Photo by Tyler Zielinski
The White Lady is a classic cocktail created in the early 1900s by bartender Harry MacElhone at Ciro’s Club in London. Though it originally called for crème de menthe as the base spirit, MacElhone toyed with his recipe over the years, finally landing on a gin-based version in 1929, after opening Harry’s New York Bar in Paris.
In what amounts to a gin sidecar—a term that can generally mean a drink made with orange liqueur and lemon—the White Lady can also be seen as a twist on a classic gin sour, which is roughly the same drink but with simple syrup/sugar rather than orange liqueur as the sweetening agent. It’s also perfectly representative of the longstanding bartender tradition of changing a single ingredient to something similar, then making up an entirely new name as to make customers think the cocktail is more complicated than it actually is.
The drink has also inspired offshoots like the Pink Lady, which changes two ingredients, using apple brandy as the base liquor, and grenadine as the sweetening agent. While seemingly a more drastic departure, all these ingredient swaps follow the same basic template of two parts liquor to one part sweet and one part sour—sometimes called the Golden Ratio in cocktails.