Some drinks undoubtedly rise to the level of “A-list” cocktails. These are the ones that you’d think of as household names, the Brad Pitts and George Clooneys of mixed drinks, if you will. Martini. Manhattan. Mojito. Sidecar. Old Fashioned. And the list goes on. Then there are the “B-list” cocktails. No less great, but certainly not always front-of-mind to the general public. Boulevardier. Caipirinha. And the White Lady.
For those of us who spend much of our time studying classic cocktail recipes, these B-listers pop up regularly. Mastering them is one of the defining characteristics of a knowledgeable bartender. I, myself, have never been the most knowledgeable bartender. My friends and colleagues can attest to that. So the following story should come as no surprise to anyone.
While sitting at my friend Jake Burger’s bar, the Portobello Star, in London back in 2008, my party and I were offered our last drink of the evening: the White Lady. Now, at this point I wasn’t ashamed to admit that while I’d heard of the White Lady, I’d never actually tried one. But after my first sip, I realized what a weak excuse for a bartender I was as I reveled in this drink made by the hands of a master. Aromatic, floral, sweet, sour, and delicate, this drink was absolutely perfect.
The experience left me wanting to do a little more homework on the White Lady, which first appeared in the Savoy Cocktail Book of 1930. It is, at its core, a Sidecar made with gin. And while the first recipe does not call for egg white, nearly every subsequent recipe for the drink does. Why? My guess is that a nice egg white froth transforms the drink from being a Pale Yellow Lady into a White Lady, and that the egg white addition was mainly cosmetic, but I could be wrong.
At any rate, my head now filled with some important information, I spent the next few years trying to refine my personal version of the recipe. I wanted to create something worthy of that first one I tried from Jake. My first attempts were overly potent, as the double wallop of gin and Cointreau is a lot of alcohol. I had a hard time fine-tuning the sweet and sour components. But I finally landed on a recipe that I think is nearly perfect—for now, anyway. It is my hope that this version makes up for the sins of the past in some small way.
• 1½ oz. London dry gin, such as Tanqueray or Bombay Dry
• 1 oz. Cointreau
• ¾ oz. lemon juice
• ½ oz. egg whites, lightly beaten
• 1 tsp. 2:1 simple syrup
Shake ingredients with ice cubes until cold and very frothy. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Express the oils of an orange peel onto the surface of the drink, then discard the peel.
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Jeffrey Morgenthaler is the bar manager at Pépé le Moko and Clyde Common, the acclaimed gastropub at the Ace Hotel in Portland, Oregon. He is also author of The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique.