Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Does a White Lady Require Egg White?

We recently had cocktails at The Violet Hour in Chicago, and we had some fantastic conversations with the people sitting next to us at the bar. In one of them, our new friend told us that his recipe for the White Lady requires egg white. We'd never put egg white into the drink before, and being the curious sort, I decided to research this a bit and potentially give it a try.

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 Rec
ipe & 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!


Troy said...


This is my favorite blog entry so far! (For the readers, I'm the one who makes White Ladies with egg white at the bar where I work.) If I make this version of a White Lady at home here's my recipe:

3/4 oz. lemon juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup
3/4 oz. Cointreau
1 egg white
1 1/2 oz. Beefeater Gin (although North Shore would make a great substitute, I'm sure)

Combine all ingredients (along with large ice cubes) and shake*. Pour into a martini shell coated with an inch of superfine sugar along the outside of the glass. Garnish with a long lemon twist.

Because of this drink, I've wanted to try adding egg whites to a Margarita and serving the same way.

*This shake is not like shaking moroccas. It's a shake with the force of an NFL linebacker behind it. I like the froth to be about an inch thick once it's poured into the martini shell.

~Sonja~ said...

Hi Troy! Thanks for the comment, and for your recipe - I can't wait to try it. I had tried to stop in and see you on Tuesday night before I put up my post, but you were off. I'm so glad to see you on here! Thanks again.

PS, at The Alembic in SF, they got great froth by using a hand-held mixer/foamer thing - it went way beyond shaking. I ordered a Ramos Gin Fizz and it was a glass full of froth, it was fantastic.

Anonymous said...

Troy's recipe makes for an amazing drink.


Anonymous said...

Ok, so I just devised a variation on this that is the best White Lady variant I've tasted. I'm still looking for a name -- let me know if you conjure one.


2.5 oz gin (used Tanq, but am sure North Shore or Plymouth would be a bit less massive on the juniper/citrus)

1 oz lime (maybe lemon next time)

scant 1 oz rosemary syrup

1 egg white

1 dash Regan's #6 orange bitters

dry shake, real shake, strain. Delicious! If you prefer your cocktail significantly drier, cut back on the rosemary syrup to 3/4 oz.