White Lady

The White Lady cocktail proudly resides in the coveted category of “The Unforgettables,” as per the IBA classification. This timeless and elegant libation first graced the cocktail scene a century ago and continues to hold a distinguished position among cocktail enthusiasts.

As with the origins of many enduring cocktails, the precise birth of the White Lady remains shrouded in mystery.

One thing is certain—the first iteration of the White Lady can be attributed to the Scotchman Harry MacElhone. In 1919, in London’s Ciro’s Club, he conjured this concoction and christened it the White Lady. MacElhone recorded the recipe in his 1922 book, “Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails.” His rendition featured brandy, crème de menthe, and Cointreau. However, in the modern classic version, it shares only an orange liqueur and a name with its predecessor. Notably, three renowned bartenders lay claim to shaping the modern iteration of this cocktail.

Firstly, Harry MacElhone himself contends in a modern version of his book that in 1929, after establishing his own Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, he revised the cocktail’s components to equal parts of gin, Triple Sec, and lemon juice.

However, this alteration faces competition from the famed Harry Craddock, who held sway at the American Bar in London’s Savoy Hotel during those years. Legend has it that he crafted the White Lady in 1920, drawing inspiration from the platinum blonde wife of Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda. Over the past century, various luminaries have been credited as the mysterious White Lady who inspired one of the potential cocktail creators. Craddock published the White Lady recipe in his seminal “Savoy Cocktail Book” in 1930, doubling the gin portion compared to MacElhone’s recipe. Harry Craddock, a gifted bartender and an eccentric personality, once claimed that in 1927, during the American Bar’s renovation, he entombed a shaker containing the White Lady’s ingredients within the construction as a protective charm for the bar’s longevity. The tradition of interring objects within new structures for good luck has ancient roots, often involving living creatures. In this case, Craddock substituted a living entity with a beloved cocktail shaker. The year 1927 predates Harry MacElhone’s announcement of the new cocktail by two years, creating a perplexing timeline. However, there is no documented evidence of the 1927 shaker interment, leading to speculation that it might have been conflated with another occasion. In 1937, when Harry Craddock relocated to The Dorchester Hotel, he immortalized the White Lady by sealing a vial of its essence alongside four other cocktails, and their recipes within the bar’s walls. This act attested to his unwavering devotion to his craft and workplace. This burial was mentioned in several newspapers. Nevertheless, this 1937 account is a decade removed from the initial creation by MacElhone, leaving the question of which Harry laid claim to the White Lady unanswered.

Adding a layer of intrigue to the White Lady’s origins, a third contender emerges. Victor Cabrin, identified in two newspaper articles from 1934 and 1946, is named as the cocktail’s creator. In 1929, in his Victor’s bar at London’s Grosvenor House, Cabrin purportedly crafted the White Lady. Creating cocktails dedicated to ladies of various hues was his specialty, evidenced by his authorship of the Blue Lady and Black Lady. The White Lady harmoniously continued this tradition.

Regardless of the cocktail’s true origin, its appeal is undeniable.

IBA recipe:

-1 1/3 oz/ 40 ml Dry Gin
-1 oz/ 30 ml Triple Sec
-2/3 oz/ 20 ml Fresh Lemon Juice

Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker. Shake well with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Cocktail glass

Traditionally, the White Lady, including the IBA recipe, did not feature egg white. However, since 1936, a variant with egg white has emerged, lending the cocktail a smoother texture and a pristine white appearance.

To craft this creamy iteration, introduce half of an egg white into the mix along with the other ingredients. Shake the concoction initially without ice to nurture a luxurious foam. Then, repeat the vigorous shaking, this time with ice, to achieve the desired consistency.

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