriage of Chivas Regal, Lillet Blanc (a French aperitif), honey and ginger, and it's spicy, exotic, and exciting. Admittedly it's not a true whiskey sour, but when it tastes this good, who cares?
Main image credit: A Practical Wedding