If I were magically transported to California while I slept, it wouldn’t take me long to figure out where I was. The state has some tells. The light, to begin with. Golden, abundant, all too aware of how attractive it is. The air doesn’t smell the same there. And sooner rather than later, I’d encounter a Meyer lemon.
Every Californian I know has a Meyer lemon tree in their yard. They overturn bowls of them as they reach to shut off their alarm clocks in the morning, knock dozens of the little jewels off the branches as they walk to their cars. The place is lousy with them. A cross between a lemon and a sweet orange, the fruit was imported to the United States from China roughly a century ago. Their skins are thin and almost garishly colored, like many Californians. Zing! (I kid because I love. And am deeply jealous. And from New York.) They also possess a delicate floral fragrance and a taste sweeter than that of normal lemons, making them astonishingly versatile. To quote my friend David Corbett, Meyer lemons are God’s way of saying, “I’m sorry.”
Naturally now that they’re more readily available nationwide, I wanted to use them in a cocktail.
Drinks historian David Wondrich is even more dismissive. The Whiskey Sour, he wrote, is “the cocktail in its undershirt.”
Enter the Meyer lemon. The natural buoyancy of its flavor blends perfectly with a good bourbon, and the fruit’s inherent sweetness means you can scale back the amount of simple syrup involved while still enjoying its tang. It revitalizes the drink, now no longer staid but refreshing, the stand-by transformed into a swinger. Turns out Old Man Whiskey just needs the right comely stranger to blow in his ear. Or, to put it another way, it’s a reminder that you need only change one element of a cocktail – not even the main one – to generate a pleasing variation.
The Meyer Lemon Whiskey Sour
2 oz. bourbon
1 oz. Meyer lemon juice
¼ to ½ oz. simple syrup, depending on taste
Shake. Strain into a sour or cocktail glass, but know that everything looks better in the latter. Garnish with a cherry.