Classic Sour Cocktails Get A Twist In India

The way to judge whether you’re at a good bar or not — says Santanu Chanda, Group Beverage Manager at Home — is through their sour. “Does it have the right balance of flavours? A good mouthfeel?” asks Chanda, who has played a seminal role in putting the Vasant Kunj, Delhi cocktail bar on the map — it ranked #58 in Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2023 and #3 in 30 Best Bars, 2022; the second of which is co-curated by this magazine along with Tulleeho, a beverage consultancy.  

Sours have been part of our repertoire for almost two centuries now, and adapted a hundred times over. Even as India’s cocktail culture evolves rapidly, the classic tipple is only becoming more popular, with some version of it available across bars in the country, be it a classic whisky/pisco sour, or modern renditions of these time-tested tipples. “Sours reign and stand the test of time for representing two things: simplicity and balance. The harmony of sweet and tart makes it an easy drink to elevate, and hard one to go wrong with,” opines Pankaj Gusain, Bartender, AMPM, an artisanal coffee and cocktail bar in Park Street, Kolkata that does a twist on the classic whisky sour with a vanilla-infused bourbon whisky. Like Gusain, Chanda too, attributes the drink’s popularity to its inherent flavour profile, noting that the play of sweet and sour is particularly appealing to the Indian palate. “Think about how we consume dal and rice — with a sweet pickle and lime,” he shares. That makes sense if you think about this country’s resplendent chaats, namkeen and chutneys, all of which shine because of their characteristic sweet and sour finish. 

This apart, the cocktail variant also rules the roost because of its inherent versatility. “With various elements at play, these cocktails can be easily customised to suit individual tastes,” explains Sachin Yadav, Head Mixologist at Mumbai-based cantina and tequila bar, Mezcalita. Apart from taste, sours offer flexibility, in terms of the base spirit, too. Mixologists are now upgrading the sour with all kinds of spirits — mezcal, tequila, rum and gin, being a few to begin with. “In the ever-evolving world of cocktails, every spirit and tradition has its moment to shine. Presently, the allure of rum and tequila is taking centre stage in India,” adds Fay Barretto, Founder of Mr Bartender & The Crew, a collective that has created the beverage program at KAIA. At the newly launched boutique hotel on Ashwem Beach, Goa, their sour cocktail swaps whisky with rum, the latter of which is making a surefire comeback, along with the slow but steady rise of mezcal and tequila.  

Be that as it may, many restaurants are retaining the structure of a classic whisky or pisco sour in their versions, but elevating them with other bits and bobs. The first innovation in that regard, came with replacing egg whites — the hallmark of a sour — with vegetarian foam made with aquafaba, which is the liquid leftover from cooked chickpeas. At Americano, the much-loved Mumbai diner that secured the 57th rank on Asia’s 50 Best Bars’ list this year, the Shiro Whey cocktail “is rooted in the idea of a pisco sour,” shares Govind Singh, Bar Manager, who uses yet another foam alternative — burratafaba. “We blend our burrata whey along with aquafaba to create a dense creamy foam,” Singh explains.  

Similarly, at Napoli by Shatranj — the North Mumbai-based, Italian fine dine that reopened last month with a grand new facelift and after an eight-year-long hiatus — Verdi’s Verde, crafted as a tribute to the Italian composer, Giuseppe Verdi, is in essence a pisco sour, too. But, in it, the grape brandy, i.e. pisco, is combined with a guava puree and Thai chilli syrup, giving “it distinct flavours not typically found in a traditional sour cocktail,” asserts Garrimella Vishwanath Venkat, the restaurant’s Mixologist. “The addition of rose water and lime juice further enhances the complexity and floral notes, setting it apart from the standard sour,” he adds.  

The renaissance of sours isn’t happening in silos. Bars across the world have been reinterpreting classic cocktails in a bid to enthuse patrons, utilising new techniques (think, clarification, fat washing, etc) and undiscovered ingredients. Elaborating on the larger trend, Mayur Marne, Partner and Bar Head at Pune-based cocktail bar, Cobbler and Crew, says, “One of the key reasons for the reinterpretation of classic cocktails is the desire for providing something new and different to guests, who are seeking genuine experiences — they want cocktails that tell a story, with a touch of innovation. Just as a painter uses a canvas and colours to create a masterpiece, we bartenders utilise spirits, mixers, and garnishes to craft memorable experiences in a glass.”  


Arcadia at Home, Delhi  

The sour gets a twist of gin in Chanda’s hands at this celebrated Delhi bar. Yuzu and pineapple juice come together to add sweet and citrusy notes, further accentuated with strawberry vermouth, amaro, and pink saline, all finished with a garnish of carrot and beetroot shreds for that extra oomph.  

Verdi’s Verde at Napoli by Shatranj, Mumbai 

Pisco is infused with guava to create a fruity sour, balanced with a tangy kick from malic and citric acid in this deceptively smooth and delicious tipple that comes with a rose-water finish. 

The Colour Purple at KAIA, Goa  

White rum, creme de violette (a floral liqueur), vegan foam, lime, and orange mist come together in this interesting take on the whisky sour that’s served with chocolate pearls placed inside an oyster shell. 

Oye Como Va, Mezcalita, Mumbai  

Inspired by the classic tequila sour, this tipple combines tequila, mezcal, in-house apricot liqueur, grapefruit juice, and seltzer, all topped with an alternative foamer, instead of eggs — something bartenders are increasingly doing to retain the drink’s velvety texture, while making it vegetarian-friendly. 

The First Hour Sour, AMPM, Kolkata 

Crafted to capture the familiar aromas of  breakfasts, vanilla, and morning coffee, this woody and refreshing sour makes use of  bourbon, infused with vanilla pods, which is then, milk clarified for a smooth and buttery result. Here too, the eggs are swapped but with a coffee foam made from their signature Ngarum single-origin nano lot coffee from the Northeast.  

Shiro Whey and Horniman Sour at Americano, Mumbai  

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One of the most popular drinks at this Fort, Mumbai restaurant, The Shiro Whey is essentially a pisco sour, reimagined with roasted pineapple and porcini mushrooms. The Horniman Sour, on the other hand, is their take on the classic whiskey sour, which comes with sherry, ginger liqueur and house-made orgeat.  

Autumn Leaves at Cobbler and Crew, Pune  

Another take on the whisky sour, this cocktail has notes of butterscotch and apricot brandy, topped with a vegan foam and paired with a spoonful of jalapeno quinoa puff as the garnish. The libation is finished with dehydrated purple berry dust, prepared in-house from unused parts of the fruit from the kitchen. 

Classic Whisky Sour Recipe by Smoke House Deli  


60 ml bourbon  

15 ml lemon juice  

8 ml maple syrup  

1/2 no egg white – 

01 orange peel  

10 nos ice cubes 


  • Add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker.  
  • Add ice cubes and shake for 20-30 seconds till the outer surface of the shaker becomes cold. 
  • Strain into an Old Fashioned glass with one cube of square solid ice.  
  • Garnish with twisted orange peel and enjoy. 

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