First, a brief History
This is an old drink, popular since at least the 1930's. It seems that two people are often credited with creating this drink, both of them named Harry. The first published instance of the recipe seems to be the Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock (1930), who was in London at the American Bar at the time. However, Harry MacElhone is also often credited with the drink, reputedly making the drink as early as 1919, albeit with créme de menthe rather than gin. He later perfected it at Harry's New York Bar in Paris in the late 1920's or early 1930's (although their website claims 1919 as the creation date).
Unfortunately we'll probably never know which story is right, perhaps they both are - its certainly not unheard of for people to separately develop very similar cocktails.
The Recipe & Variations
In the Savoy, the recipe is:
2 parts Gin
1 part Cointreau
1 part Fresh Lemon Juice
No egg white (and certainly no créme de menthe).
Some potential variations I've seen or read about, after researching it:
- Using equal parts of the three ingredients rather than 2:1:1
- Adding anywhere from 1 tsp to one whole egg white
- Reducing the lemon juice to 1/2 a part (with or without egg white)
The egg white is an interesting variation, it adds a creaminess and totally changes the texture of the drink (as it does with any cocktail it visits). With equal parts of the ingredients, or with the original Savoy recipe, I liked the egg white variation - it cut the bite of the lemon a bit, but still left the rest of the flavors intact. Half an egg white was enough for me, though - more than that and I started to taste the egg white and get that teeth coating thing happening.
So what's best?
In the end, I think I like the original Savoy recipe best, although I found the variations interesting. I imagine this is yet another case where personal preference decides the best recipe.
And an afternote...
Just for fun, when I was back at the Violet Hour tonight, I asked the bartender, Michael (photo at left), how he makes his White Lady. He laughed for a second, and said he hasn't made that drink since about 1974 (bear in mind he's only about 30, 35 tops), and that the last person who ordered it was a 60-year old Englishman. However, he said he definitely didn't use any egg white when he made it. He found it very entertaining that a discussion about it (which inspired my blog post) took place at his bar, though!