On this episode of “Cocktail College,” host Tim McKirdy explores the White Lady cocktail with VinePair brand sales and partnerships director Emily Arseneu, who is also a former bartender. They discuss the drink’s debated history (which “Harry” really invented the White Lady?), where the drink’s name came from, and why Cointreau is an essential ingredient in the drink. Tune in to learn more.
Emily Arseneau’s White Lady Recipe
- ½ bar spoon simple syrup
- 1 ounce fresh lemon juice
- 1 ounce Cointreau
- 2 ounces London dry gin, such as Beefeater or Tanqueray
- Garnish: lemon disk (optional)
- Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice.
- Shake until cold and strain into a chilled coupe glass.
- Garnish with an optional lemon disk or express and discard.
Check Out the Conversation Here
Tim McKirdy: Hey, this is Tim McKirdy, and welcome to VinePair’s “Cocktail College.” I am going to dive in straightaway here and say, Emily Arseneau, thank you so much for joining us and thank you for taking the long commute from your desk here at the VinePair office to the VinePair studio.
Emily Arseneau: Four whole floors. I’m honored. Happy to be here.
T: And off the bat, I’m going to say, I think this episode’s going to be very interesting. Because this is a cocktail that has a little bit of everything that we enjoy in this show. So we’re talking historical debates over who, where, and what. Then you also have a drink that’s probably known, by name, by enthusiasts. But I don’t think most people can just pull the spec out like that.
E: Which is weird, because it’s the same as a bazillion other specs, but you’re exactly right.
T: It should be straightforward. And then finally, maybe one or two ingredients that are in there that some people like to include, others don’t. Like I said, this is an all-rounder. And the drink, of course, is the White Lady.
E: Yes, yes, the White Lady. So this is a very meta episode for me because I worked at Rémy Cointreau for eight years. I was a Cointreau brand ambassador for many years. I taught people all over the world about how to make simple sours with Cointreau. And then I left it all behind to go work at this exciting media company in brand partnerships. Within my first two months, we’re like, “Actually, we should just do what you used to do on our show now.” And I’m like, “Wait, what?”
T: I know that it’s a fascinating one, though. Because this is, again, a drink that you have taught bartenders about or taken around the world, explored around the world with different folks. We mentioned that maybe not everyone knows the ingredients or the formula at the top there. So for those that need reminding or are not aware, tell us what is in a standard White Lady.
E: I would always teach people that if you can’t remember anything, 2-1-1, and that’ll get you pretty far. That goes for a White Lady. So it’s going to be gin, lemon, and Cointreau. You can maybe argue what kind of gin it should be. It would be London dry, historically. But what’s indisputable is the Cointreau and that’s why it was such a big part of the brand’s history and why we love to talk about it so much. But if you can master something like a White Lady at 2-1-1 with a spirit, Cointreau, and a citrus element, now we’re talking. I’m already making a Sidecar. Instead of gin, it’s Cognac. Then for a Margarita, instead of gin, it’s tequila. And instead of a lemon, it’s lime. You could say maybe the Cosmo — I don’t want Toby to get upset. Maybe add a splash of cran, and we’re playing with fire.
T: There you go. And I think it is interesting, too, and probably a tough one for you. Because as we mentioned off air before when we were chatting, this is kind of tough because we have covered those classic cocktails in that formula before. The Margarita, the Sidecar and those other ones that are better known. I think it’s worth pointing out, too, though, that not just because you formerly worked for this brand, but Cointreau is something that’s called out historically.
E: Yes. And even though so much about this particular cocktail is disputed — which Harry made it? Who was crazier? Who did a better job? — what’s not disputed is that it had Cointreau. Even in the original iteration that had all the other bizarre ingredients like brandy. So at least there is Cointreau and it’s called out with a capital “C” in all these vintage cocktail books. We’ll talk about which Harry wrote what, and blah, blah, blah. But ultimately, it ended up in the “Savoy Cocktail Book,” and it’s one cocktail, but Cointreau specifically is mentioned 47 times. So it was definitely an ingredient of the moment and you can’t really separate it from cocktail history, which I always thought was really interesting about that particular brand. Because when you’re looking at older vintage cocktail books — and we had a huge collection of 300 something that we had digitized a bazillion years ago — you don’t see a lot of brands called out. It’s like, brandy and lemon juice, and then it’s Cointreau. It’s like, “Wow, you guys love this stuff.” I think they started distributing it during Prohibition in the U.S. so maybe it was just ultra exciting.
