Vodka Sour with Key Lime & Thyme
February 9, 2021
One silver lining to the winter is that much of the produce is ready for harvest in places like Florida and Mexico – and that means it’s citrus season. I’m celebrating with a fun cocktail that features one of my favorite winter fruits, the key lime. This drink highlights the floral and tart flavor of these tiny citrus fruits by pairing them with thyme in a vodka sour.
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If you’re not familiar with key limes, they are a little bit different from the common limes that you are used to. They are much smaller, only about an inch or so in diameter. They also have a flavor that is more bitter and acidic, with floral undertones.
These tastes pair wonderfully with sweet flavors, which is why you’ve probably had a slice or two of key lime pie. However, these also work well with the sharp and floral flavor of herbs like thyme. The two come together to make this delicious and refreshing vodka sour.
What You Need to Get Started
You can easily find all of the ingredients for a vodka sour with key lime and thyme at your grocery store. You can also order online using Amazon Fresh for grocery delivery.
- Pantry: Sugar
- Produce: Fresh thyme, Key limes
- Fridge: Egg white
- From the Bar: Vodka, Orange bitters
- Special Equipment: Saucepan, Mason jar, Citrus press, Coupe glass, Cocktail shaker
How to Make Thyme Simple Syrup
Infused simple syrups are one of my favorite ways to add flavor to a cocktail. Plus, you usually make more than you need for a single serving, so you can use the leftover syrup to experiment with other combinations from the bar, or add something extra to your morning tea.
This version is a rich simple syrup, which means the ratio of sugar to water is two to one. A standard simple syrup is generally a one-to-one ratio, so this syrup is more concentrated. That means you need less of it for the same amount of sweetness.
To get started, add the sugar and water into a small saucepan, and stir to combine. Cook over medium heat and continue stirring until all the sugar dissolves and the liquid becomes transparent again.
Transfer the rich simple syrup to a jar. A 16-oz mason jar is perfect, with room to spare. Then add in the thyme, bending or breaking the stems to make sure it’s fully submerged in the syrup.
Cover the jar loosely and let it cool to room temperature, or at least no longer warm to the touch. Then tightly seal and transfer to the fridge to chill at least overnight. The longer you let it sit and infuse, the stronger your thyme flavor will be.
You can leave the thyme in the jar and let it continue infusing for quite a while. However, if you want to store the syrup without letting it get stronger, strain it through a fine mesh strainer into a new jar instead.
Let’s Make a Key Lime Vodka Sour
If you are juicing your own key limes, start there. These little guys are tiny, so they take some time and effort to squeeze, but they are worth the extra work. I found the best way to juice these was to cut off one end, then place the lime in my citrus press, and juice into a bowl or measuring cup.
Then after juicing three or four, I would put all the already juiced skins back in the press, and juice them again. This got some of the extra out because of the added pressure. Once you have enough juice, set it aside, or store it in the fridge for a day or so in a sealed container.
Just before you are ready to mix the drinks, chill your glasses. I learned how to do this from watching bartenders make drinks, and it’s super easy. Just fill your coupe glass with ice and cold water, and set it aside while you do everything else.
At this point you can also make the sweetened lime slice garnishes. Add a few thinly cut key lime slices to a shallow dish or plate, and cover them with a little bit of the thyme syrup. Flip them over to get them all coated, and then set that plate aside as well.
Okay, you’ve been patient with all the prep work. But now we can start mixing the cocktail. Combine the vodka, freshly squeezed key lime juice, thyme syrup, a little bit of egg white, and orange bitters in a cocktail shaker – but don’t add any ice just yet.
When working with egg white, it can help to do what’s called a dry shake first. This is when you shake up the ingredients before adding in any ice, to mix them all up and make the drink nice and frothy. Shake vigorously, for about fifteen seconds, and you should see a visible difference.
Then you can add in the ice, and shake it again. The purpose of this second shake is the chill and dilute the drink, even though it has already been mixed up. You don’t want to skip either step, since one is for texture and the other for flavor.
If you are skeptical about using egg whites, don’t be! They add no flavor to the drink, but do help provide that lovely foam layer on top. In most cases, it’s safe to drink a cocktail made with raw egg white. But if you are nervous, you can always try using aquafaba (or the water from a can of chickpeas) instead. I’ve never tried this, so let me know if you do!
