Serious Eats: Recipes

Pink Lady

[Photo: Maggie Hoffman]

Stop sneering.

For decades the Pink Lady was a punchline drink, written off as a dainty little thing in a demure cocktail glass, consumed by those too delicate to handle the real stuff. You can kind of see why; the name is nothing if not frilly and bouncy, and it has a rosy appearance that hardly equates with the idea of a firm drink. Here's how Jack Townsend, president of the bartender's union of New York, Local 15, described the typical Pink Lady drinker back in 1951 (with a little help from The Bartender's Book co-author Tom Moore McBride):

Why, surely you know her. She's that nice little girl who works in files, who's always so courteous but always seems so timid. She's the one who sort of reminds you of your aunt, the quiet one. Naturally, you never expected to see her at a bar. She gets into one about twice a year, at Christmas time or some other high old time. Just why she picks the Pink Lady for these occasions--since the Lady packs quite a wallop--remains a mystery, even to her perhaps. It's quite possible she has seen the decorative and innocuous-appearing pink-and-white amalgamation passing on a waiter's tray and decided, "Hmmm, that couldn't do me any harm.

Hidden in the middle of that paragraph is the Pink Lady's secret, and the reason it's worth rediscovering. Like its close relative the Clover Club, the Pink Lady is built on a foundation of gin, with lemon juice for tartness and egg white for body, along with a note of grenadine (or, in some Clover Club recipes, raspberry syrup) to both sweeten and color the drink. But the Pink Lady needs additional fortification, and that's where a mild dose of applejack comes in; this lends more depth and backbone to the drink, and makes it about as unassuming as the brick that file clerk is packing around in her purse.

So desperate has the Pink Lady's situation been in recent decades that in his book, Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails, published in 2004, drink historian Ted "Dr. Cocktail" Haigh renamed the drink "The Secret Cocktail" in hopes of getting them into reader's hands before the prejudice against the old PL made them turn the page. That was a good idea.

If you've read this far you owe it to yourself to put its reputation aside for a moment and try a Pink Lady this weekend. There's still a lot of life in the old gal.

About the author: Paul Clarke blogs about cocktails at The Cocktail Chronicles and writes regularly on spirits and cocktails for Imbibe magazine. He lives in Seattle, where he works as a writer and magazine editor.

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