E: Oh my God, seriously.
T: The ingredient is in the name.
E: If I get one more request for “upgrade” when I’m on the rooftop in Eataly and you’re looking around this beautiful spritz-y environment, I’m like, “I want an Aperol Spritz.” And they’re like, “Oh, have you tried it with Grande Classico?” And I’m like, “OK. I mean, that’s not what I asked for. But yeah.”
The History Behind the White Lady
T: And you mentioned some of the disputed origins there. We previewed the fact there’s going to be a couple of Harrys involved here. Teach us about that, talk us through the history of this drink and what that tale might look like.
E: So it’s the battle of the Harrys. Who was it? David Wondrich is always like, “OK, take this kind of history with a grain of salt because it’s told by drunk people.” It’s a reference point. But we do know that it seems to have originated in London. The first Harry of note, which I struggle to say his name, is McElhone. It’s Scottish, right?
T: McElhone. Harry McElhone from Dundee, I believe.
E: OK, so allegedly in 1919 he’s in London, he’s mixing this up. He gets this wacky creation with brandy, crème de menthe, and Cointreau. OK, we’re on to something. So he shakes it up. It actually ends up being printed by 1922 in “Harry’s ABCs of Mixing.” You got to love the titles of the time. I think the Cointreau was first mentioned in ’27 in a book called “Here’s How,” and I love how direct that is. Like, “Want to know how to do it? Buy my book.”
T: I like Harry’s “ABC’s” as well; this guy’s just an early influence. They’re not afraid to put his name on that. He’s a bartender, but he’s an author.
E: He’s got his own brand to keep up. It’s excellent marketing. It’s always interesting the things that, when you’re working for a brand, what the brand underscores. And it’s like, “OK, this is a really interesting part of our story and there’s so much here to choose from for Cointreau to underscore.” And they do so much interesting storytelling with it. But one of the bullet points that I always remember is that it was a favorite of the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy. And I’m like, “Who is that?”
T: You don’t know Laurel and Hardy?
E: I never saw “Flying Deuces.” Did you?
T: I should admit here, I’ve never seen it.
E: We know who they are.
T: Interesting to note there, though, that it looks nothing like the cocktail that we know today. But this is the one that’s claimed to be the original of Harry McElhone.
E: Is so interesting because Cointreau is the only part of the original ingredient that’s called out in what we would now call the White Lady. When I was bartending in my storied days, if I just changed someone’s ingredient of some drink I ripped, I’d be like, this is Emily’s Cocktail No. 2 It’s totally different. But somehow this is up for debate that he can just change it at some point, and no, it’s the same thing.
T: That’s important because McElhone later changes his recipe at a similar time to another Harry entering the conversation.
E: This is where it gets murky. Allegedly he updates the recipe and comes to his senses and he’s like, “I don’t think this needs crème de menthe and brandy, maybe let’s do gin and lemon juice.” Now we’re talking. And around that same time, you could argue Harry Craddock is working at the American Bar at the Savoy. He’s making these cocktails. And there’s a whole ‘nother parallel story that he mixes it up for Scott Fitzgerald’s wife. She loves it. They kind of call it what they call it. And that was when? Help me.
T: That was the late ’20s.
E: Late ’20s. It had to be before 1930 because “Savoy Cocktail” book comes out in 1930. And it’s all over that.
E: Who’s to say? I don’t know. But we were joking earlier. I was like, “Well, which Harry do we trust?” I don’t want to speak out of turn, but Harry Craddock seems way more unhinged to me. It’s a “he said, he said,” but when I read that he was hiding cocktails in his mysterious shakers and burying them around the property as it was being updated, I’m like, “Who is this guy?” Why would he think, “Oh, this is something really exciting I should be doing?” But you got to think back then, this is a PR-able moment.
T: There’s some foresight there because I’m sure he didn’t realize quite how important that book would be to a future movement. But the “Savoy Cocktail Book” is one of these ones that people love to reference and people love to use. Ever since the turn of the millennium here and in the craft cocktail renaissance. I don’t know, maybe he knew he’s going to be a future cocktail influencer and luminary.
