Western Sour

Doc Holliday's birthday

Your cocktail calendar entry for: August
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Doc Holliday’s birthday is August 14 and we’re going to mark the occasion with the Western Sour cocktail.  Dr. Holliday didn’t exactly lead a long life, but left behind a legacy we can drink to.  He was best known for joining up with Wyatt Earp, becoming deputized and taking part in the Gunfight at the OK Corral, but he got in plenty of trouble all on his own before he died at the age of 36.

It may seem odd to celebrate a legendary hard-drinking, tubercular gunslinger and gambler with a tiki drink.   But the Western Sour is rye whiskey based, just the right thing considering Doc’s penchant for Old Overholt.  And the drink has real street cred, coming from the mid-20th century tiki craze.

Doc Holliday

Doc Holliday was born in Griffen, Georgia as John Henry Holliday on August 14, 1851.  He attended the Valdosta Institute where he received a classical education in such things as rhetoric, grammar, math and languages.  His mother died of tuberculosis in 1866 and in 1870 Holliday enrolled in the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery.

Holliday graduated as a dentist and began practicing in Atlanta.  But he also discovered he had contracted tuberculosis.  Physicians advised him to move to a drier climate, so he headed west to Dallas.  He tried working again as a dentist but fits of coughing got in the way and he needed a new way to earn a living.

So Holliday headed further west and took up gambling.  It was a reputable profession in those days, and he was an unusual character out west – highly educated and refined where that was not so common.  He was fluent in Latin, played piano, dressed sharply and had the manners of a Southern gentleman.  He became known as Doc Holliday and gained a reputation as a formidable poker and faro gambler.

Holliday moved about the lawless west, everywhere from New Mexico to Nevada and Dodge City, Kansas.  He treated his tuberculosis with alcohol and opium tinctures and lived knowing things would not last too long.

Along the way he was involved in several altercations and was known for his skill with a gun.  He Wyatt Earp, the famous lawman and gambler, in Texas and the two became friends.  Holliday eventually rode with Earp to Tombstone, Arizona where he was deputized by Wyatt’s brother and Tombstone city marshal Virgil Earp.

That, of course, is a story of its own, ending with the infamous Shootout at the OK Corral.  Naturally, ,we covered that for its anniversary when we mixed the Revolver cocktail.

The Western Sour Cocktail

Time for a Doc Holliday drink.  His drink of choice was simple:  Old Overholt rye whiskey.  His tuberculosis was debilitating, and as John C. Jacobs, a fellow gambler put it, “This fellow Holliday was a consumptive and hard drinker, but neither liquor nor the bugs seemed to faze him.  He could at times be the most genteel, affable chap you ever saw, and at other times he was sour and surly, and would just as soon cut your throat with a villainous looking knife he always carried or shoot you with a 41-caliber double-barreled derringer he always kept in his vest pocket.”

So we’re turning to a rye whiskey drink, but we’d like to present something a bit more interesting than just tossing it in a glass, neat, like Doc did.  So we’ve go the Western Sour cocktail, figuring the western part and sour on a bad day fit Doc Holliday.

The Western Sour emerged sometime around 1960, in the original heyday of the tiki craze.  It came from Steve Crane’s Kon-Tiki chain or restaurants.  They were a direct competitor to Don the Beachcomber, the founder of tiki culture who invented the Zombie cocktail we like for Halloween.  Not to mention Trader Vic, who gave us the Mai Tai.

The Western Sour is straightforward enough and fits the classic sours family of spirit, citrus and sweetener.  It’s really a variation on the classic Whiskey Sour but brings different citrus for the sour and splits the sweet component between Falernum and simple syrup.

western sour

Western Sour

Following the classic formula for a sour (spirit, citrus, sweetener), the Western Sour veers into the tiki dimension by splitting the citrus component between grapefruit and lime juices as well as bringing Falernum to the party as a sweetener. Originally from Steve Crane's Kon-Tiki chain or restaurants, the drink is as good now as it was when developed sometime around 1960. And it's one of the easiest tiki drinks you can make.
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  • 2 oz Rye whiskey
  • 1 oz Fresh grapefruit juice
  • ½ oz Fresh lime juice
  • ½ oz Falernum
  • ¼ oz Simple syrup
  • Garnish: lime wheel


  • Add all ingredients to your trusty cocktail shaker.
  • Add ice and shake until frosty cold.
  • Strain into Old Fashioned glass over ice, preferably a single, large cube.
  • Garnish with lime wheel.
  • Pour in the direction of your liver.
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