Ah, look at this cocktail – how pink, how frothy, how girly! You might think that if this were a person it would be Cinderella, radiating sweetness and light and charm, coming down the staircase in a flowing dress, about to step into her carriage with a bright optimism about the delights of the evening to come. Like so:
You would of course be wrong. This drink does not pull any punches; it’s not sweet, it’s not that creamy, it’s definitely not delicate. It’s incredibly dry and tart, and in fact it feels a bit like you’re being slapped in the face by Cinderella, not that she would ever do such a thing. A bit more like this on the pink lady spectrum:
Ah, that’s better. So the Pink Lady is another old and venerable cocktail, with gin and grenadine (hence the pinkness) at its heart. It was a common drink during prohibition, when the grenadine would have come in handy to mask the unpleasant harshness of bootleg gin. Ultimately its pink frothiness would come to have it associated with a feminine sensibility. This association was thoroughly consolidated by the announcement of Jayne Mansfield, Hollywood bombshell, that she liked to drink a Pink Lady before dinner – this from the woman who lived in an entirely pink house, with a bathtub that poured pink champagne.
Right, anyone need an ibuprofen after all those pictures? Personally I prefer the stories about ‘alternative’ Pink Ladies that Eric Felten gives in his delightful WSJ article about the drink. As he reports, a number of concoctions have been called ‘Pink Lady’ over the years, and the best story is that submariners in WWII used to drain off the straight alcohol which was used to power the torpedoes and drink it. When a bright red chemical was added to the ‘torpedo juice’ to discourage this practice, the submariners would filter the alcohol through a loaf of bread, giving a slightly pink tinge to the resulting liquid. I honestly think that ‘Torpedo Juice’ is an excellent name for this cocktail, as you do have the sensation, when drinking it, that you might just have been fired at speed from a submarine.
It’s unfortunate that this drink became so unpopular owing to its ‘girly’ name and reputation, a fate also suffered by the Cosmopolitan (thanks, Sex and the City!), which, when made correctly, also has a powerful kick to it. It’s true that, as Ted Haigh notes in his book “Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails,” it’s difficult for the typical (male) cocktail enthusiast to order a drink with such a name, so in order to get round this problem and aid the drink’s resurgence, he proposed renaming it “The Secret Cocktail.” For myself, I think men should reclaim the pink! Order a Pink Lady, guys, you won’t be disappointed.
As ever, there are variations on the recipe. In its most basic form, it calls for gin, grenadine, and egg white to create the froth. Most recipes add lemon juice, but this just makes it a Clover Club, so the distinguishing ingredient then becomes the very seasonally appropriate apple brandy, which I am making the most of at the moment. This combination of apple brandy and gin, together with the lemon and the grenadine (which should itself be pretty tart), makes for an intensely lip-puckering experience.
The Pink Lady
1 1/2 oz gin
1/2 oz apple brandy
Juice of half a lemon
4 dashes grenadine
Half an egg white
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker and shake without ice for at least ten seconds to emulsify the egg white. Add ice and shake again. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a maraschino cherry. Thanks, as ever, to Serious Eats for the recipe.