E: I feel like he did, if I’m guessing.
T: He certainly had that confidence because, like you say, he’s burying things in walls and whatnot.
E: You know how the bar community can get really excited about an ingredient. Maybe it’s a new innovative product. Absolut Citron in the ’80s was so exciting. Or maybe it’s when we first get access to interesting digestifs that we never had here before. Shoot, I remember Chad Solomon and Christy Pope were telling you the crème de violette story. We were talking about that. That’s insane. They used to smuggle it in the country not that long ago.
T: And that was for the Aviation cocktail. And then everyone realized that that’s actually not a very good drink.
E: My dad says that’s why they make red bicycles and they make blue bicycles. Take your pick, whatever. Something for everybody.
T: I’m being slightly harsh on the Aviation there.
E: But that being said, I like seeing Cointreau have this moment in the U.S. when there’s this amazing cocktail scene. It’s the late ’20s and early ’30s and it’s really getting to be known as the apex of what this particular product, an orange liqueur, could be. And it was a triple sec. They actually invented the category. We can talk more about that later. But orange, at the time, was a very exotic ingredient. And so I like seeing that it was mentioned in 1972 in “Here’s How,” like four times, and then boom, it’s 1930 and they’re mentioning it 47 times. OK, you guys are getting excited. And then, oh my gosh, the 1937 “Café Royal Cocktail Book” mentions it over 60 times. Wow, you guys love this stuff. And rightfully so. It’s great.
T: Interestingly as well, I think the McElhone recipe does have those three ingredients. I think it may be believed they were equal parts, whereas Craddock adopts the 2-1-1 philosophy. And important to note as well, this is a gin sour. Or if you will, I like to think of this as a gin Margarita, which we can talk about.
E: So yeah, this is a gin Margarita more than it’s a Gin Sour. I get all crazy about Margaritas when people talk about it. We’ll see. More on that later.
The Ingredients Used in the White Lady
T: Mentioning that, though, and we will dive into the ingredients a little bit more in a short while, but more on the flavor profile. This is a gin-based drink. What are you looking for when you receive this cocktail or when you make it or when you are kind of teaching folks in the bartending community how to approach it? What are you looking for from the final profile?
E: For me, when something is this simple, I feel like anyone will tell you there’s really not much to hide behind. So, the ingredients have to be excellent. I’m clearly biased about Cointreau. This is going to feel like one giant advertisement for Cointreau because I’m just in love with this ingredient. I always will be.
T: This is organic.
E: Yes, this is organic. But it has to be that, in my opinion. There are incredible orange liqueurs out on the market. But just as a historical reference point, to me this one’s so tied to that origin that it has to be that way. So Cointreau for sure — it’s very, very high in essential oils — fresh lemon juice, and then I would do London dry. I mean, take your pick. There are so many incredible gins on the market, and I could name a billion. But use your imagination, but a solid London dry. And then shake it in a good pair of tins that aren’t going to knock you over. I personally like the cheap ones from Bar Products. That’s the one I was using in the early 2000s, so that’s what I stuck with. And make sure it’s nice and frothy. I don’t do egg white.
T: We’ll get into that.
E: It’s not my thing. And for this cocktail, it didn’t really show up until the ’40s anyway. So I can argue it’s not even historically accurate.
T: I want us to do a little deep dive on eggs later as well. As a drinker or as a person that crosses the bar and now sits on this side of the bar rather than working on the other, do you feel like this is a popular drink? Do you think it’s a well-known drink? Do you think it should perhaps be better known?
E: I think it 100 percent should be better known. The Margarita and the Sidecar and the White Lady are all in a family together. I just feel like the mom doesn’t love it as much as the other ones, you know? So I feel like it’s a great cocktail. It’s a similar spec, it’s a similar build, it’s a similar profile. But I think you’d be hard pressed to find your everyday bartender and definitely everyday consumer that knows what this is, which is crazy because it’s super easy to make. So you can whip them up behind the bar, easy, no problem. Or you can whip them up at home. And obviously since Covid, we’ve thought a lot about mixology at home and things like that. This should be a pretty easy answer to that. But I mean, I’ll try it tonight. I’m going out tonight. I’ll be like, “Can I get a White Lady?” I’ll keep you guys posted.
