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On the Bar: The White Lady is elegant but packs a punch

the white lady

Grab some gin, Cointreau and lemon juice and give The White Lady a try.

Sometimes there’s a classic you’ve just never gotten around to.

I’ve never seen “Lawrence of Arabia.” I’ve never listened to much Hüsker Dü. I’ve never read “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”

They’re blind spots in my cultural knowledge. No reason. I know I’d like them. They’re established, unassailable classics enjoyed by people who enjoy all the other stuff I enjoy. I just haven’t gotten around to them yet. Circumstance hasn’t lined up just right, and I haven’t taken the initiative on my own. I figure eventually I will.

So it was with The White Lady, one of the only real classics I’d never taken the time to make at home. I remedied that recently, and I’ll tell you about it. But first some history.

The White Lady was first made in 1919, according to leading cocktail historian David Wondrich, who credits famed Paris barman Harry MacElhone with the invention. But that version, with a Cointreau base accented by lemon juice and creme de menthe, didn’t last. It caught on a bit better after MacElhone dropped the creme de menthe, added gin and dialed back the Cointreau. That version also included an egg white, as Harry Craddock (the other important “Harry” in the early 20th century cocktail world) commemorated in his 1930 “Savoy Cocktail Book.”

But, where Craddock’s version has the gin-

Cointreau-lemon ratio at 2-1-1, MacElhone’s (and Wondrich’s and’s) has it at a much more gin-forward 4-1-1. The latter is the recipe I went with for my first White Lady. And, because those ratios create a fairly dry, very boozy drink, I omitted the egg white. I didn’t want the frothiness of the shaken egg to soften the drink’s austere brand of elegance.

It was perfect. Looking at the ingredients, I expected something like a gin Sidecar. But that drink (which features brandy rather than gin and has a bigger splash of Cointreau) is much richer and sweeter. This was gin-forward like a martini but softened a bit by the orange sweetness of the Cointreau, which is then balanced by the lemon.

I’m glad I finally tried it. Makes me want to go get a couple of Hüsker Dü records.

The White Lady

2 ounces London dry gin

1/2 ounce Cointreau

1/2 ounce lemon juice

Shake all ingredients 15-30 seconds in cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into chilled cocktail glass.

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