A colleague of mine introduced me to the whiskey sour, and I've since come to share her opinion that it is the best mixed drink ever.
Sugar syrup is simple to make. I go for the Joy of Cooking version which is two cups of sugar mixed with one cup of water and gently heated in a saucepan until the sugar dissolves (I am always amazed that two cups of sugar can disappear into one cup of water, but then, I am easily amazed.) You can flavour the syrup with herbs like mint, or costmary (what on earth is costmary, you ask -- stay tuned!), or thyme, or lavendar, or lemon verbena, or... you get me. Just add the herbs after the sugar has dissolved, and let them steep for a while before straining. I store my sugar syrup in the fridge in an old basalmic vinegar bottle (the one with the horse-head stopper in the photo). This drink was made with costmary flavoured syrup.
Why go to all this hassle you ask? Well, the sugar syrup ensures that the sweetener is evenly distributed in the final drink, rather than remaining undissolved, settling to the bottom, and yielding one of those childhood lemonade moments where you say "I know where all the sugar went" when you get to the bottom of your glass.
You'll note I've spelled whiskey with an "e." That's because I prefer bourbon as the whiskey in this drink. Remarkably, it is easier to find good bourbon in Ottawa than it is to find good Canadian whisky (note, no "e"). Maybe I'm just a crappy shopper (I know I'm a crappy shopper), but decent Canadian Rye just doesn't seem to jump out at me at the LCBO.
ANYWAY, you fill your shaker with ice, add the juice of a lemon (the average lemon clocks in at two ounces of juice, so you need to add 4 ounces of bourbon, which means you can either share or watch out -- your choice), add your whiskey (or whisky if you prefer), and a dollop of sugar syrup (I am never too precise here, and since personal tastes vary you may as well experiment -- officially you need 3/4 oz. of syrup for each oz. of lemon juice, but I find that too sweet), shake like crazy, pour into a nice glass, and ...
But wait! What is costmary?! Costmary was also called Alecost because, guess what, they used it to flavour ale (back before hops became common, apparently). It was also called bible leaf because people would put a leaf in their bible to make it smell nice and to give them something nice to sniff if the sermon got a little boring (like that could ever happen). I really like the smell (it reminds me of Juicy Fruit gum). It grows like a weed. I think you can order if from Richters, or pop by my house and I'll give you a clump.
How do I know this crap?! Well, waaaaay back in my youth I worked at Bellevue House National Historic Site in Kingston as a period (read c. 1846) gardener, and in the garden we grew...yes...costmary! I've grown it ever since.