T: That’s a good test there. Forget the Daiquiri, this is the acid test of a bartender right now. Do you know how to make it? And how are you executing it? I think another one, another feather in this drink’s cap, is that there aren’t that many refreshing gin cocktails out there. The obvious elephant in the room is the G&T. And we’ve also covered the Gimlet on this show before. But for a spirit that is so often used in other drinks, there’s not that many utilizations of gin like this.
T: Not that I can think of. No shaken, refreshing, classic gin cocktails.
E: I guess it gets stirred a lot. It’s long a lot. It’s very sessionable, to your point. I wouldn’t even really call it seasonal. It seems appropriate all year long. It’s light, it’s refreshing. If you like a Kamikaze, you’re going to like a White Lady. If you like a Daiquiri, you’re going to like a White Lady.
T: Whereas I feel like the standard or the often mistaken version of the Gimlet is basically a gin Daiquiri. I feel like this is a more complex cocktail than that for the ingredients that we’ve mentioned there. The Cointreau brings more to the table. This is a gin-based cocktail, though. It’s going to take the majority of the ingredients in the spec there. So you mentioned your preference for this would be a London dry?
T: In terms of flavor profile, what are you looking for from that gin or maybe preferred ABV, things like that? Feel free to call out brands that you enjoy specifically for this.
E: Back bar wise, if you came over you’d be like “This is actually kind of sad,” for someone who allegedly knows as much as I’m supposed to. I’m a consumer, not a collector. I stole that from Sother Teague, but I love that line. So I actually keep a very barebones home bar because I drink it. But I always keep a bottle of go-to gin. For me, that would be Beefeater, Tanqueray, something really iconic and classic London dry. And then I always keep something “ultra premium,” blah, blah, blah. I personally love Botanist Gin. I think it mixes amazingly in cocktails. So those are my three go-tos. So something with detectable juniper, obviously.
T: But they’re led by Juniper.
E: Led by juniper. But I don’t think super-floral profiles go well with citrus, in my opinion. So I think those three are a great start. But if you start getting into some of the gins that are very, very herbal and very, very rose and lavender, let’s not make it weird.
T: Yeah, I feel like those could be very busy in this cocktail because again, we have fresh citrus, and then also we have that complex profile from the Cointreau. Maybe things are just going to start getting too busy.
E: It’s going to get too busy. And there’s one thing we’re not really calling out that obviously we should. It’s like Daiquiri overall with flavor, yes, but it’s not the best benchmark when we’re talking about this because Cointreau is 40 percent ABV. So we’re talking about a much higher-proof cocktail now. The White Lady might be refreshing and sessionable like we’re saying, but it’s a temptress because it’s quite boozy.
T: That’s a good point to make. Joaquin Simo said something very similar when we were talking about the Sidecar, too. Which is, just because this is a shaken drink, we’re talking 3 ounces of pure alcohol in this drink when we get into the recipe there.
E: Yes. And then my pro tip for all the cocktails that we’re talking about in this 2-1-1 format, but it goes for the White Lady as well, I do a little bar spoon of simple. Which may be an unpopular opinion, but I think it needs it for fattiness and for body. The Cointreau is technically the sweetening agent, but it’s still so high ABV you want to round it out, so you just need a boop.
T: I think that’s a great tip right there. The fact that we’re using liquor, not just not a liqueur like we’re using, that is sweet, it needs a little bit of a help in that respect.
E: Yes, always.
T: I’m just going to throw a little curve ball here. I love your suggestion of the Botanist because I think that’s a new gin. But it does maintain the juniper, while also doing things to show us the terroir of it. What about Plymouth for this one, too? Because that can be kind of earthy and it’s maybe slightly more lemon-forward than some of the other classic London drys.
E: I think that would be perfectly applicable. I’m not going to call it anybody I think would be a weird choice. If you’re in the liquor store, if you’re at a bar, just ask for a London dry. Nine times out of 10, it’s going to be a lovely pair for this. I went to a bar recently. I can’t remember where I was and I would never say anyway. But I walk in and I’m looking at the gins and I was like, “Do y’all not have any London dry?” And they’re like, “Nope.” They were so pumped they did not have a single London dry. And I was like, “Ya’ll, that’s a weird thing.”
T: I think we’re starting to get there with gin where we’re seeing that. Not that I’m on board with it.
