The White Lady cocktail was invented by famed bartender Harry MacElhone in 1919 while he was working at Ciro’s Club in London. It originally featured crème de menthe, triple sec and lemon in an interesting albeit unusual combination of ingredients. This version enjoyed a decade-long run, but it didn’t last.
It wasn’t because of a world war, Prohibition or hard-to-source products: It’s simply because MacElhone changed his creation in 1929, when he was working behind the stick at his own joint, Harry’s New York Bar in Paris.
The 1929 recipe, which is still today’s preferred recipe, calls for gin, orange liqueur, lemon juice and egg white. “It’s a dramatic change,” says Brendan Bartley, the beverage director of The 18th Room in New York. It’s unknown exactly why MacElhone made the change, but Bartley confirms that, based on his own taste comparison between the recipes, the newer version is indeed an improvement over the original.
This drier, more balanced drink is similar to a classic sour (spirit, citrus, sugar), but swaps liqueur for sugar. Or maybe it’s more like a gin-based Sidecar (brandy, orange liqueur, lemon juice), plus egg white. However you want to think of it, the White Lady is a winner.
The gin, liqueur and lemon hit all the right notes, merging bracing botanicals with sweet orange and tart citrus. The egg white smooths any rough edges and yields a rich, silky body.
To best incorporate the egg with the liquid components, try “dry-shaking” all the ingredients without ice before shaking again with fresh ice. This initial shake, performed at a higher temperature, helps to emulsify the egg and results in a cohesive, perfectly blended drink.
2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce orange liqueur or triple sec
1/2 ounce lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 egg white
Add the gin, orange liqueur, lemon juice and egg white into a shaker and dry-shake (without ice) vigorously.
Add ice and shake again until well-chilled.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Raw Egg Warning
Consuming raw and lightly cooked eggs poses a risk of food-borne illness.