Drink of the Week: The White Elephant (a la Wondrich)

the White Elephant.I sing now, for the umpteenth time, of the raw egg white, feared by many, adored by classic cocktail aficionados, and a sure way to get me to sit up and pay attention to almost any cocktail.

That’s a good thing, because this week’s drink could definitely use a little love. I stumbled over it at the massive bevatorium assembled by David Wondrich for Esquire and was immediately grabbed by the drink’s eggy simplicity. I was also struck by the immense terseness of the usually voluble Wondrich’s eight-word take: “A wet martini with a head; see the Hearst.”

What could a drink do to be both worthy of inclusion, yet apparently unworthy of sufficient verbiage — or even a reasonably accurate graphic? Was both Wondrich and the Esquire art department tired and on deadline? Was he forced to grudgingly submit to pressure to include this drink from the vast and shadowy gin-sweet vermouth-and-egg-white-industrial-complex?

Finally, why was every other cocktail I could find on line called “White Elephant” a completely different concoction that usually involved ingredients like coconut milk, white creme de cacao, heavy cream, white rum, and other things that are very, very white and nothing but white? This drink, as my brilliant photographic work reveals, is not precisely white, as elephants go. What gives? Who knows, but clearly the first thing to do is try the damn drink.

The White Elephant a la Wondrich

2 ounces gin
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 egg white
1 cherry (garnish)

The drill is basically the same as for every cocktail involving egg whites or eggs. Combine the gin, vermouth, and egg white in a cocktail shaker, but with no ice. Shake well to emulsify the egg, then add ice and really shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or reasonable facsimile. Add a cherry for a bit of extra sweetness and color, and toast the pachyderm of your choice.

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I have to say that while I thoroughly enjoy this drink and find it nicely refreshing yet neither too sweet nor too anything else, I can see what it maybe hasn’t taken off and has become, yes, a white elephant of a mixed drink. It’s not really sweet enough for the sweets lovers, nor is it boozy, complex, bitter, or tart enough for many a cocktail snob. It’s nevertheless got plenty of booze in it, and the combination of egg white, liquid, and ice guarantees it all goes down in the most delightful way. A wet martini not only with a head, but with a wonderfully comfy ova cushion.

I did try messing around a bit with ingredients and proportions. Lowering the amount of gin by half an ounce didn’t really hurt the drink, but the increase in sweetness turned out to be minimal. The results using both of my two fall back sweet vermouths, Noilly-Pratt and Carpano Antica, were just fine, though this time I leaned ever so slightly towards the lighter touch of Noilly-Pratt. Still, the only really wrong move I made was adding bitters. So often, bitters can really save a drink; sometimes, however, it’s just the reverse.

So, why is the White Elephant so benighted that even a chatty cocktail historian has almost nothing to say about it? I think it’s the name. Not only is it unflattering, it’s inaccurate. This elephant is not white. It’s another color entirely.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Meyer-Canadian Semi-Sour

The Meyer-Canadian Semi-SourYou’ve never heard of the today’s Drink of the Week for a very good reason. The Meyer-Canadian Semi Sour, as I’ve named it (any other suggestions?) is the first DOTW that is pretty much entirely my own variation on a cocktail classic.  While I wouldn’t say this was a great invention that happened by accident, I did sort of stumble over it.

As I hinted at in my post on the whiskey sour some time ago, I find that particular cocktail staple to be extremely sour. Truth in advertising, I guess, but while many love it, for me it’s a drink for which I feel more respect than affection. Then, one day last week, I saw a small sack of Meyer Lemons on sale for a reasonable price at my local branch of the newish Southwestern grocery chain, Fresh and Easy. If you’re a foodie, you may know this seasonal citrus as an ingredient favored by such culinary legends as Alice Waters. I just like the idea of a lemon that’s partly an orange.

Searching around for cocktails made with the juice of the crossbreed fruit, I tried one drink which I may return to if I can find another bag. On a whim, I then decided to try out my own version of a whiskey sour, using the juice of this decidedly sweeter lemon which, unlike the fruit that Trini Lopez sang about, is entirely possible to eat. For some reason I decided to use slightly less juice than most recipes call for, slightly more sugar and about double the egg white.  Since I’d already had one drink, I decided to steer away from the hundred proof boozes I’ve been leaning toward and just go with good old 80 proof Canadian Club. The result was, for me, a small slice of near paradise.