E: But why? It makes no sense.
T: I’ll say this, too, while we’re talking about gin, because gin’s a category I love talking about. I could just spend the whole show talking about it. I think gin is one where, most consistently across the board, the “entry-level bottles” that are also very well known and that are iconic are all of incredible quality.
E: They’re there for a reason. I worked for a portfolio. And some of those brands in that portfolio were what people could assume were these huge brands. They taste the same in every country. But you know what? They’ve been around for over 300 years, and they’re totally badass at what they do for a reason. They know what they’re doing. That’s like trying to rip on some 300-year-old Burgundy and being like, “I only want to drink sparkling stuff and kombucha.” What? Just because it’s really good doesn’t mean it’s lame. It actually means it’s awesome.
T: There is a reason that Beefeater doesn’t do a more premium Beefeater. Tanqueray has Tanqueray No. 10, which I love as a gin, too. But I think “standard” Tanqueray is amazing as well. You’ll be happy with either of them. Whereas, say I’m drinking some American whiskey, some bourbon, perhaps. I think the entry-level products are great, but often those big names that we all talk about and know about, I want to be going a little bit higher when I’m drinking those or even mixing with them.
E: I’ve been a Beefeater fan for a really long time. As you know, they changed their proof a couple of years ago. I don’t know, people are goofy. I feel like they love to be like, “I can detect a blah blah blah.” You would not even know if no one showed you. But maybe they can. Maybe they’re just super tasters.
T: For such a big corporation like that, I don’t think this decision gets greenlit unless they have proper tasters and panels out there. I just don’t think that that thing is allowed through unless they say, “No, there’s not enough of a discernible difference.” But again, it’s one of those things that we like to discuss.
E: We’re always looking for spicy stuff to discuss here in the bar community. So I’m up for whatever, but I feel like I’ve never considered myself a super taster. I think I’m perfectly decent at it. I know how to make a good, solid cocktail. I’ve taught cocktail classes all over the world. I can hang my hat on that. But if someone is going to put two different Beefeaters in front of me and be like, “Which one is more proven?” I don’t know, y’all. What kind of question is that?
T: Again, gin is not something most people drink neat. So when you’re adding other ingredients in there, really, is it discernible? Who knows? Try it at home, guys. Try it at home and let us know. Maybe you do have access to both iterations. I remember Toby Cecchini coming on and talking about the Gimlet and saying he had some old stuff. So hit him up at Long Island Bar, and maybe he’ll be able to taste you on the two.
E: It is Tuesday, so I’ll ask him today.
T: You’ll be down there in the Lombardi room.
E: Of course.
T: If anyone wants to know where they need to find you. So we did gin. I feel like we’ve spoken a lot about Cointreau and I feel like I am happy to say this is what we’re going for. It’s something I’ve done during tastings as well for other cocktails that follow this same formula. And you look at the alternatives in the market, they’re great. But Cointreau does stand out, it works. There’s a reason that it’s getting called out for years and across the board. Final component of the drink here. Or not, perhaps. We’ll see. But the next component is, of course, fresh lemon juice. It’s something we talk a lot about on this show. What’s your particular approach to lemons? Fresh lemon? Say as little or as much as you’d like to about that.
E: I mean, I don’t know. I worked at places that are 12 hours, 24 hours, nothing longer than that. I’ll be honest. I’ve also worked places where we’ll let this stretch for three days and it’s mostly fine. Obviously, you should be juicing every day. And yes, it should be fresh juice. People try to talk to me about the pasteurized stuff all the time, and people I respect, too. They’ll be like, “No, but have you tried this one brand? Because you cannot tell.” I’m like, “Yes, you can.” I get it. Fresh juice is never going to be the most consistent ingredient. And there are always variables to take into consideration and that stinks. But to me, when you try any pasteurized, no matter how modern technology it seems to be, it’s unpleasant to me. So yes, fresh squeezed juice.
T: And we’re adding the extra booze of Cointreau in this 2-1-1 formula. I think you just need that freshness to make it all pop and keep it lively, too. Like I said, we’re adding extra booze here, so we need to keep this as lively as possible.