After the second shake, your cocktail is ready to serve. Dump the cold water out of your coupe glass, and strain the vodka sour into the glass instead. You will see the foam starting to pour out towards the end, and it will make a nice frothy layer to hold the garnishes.
Gently float two syrupy lime slices and a stem or two of thyme atop the foam. Because this is a shaken cocktail with egg white, I don’t recommend making it in advance or making a large batch. If you have a larger shaker, you may be able to make two or three at a time at most.
Looking for a classy and refreshing cocktail? This vodka sour features fresh squeezed key lime juice and a homemade thyme simple syrup.
How to Serve a Vodka Sour Cocktail
This drink is refreshing, but the herbal qualities that the thyme adds make it perfect to serve all year and for any occasion. It’s an impressive-looking drink to serve guests, especially in small groups, and would go well before dinner for a cocktail hour, alongside brunch, or with dessert.
Try pairing this with a dessert bar, featuring a selection of small bites. Start with earl grey lemon bars to play into the citrus flavor. Then add sesame butterscotch rice krispies treats, miso peanut butter cup cookies, and blueberry cheesecake cookies to please a variety of palettes.
Other Cocktails to Try
Everyone’s taste in beverages is different, so whether it’s you or a guest looking for something a little different, I’ve got you covered. First, here are a few other citrus-forward drinks.
- For a different take on vodka, try a citron lemonade slushie, a Disney copycat recipe.
- For gin lovers, you need to try mixing up a cucumber and basil gin cocktail.
- Looking for something sweeter? Try a raspberry lemon mojito.
- If tequila is more your style, you’ll love a sweet and spicy paloma.
- Whiskey and bourbon fans can join in with bourbon mint lemonade.
If you’d rather stay away from citrus completely, here are a couple cocktails with a completely different flavor profile, but that look just as lovely in your hand:
Vodka Sour with Key Lime and Thyme
Thyme Rich Simple Syrup
- 1 Cup Granulated Sugar
- ½ Cup Water
- 6-8 Sprigs Fresh Thyme
Vodka Sour with Key Lime and Thyme
- 2 oz Vodka
- 1 ½ oz Fresh Squeezed Key Lime Juice about 6-8 key limes
- 1 Tbsp Thyme Rich Simple Syrup
- 1 Tbsp Egg White
- 2 dashes Orange Bitters
- ½ Cup Ice
- 2 slices Key Limes for garnish
- 1-2 sprigs Thyme for garnish
Thyme Rich Simple Syrup
- Combine sugar and water in small saucepan over medium heat. Cooking, stirring frequently until the sugar dissolves and the liquid is clear.
- Transfer to a jar and add thyme, making sure it's fully submerged. Cover loosely and let cool to room temperature, then transfer to fridge and chill at least overnight. Letting it sit longer will create stronger thyme flavor.
Vodka Sour with Key Lime and Thyme
- Fill a coupe glass with cold water. Add the key lime slices to a shallow dish or plate, and cover with ½ Tbsp of the thyme syrup, flipping to coat. Set both aside.
- Combine vodka, lime juice, syrup, egg white, and bitters in a shaker, and shake vigorously 15 seconds until frothy
- Add the ice and shake vigorously again until very cold, another 15-20 seconds
- Dump water from coupe glass and strain cocktail into the empty glass. Top with the syrupy lime slices and thyme sprigs and serve immediately.
- Make ahead tip: The syrup can be made up to 2 weeks in advance. To stop the thyme flavor from infusing, strain the syrup and discard the thyme sprigs after a minimum of 12 hours. You can also juice the key limes in advance and store for 1-2 days in the fridge. This drink is best when shaken just prior to serving, but comes together quickly.
- Make a batch: I don't recommend making many of these together in a large batch, because each one needs to be shaken with the egg white to get that lovely froth on top. However, if you have a larger Boston style shaker, you can likely shake up 2 or even 3 at a time depending on the capacity.
- If you are not a fan of thyme, you can use plain rich simple syrup. Follow the instructions above, but omit the thyme.
- I have not tried this recipe with bottled key lime juice, but if you do, let me know how it goes!
- You can use any vodka in this drink. I like to use a favorite local brand, but if you can't find that one, use your favorite instead. I like Svedka as a nationally available brand.