The White Lady Cocktail is a timeless pre-prohibition classic that has captured the hearts of cocktail enthusiasts for over a century. Its smooth and elegant combination of botanical gin, tart citrus, and velvety egg whites makes it a versatile choice for both pre-dinner drinks and brunch gatherings. In this article, we delve into the fascinating history of the White Lady Cocktail, explore the importance of choosing the right ingredients, and share expert tips on how to perfect this sophisticated beverage.
A Brief History of the White Lady Cocktail
The White Lady Cocktail has a rich history dating back to the early 20th century. It has evolved through several iterations before reaching the well-balanced and refined recipe we know today.
The Origin: Ciro’s Club in London
The White Lady Cocktail’s first iteration was created by bartender Harry MacElhone at Ciro’s Club in London in 1919. This early version of the drink was a far cry from the present-day recipe, consisting of equal parts creme de menthe, triple sec, and lemon juice. While this concoction would have been too sweet by modern standards, it seems to have been a popular choice among bar patrons a century ago.
The Transformation: Harry’s New York Bar in Paris
When Harry MacElhone moved on to open Harry’s New York Bar in Paris during the 1920s, the White Lady Cocktail recipe underwent a significant transformation. The new version featured equal amounts of gin, Cointreau, and lemon juice, giving it a more familiar flavor profile.
The Introduction in Print and the Addition of Egg White
The recipe made its print debut in Harry Craddock’s 1930 “The Savoy Cocktail Book” from the American Bar at London’s Savoy Hotel. It used the same ingredients but with arguably better proportions. At some point, an egg white was also introduced, giving the drink its signature smoothness, body, and enhanced mouthfeel.
The end result of these evolutions is the White Lady Cocktail we know and love today – a recipe that, while carrying 100 years of history, is well-suited for contemporary tastes.
The Name: A Mysterious Origin
As for the name “White Lady,” its origin is shrouded in mystery. Some suggest that it was named after Zelda Fitzgerald and her blonde hair, while others believe that it’s simply a fancy-sounding name with no particular significance. Regardless of its true origin, the White Lady Cocktail has become a staple in the world of mixology.
The Art of Choosing the Right Ingredients
To create the perfect White Lady Cocktail, selecting the right ingredients is crucial. Here, we discuss the importance of choosing the appropriate gin, orange liqueur, and lemon variety.
Gin Selection: London Dry Gin or Citrusy Gin
A London dry gin is recommended for the White Lady Cocktail, as it prevents the drink from being overwhelmed by clashing botanicals. However, if you have a favorite citrusy gin, it could also work well in this recipe.
Orange Liqueur: Cointreau, Triple Sec, or Dry Orange Curaçao
When it comes to the orange liqueur, you have a few options: Cointreau, triple sec, or a dry orange curaçao like Pierre Ferrand. Each of these provides a sweet citrusy flavor, so the choice ultimately comes down to personal preference.
Lemon Selection: Sour Varieties for Balance
To achieve the ideal balance between sweetness and acidity, opt for a sour lemon variety like Eureka, rather than a sweet lemon such as Meyer. The bracing acidity of a sour lemon perfectly complements the sweetness of the orange liqueur.
The Importance of Egg White (or Aquafaba)
The egg white in the White Lady Cocktail is not just an optional extra; it plays a vital role in giving the drink its smooth and silky texture. If you’re concerned about using raw egg whites in cocktails, you can use a pasteurized egg white instead. For those who do not consume animal products, aquafaba (the liquid from canned chickpeas) makes an excellent substitute.
Freezing Aquafaba and Chickpeas
If you’re using aquafaba and don’t want to waste the remaining chickpeas, both the liquid and the chickpeas can be frozen for later use. Try portioning out 1-ounce amounts of aquafaba in a silicone ice cube tray and freezing the chickpeas in a single layer on a sheet pan before transferring them to a freezer-safe container.
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Mastering the Dry Shake Technique
The White Lady Cocktail requires a dry shake – shaking the ingredients without ice first – to create the desired frothy texture from the egg white or aquafaba. However, this technique can sometimes result in a messy spill when opening the cocktail shaker.
A No-Mess Solution: Handheld Frother
To avoid this issue, you can use a handheld frother to “shake” up the ingredients in the shaker before adding ice and closing the lid for a traditional shake. This method works well for both egg whites and aquafaba and helps prevent any spills. While it does require an additional gadget, it’s worth the investment if you’re a cocktail enthusiast.
Proceeding with Caution: The Traditional Dry Shake
If you don’t have a handheld frother or prefer not to purchase one, you can still achieve a great result with a traditional dry shake. Just be mindful when opening the shaker to minimize the risk of spills.
The Perfect Glassware: The Coupe
Presentation is an essential part of any cocktail experience, and the White Lady Cocktail is no exception. Traditionally, this drink is served in a coupe glass, which adds an air of sophistication and elegance. The shallow, curved shape of the coupe also helps to showcase the frothy texture created by the dry shake technique.
Garnishing the White Lady Cocktail: Subtle Sophistication
The garnish for the White Lady Cocktail should be subtle and refined, keeping with the drink’s sophisticated character. A simple lemon peel twist or a thin wheel of lemon is an excellent choice, adding a touch of color and a hint of citrus aroma without overpowering the drink’s delicate balance.
Variations on the Classic White Lady Cocktail
While the classic White Lady Cocktail is a timeless favorite, there are also several variations worth exploring. Here, we present a few twists on the original recipe for those looking to experiment with new flavor combinations.
The Green Lady: Adding Green Chartreuse
For a herbal twist, try adding a splash of green Chartreuse to the White Lady Cocktail. This aromatic French liqueur, made from a blend of 130 herbs and plants, lends a unique complexity to the drink while maintaining its smooth and refreshing character.
The Elderflower Lady: Incorporating Elderflower Liqueur
Elderflower liqueur, such as St-Germain, adds a delightful floral note to the White Lady Cocktail. Substitute a portion of the orange liqueur with elderflower liqueur for a delicate and fragrant variation on the classic recipe.
The Spiced Lady: Introducing Spiced Rum
For a warming, spiced version of the White Lady Cocktail, consider swapping the gin for a spiced rum. This substitution adds a rich depth of flavor and a hint of exotic spice, perfect for sipping on cooler evenings.
Pairing the White Lady Cocktail with Food
The White Lady Cocktail’s sweet-tart profile and easy drinkability make it an excellent choice for pairing with a range of dishes. Its refreshing citrus notes work well with seafood, such as ceviche or grilled shrimp, while the botanical gin base complements herb-infused dishes like chicken with tarragon or rosemary-roasted potatoes. The drink’s smooth, velvety texture also makes it a delightful accompaniment to creamy desserts like panna cotta or lemon cheesecake.
In Conclusion: A Timeless Classic
The White Lady Cocktail is a sophisticated and versatile drink with a rich history spanning over a century. Its smooth blend of botanical gin, tart citrus, and silky egg whites has stood the test of time, making it a beloved favorite among cocktail connoisseurs. By understanding the importance of choosing the right ingredients, mastering the dry shake technique, and experimenting with variations, you too can perfect this classic beverage and impress your guests with a taste of mixology history.