E: Obviously, London dry gin goes amazing with citrus, but Cointreau has so many essential oils that the molecular reaction that it’s having when you shake it with the water in general, but also the citrus, is just so bright. I don’t want to say it’s not trying too hard. It’s just so comfortable and its Cointreau skin. It’s just like, look, we’re here to be the best version of this one thing, which is orange liqueur. And we’re just going to do that. We’re not going to get all crazy about it. We’re not going to release all these other different products. No, we’re just orange peel, people.
T: So I said it may or may not be the final ingredient because you see a lot of variations of this with an egg white. You hinted before that maybe that’s not the one for you.
E: I mean, as long as it’s treated with a little citrus oil and it’s not all stinky, it’s fine. It’s a very pleasing texture. I personally am not a silky cocktail kind of person. I’m a fresh shaken, brighter kind of cocktail person. I just don’t like egg white in general. I don’t see anything wrong with using it. It’s just not my favorite, so I wouldn’t put it in. Plus, it can be a pain when you’re making them.
T: If someone was ordering this from you and you were working behind the bar, is that a question you would ask? If someone’s calling out the White Lady, would you ask them, “Would you like that with egg white?”
E: If someone’s calling out a White Lady, I’m like, “Where do you work?”
T: That’s a good point.
E: And then I’ll be like, “Do you want egg white or not?” I do think it’s a preference thing.
T: I’m going to play devil’s advocate for a second here because I very much am like you. There are not many drinks that I think are improved with egg white. If I get one that has egg white, great. And if it’s executed well, I love it. I’m not really using it at home. I did see somewhere about this, though, and I think this is a good argument. This cocktail looks more white if you’re using an egg white. It’s kind of a strange color for a drink that’s named the White Lady. And we spoke about why it might be called that or not. But the drink that’s made with egg white maybe looks more like the cocktail that’s named the White Lady than the one without?
E: Well, if it allegedly is named after some blond lady’s hair, we don’t know how platinum her hair was. Maybe she had bad toner, or maybe she didn’t tone her hair at all.
T: So who knows?
E: Who knows?
T: Or maybe what I’m saying there is it’s a slightly cleaner presentation. It’s not quite as opaque. I don’t know. You can Google them or you can make them at home and you can say, “Yeah, maybe that one made with the egg white looks slightly better in photos.” But we’re drinking this.
E: Yeah, I think it’s totally a personal preference. I don’t hate on either one. I just wouldn’t do the egg white just because it’s not my thing.
T: Fair enough. What about garnish for this one?
E: I would just do a little lemon disk, twist, or however you want it. But just a little lemon peel, especially if you’re using the egg white, you’ve got to express oils all over the top. Just so it doesn’t stank.
T: Do you have any tips for garnishing cocktails? For example, I always feel a little bit awkward garnishing a sour or a Daiquiri or a Daisy with the twist in there. Are we placing it maybe on the rim and allowing fate to take its toll or whatever? Are you just throwing it in there, you’re doing a little disk? What’s your approach to that?
E: There’s nothing wrong with a cute little disk floating around, especially if it has a little cushy egg white bed to sleep on. That could be fine. And I’m never mad at an express and discard situation, so it’s like it was never there. Fine with me. Garnish-wise, I got my first bartending job when I was — well, I’m not going to say because it’s illegal — but let’s say 18.
T: We don’t need to say where that was. In some countries, that is legal.
E: Yes, I was in Baton Rouge, La. I got a promotion from being a cocktail waitress. It was the most exciting thing. And I worked at the coolest bar downtown. It was so awesome and it was a college spot. I did that for a long time, and then I didn’t. And then I moved to Portland, Ore., where everyone’s born knowing how to make an Old Fashioned. I was like, “What are you talking about?” I worked at pubs and I worked at places where I started learning a bit more and then ended up at a place called Spirit of 77. It’s a sports venue, but they have a cocktail background. So that’s where I started learning about cocktails. Then I got really into it when I moved to Dallas, Texas. But the style of bartending I was doing was pretty early on. Not early on, I don’t know how many waves that have been after that. I never did tiki. I never did stuff with crazy garnishes. So my stuff is simple. I like a good solid build, balanced with as simple garnish as possible — just super clean looking. When I did my master classes in Asia, for example, everyone was always disappointed. I don’t want to say disappointed. But I’d be like, “Hey, here I am, an American bartender here to show you a thing or two about American bartending.” Over there at the time, it was really stylistic, beautiful cocktails, almost like a narrative just to look at them. And mine looked like, “There you have it: a White Lady with a lemon disk.” They’re like, “What?”