The Meyer-Canadian Semi-Sour

2 ounces Canadian Club whisky
3/4 ounce (or slightly less) freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons superfine sugar
1 large egg white
1 maraschino cherry (garnish)

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker without ice. Shake vigorously to ensure that the egg white is fully emulsified — you should have a nice yellow froth going. Add ice and shake again, even more vigorously and longer. Pour into a chilled martini, wine, or rocks glass with a maraschino cherry for color and an added dash of sweetness. Try not to drink it all it once.

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I also sampled the then unnamed Meyer-Canadian Semi-Sour with both 100 proof Canadian Club and Rittenhouse Rye, a personal favorite, but the stronger flavor of the 100 proof stuff overwhelmed it in both cases. 80 proof Canadian Club seems to be the perfect thing here, and I suspect this would work almost as well with one of CC’s competitors. I even more strongly suspect it would be outstanding with Crown Royal, if you’ve got that kind of money to throw around. It’s a shame I can’t try it with the 86 proof Canadian Club that my grandma used to drink back in the last century and which presumably was closer to whatever Don Draper was swigging decades prior, but the contemporary version works so nicely that I have a hard time complaining very much.

Of course, since this drink uses raw egg whites, the usual provisos apply that I covered in the whiskey sour post. There’s very, very, very little too worry about for most people though I know there’s tons of raw egg phobes out there. On the other hand, if you have a significantly compromised immune system or are pregnant or otherwise very touchy healthwise, you may want to either use pasteurized egg whites or simply avoid this drink. (Actually, if you’re pregnant, I’m not sure you’re even allowed to read this.)

By the way, if you can’t find Meyer Lemons in your area at the moment and are suddenly determined to try them, you can order a very large quantity here.

  

Drink of the Week: The Whiskey Sour

whiskey sourSours are an entire family of cocktail which mostly utilize some combination of lemon juice and sugar. (The sour mix used by many bartenders is, in my experience, slightly revolting.). The Latin American favorite, the pisco sour, is probably a better known drink in many quarters these days, but the whiskey sour has been one of the standard cocktails since cocktails have become popular. Oddly enough, it’s possible that both of these cocktail favorites actually began in Peru.

The Whiskey Sour

2 ounces whiskey (bourbon, rye, Canadian, etc.)
1/2-1 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
About 1/2 of an egg white  (semi-optional)
Maraschino cherry or orange slice (optional garnishes)

Dissolve sugar in whiskey and lemon juice and add egg white.  Shake vigorously. You should see a light froth on top of the liquid.

Note that I haven’t mentioned ice at this point. It is important to keep the whiskey, lemon juice and egg white at near room temperature in order for the egg to properly emulsify. Once you’ve shaken the liquid thoroughly, however, it is time to add ice and shake again very vigorously. Strain into a chilled martini, rocks or, if you’re really serious about it, a sour glass.  Add garnishes if you’ve got them.

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Two provisos. One — the “sour” in “whiskey sour” is a serious kind of sour and thus, this drink is not for tartphobes.  Even as an increasingly hardy beverage connoisseur, I found the pucker factor on my whiskey sours to be a bit much, especially without the egg white.

Which brings us to the second proviso. I’m sure some reading this will react strongly against the use of raw egg whites, which can be a bit controversial because of the very small but not quite nonexistent risk of salmonella poisoning. If you’re especially concerned for whatever reason — and if your immune system is compromised or your health is generally shaky, I would be somewhat concerned — you might consider using pasteurized or powdered egg whites or just making the drink without it.

However, be aware that the risk of contaminated egg whites, especially if they are reasonably fresh and kept refrigerated, is actually fairly infinitesimal; whites are less vulnerable than yolks to bacteria and the overall incidence of salmonella has been going down. Also, though I can’t speak to the science of the point, bartenders argue that the alcohol and lemon juice will tend to kill any dangerous microscopic critters. In any case, I’ve been drinking this stuff all week and, aside from being extremely tired of the flavor of lemon juice, I’m doing just fine.

  

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