by Nan Kavanaugh | February 23, 2021

How to Make the Perfect Florida Whiskey Sour

Reach for a rye whiskey in place of bourbon to take this classic cocktail in a new direction.

Jim Webb leans on the bar holding a bottle to make a drink. He has a long white beard, tattoos on his forearms and wears a Manifest T-shirt.
Jim Webb, general manager of Manifest Distilling, says a rye whiskey sour lets all of the complex flavor profiles shine through. Photography by Cole LoCurto.

There are few places more sublime than a Florida porch in February. Before the Sunshine State’s signature swelter returns and the mosquitos nip at your neck, it’s the perfect perch to sit back, sip a refreshing beverage and soak up the coastal breeze.

Embrace the last month of mosquito-free living and celebrate the bounty of citrus season with a pitcher of whiskey sours. The whiskey sour is a classic cocktail made for Florida winters. Born at sea,  sailors enjoyed it “for medicinal purposes” in the 1700 and 1800s. Its citrus base helped combat scurvy, and it still serves today as a Vitamin C-packed sipper perfect for boosting both mood and immune system in the final throes of the cold season. The whiskey sour is a no-frills cocktail made with a simple mix of fresh citrus juice, simple syrup and whiskey of choice.

“I enjoy rye whiskey versus bourbon in whiskey sours, because the spiciness of the rye comes through,” said Jim Webb, general manager of Manifest Distilling in Jacksonville. Webb knows his rye. Manifest Distilling’s Straight Rye Whiskey won Double Gold in the 2017 New York World Wine & Spirits Competition and earned a gold medal from the American Distilling Institute in the Craft Spirit category. Made from organic rye and hard red spring wheat, it is both smooth and spicy.

A lemon cocktail in front of a cutting board with lemons.
Take advantage of Florida’s bountiful citrus season with this tangy cocktail made with fresh lemons. Photography courtesy of

Unlike a bourbon sour, a rye whiskey sour is not cloyingly sweet. The rye brings a peppery note on the back of the palate with a bright burst of citrus on the front.

“Bourbon, made from mostly corn, is sweeter so you don’t taste as much of the spirit when mixed in a drink, while rye grain has a much more complex taste profile,” Webb said.

To balance that complexity, add grapefruit juice to the mix. February is peak grapefruit season in Florida, and a splash of ruby red provides just a hint of bitterness in this classic cocktail.

Want to go native? You can source all of the ingredients in a rye whiskey sour entirely from Florida farms. Timber Creek Distillery’s Florida Black Rye Whiskey is made from a strain of rye only grown in the Sunshine State. With its subtle floral notes and a honeyed finish, combined with Florida fresh citrus and cane sugar syrup, it makes for a marvelous balance of sweet and sour.

Self-care comes in many forms, and a little medicinal craft cocktail may just be what the doctor ordered in these changing times. A bright citrusy whiskey sour is perfect for relaxing at home on a balmy winter night, safe and sauced.

An image of a bottle of rye whiskey with a hand holding a glass. It's the ingredient you need to make this twist on the whiskey sour.
At Manifest Distilling, the secret to a spicy Florida whiskey sour is swapping bourbon for rye whiskey. Photography courtesy of Manifest Distilling.

Florida Whiskey Sour

Makes 4 cocktails
  • ¾ cup of Rye whiskey
  • ½ cup of fresh lemon juice
  • ⅛ cup of fresh grapefruit juice
  • ⅛ cup of fresh lime juice
  • ⅔ cup of simple syrup
  • Maraschino cherries for garnish
  • Citrus peel for garnish

Preparation: Bring 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar to boil in a small pot. Once sugar dissolves, remove from heat and pop in the freezer to cool. Mix the lemon juice, grapefruit juice, lime juice and whiskey in a bowl or pitcher. Stir in your chilled simple syrup. Serve in a glass over ice and garnish with citrus peel and a cherry.