T: I think it’s a great point, though. Those are the drinks I like to make but also consume. Like you said, if it’s got no business being there, what’s the point?
E: What’s the point?.
T: Why waste time and the resources?
E: When I first started bartending, Instagram didn’t exist. So it is a bit strange now that that is such something you have to take into consideration when you’re creating a menu. Are these beautiful to look at? Is this an angle I want to approach? Do I want to be really simple and stoic and embrace stoicism? Or do I want to have something that people are going to tag us in and post? I do not hate on that. That’s a super-important consideration you have to take.
T: I think also another aspect of this, that we haven’t often discussed on this show, but is cocktail competitions.
E: I could speak all day about that.
T: I don’t want to take us too far off. But all I will say is this: I feel like it’s a very brave contestant that goes in there and goes with a minimal garnish or even an express and discard. Again, it depends on what the competition is, but I feel like there must be that urge to go above and beyond, otherwise this is not going to win.
E: It’s funny you say that, because I used to run this competition with Rémy Martin. It was the U.S. version of the Bartender Talent Academy. And it was literally the hardest brief ever, because the brief was like, “How can you remake a Sidecar?” What’s your interpretation of this super-iconic, simple cocktail? And it at least has to be recognizable of the muse. We did have a guy, Devin Kennedy, an unbelievable mixologist and person. But one year he won the whole country and literally he had an express and discard. It was literally just in a coupe, a stirred cocktail. It was so NYC, and it was amazing.
How To Make Emily Areseneu’s White Lady
T: Well, that’s a lovely little segue there, too, because I want to talk about glassware now.
E: So I defer to a coupe for something like this. It depends on where you work or where you’re entertaining. I don’t know if you remember: Libby used to make these super-clunky ones. They weren’t the most beautiful, but they wouldn’t break. For some of these high- volume places that are like, “I’m trying to do the right thing,” I want to have this in a nice coupe. That’s what I started serving these kinds of cocktails in during, like, 2000-whatever. Of course, like a beautiful Nick & Noras, or some kind of nice coupe would be lovely.
T: But just any one of those. And it sounds like you’re steering clear of the classic old Martini glass there.
E: I keep classic Martini glasses in my freezer. But Tim, if someone gave that to me, I’d be like, “All right, whatever. I don’t care.” Personally, I just think it’s more fun to drink a super- dirty Martini out of those glasses. I don’t want my Dirty Martini in a coupe. I want it in a giant V-shape glass with blue cheese olives. I kind of leave that for that. But I wouldn’t hate on it if anyone gave me that. Then everything with Nick & Nora, you’re like, “Oh my God, that’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” It still charms me every time.
T: Why don’t you talk us through making this? I’m not going to say that producer Keith and I are disappointed to hear that you’re not actually making them, because you have all the tools here in the VinePair.
E: We can do this after.
T: Yeah, we’ll do that after. But can you talk us and the listeners through this drink, making it step by step?
T: Call out ratios there, quantities, and the ingredients that you would reach for. I may actually ask you to settle upon a gin for this one.
E: Yeah, no problem. So let’s see. You’ve got your mixing tins. If you’re a bartender that’s never made this before or if you’re someone at home that wants to make something tonight, honestly, you’re very capable. I say go for it. If you’ve got the basic equipment, you’re good. So mixing tins for sure. I always work from the short side. That’s how I was taught. I don’t work over ice. Some people do. I don’t. It dilutes too fast for me. You always start with your “cheapest ingredient,” we’ll see about that. Usually you start with your citrus and your sugar. So I would do a little, little bar spoon, maybe a thin quarter of an ounce of simple syrup, 1:1. I like my drinks fat. Any time I tell people my specs, they’re like, “Oh my God.” Maybe it’s cultural. I’m from the South; I don’t know what it is. But I do a big ole 1 ounce of fresh lemon juice. You can get the little squeezes you can keep at home. They’re super easy. If you’ve got a double mesh strainer, good for you. Double strain it. But guess what? You’ll be fine if you don’t. I would do an ounce of that. I would do an ounce of Cointreau. That’s the premium orange liqueur we’ve been talking about this whole time. But remember, it is 40 ABV, so it’s not messing around it. I would do 2 ounces of a London dry gin of your choice. Personally, I think you can’t go wrong with Beefeater, Tanq, or Botanist. Those are all three amazing options. But there are so many incredible options out there. But those are three that pop into my mind immediately. So 2 ounces of that. I would then add ice. I would pop the bigger side of my smaller tin, flip it. I’m really trying to give you a visual here.
T: It’s going well. You’re making up for these lack of drinks here in the studio.
E: Basically you need to flip it because you should never shake at a guest. It’s just weird and aggressive, but also it could explode all over them. So usually I would shake to the side. And in the event that you didn’t seal your tin correctly and it busts open, you want it to go on you and not on the person you’re making it for or whatever. Common sense, people. I would shake it up. When the tin starts to get really cold in your fingers, that’s when it’s time to crack them. Strain it with the strainer over a chilled coupe if you have it. If it’s a regular coupe, you’ll be fine. It’s still going to be delicious. Some people double strain these kinds of things. I don’t really mind ice cubes personally, but again, up to you. Then I would do a little express, and I would discard a little lemon disk.
T: There we go.
E: And that’s how you have it.
T: And enjoy. Don’t forget that part.
E: And then you just mind eraser it. No, I’m kidding. You gently and delicately enjoy it.
T: Sounds wonderful. Any final thoughts here on the White Lady before we head into the second part of our show today?
E: I feel like it’s really simple. I would like to see it embraced more as an at-home drinking option. I think it’s super easy to execute. And I think it would be something that shows that you made a little extra care if you’re entertaining. It is still a handcrafted cocktail, but it does feel different than some of the other ones that you’re just shaking up. It would be kind of cool to go to a bar, not just a cocktail bar, but a normal bar that you go to and be like, “Hey, can I get a White Lady?” And they’re like, “Hell yeah.”
T: On that front, too, I’ve never come across it before, but I’m starting to think about how we’ve had frozen Margs. What about the frozen White Lady? I feel like this might be a good candidate for that.
E: Absolutely. It’s got decent sugar content because of the liqueur. It would freeze well. They’ve got those crazy frozen machines at the Spaceman. I think they’re actually frozen yogurt machines, but they have the craziest texture. It’s a super-velvety frozen texture. Oh, yes, that would be an excellent White Lady. I’m always thinking of how I can make something really nice kind of trash as well? If I was writing that menu, I’d be like, “Frozen White Lady, come and get them. For $2 extra, you can have an extra shot of Cointreau on top.” A little float.
T: That reminds me of the Margarita that I had at Olive Garden in Times Square. They do an Amaretto Float.
E: I love a float. Do you know that bar Connolly’s Bar in Rockaway Beach? It’s a pub, but they’re famous for their frozen Piña Colada. And I’ve never once seen someone not get the Sailor Jerry Float. They’re like, “Want a float?” and you’re like, “Hell yeah, I do.” Every time.
E: Yeah, I was teasing. It’s not trash, it’s practical.
T: In what world am I not doing that?
E: Yeah, I 100 percent agree.
T: Always go with the overproof shot on the float. Emily, we’re heading into the second part of the show here where our listeners get to know you a little bit more as a bartender and as a drinker.
E: Oh, boy.
T: How are you feeling?
E: I feel great and ready to go. I’m ready to show my true self.
Getting to Know Emily Aresneu
T: We’ll start with question No. 1, then. And that is: What style or category of spirit typically enjoys the most real estate on your back bar?
E: Like I said earlier, I stole Sothers quote saying, “I’m a consumer, not a collector.” I am Southern, and drinking is a huge ritual in my culture as far as gathering and togetherness. Happy hour has always been kind of a family thing. I’ve always enjoyed a good cocktail. I keep a pretty curated back bar. Also, I live in NYC, so there’s only so much space. When I see these people that have these unbelievable bars, and I’m sure Pam Wiznitzer is listening or I hope she is, she’s thinking, “Well, I have my bar. You can’t get a bar going?” Oh, I don’t know. She’s just more organized than me. She’s got a beautiful back bar and I see people on Instagram have these beautiful back bars, and I just can’t. It would take up my entire living room. I keep a nice little Ikea cabinet stocked with my favorite things. I would probably say gin. I keep a lot of gin. I keep a decent amount of agave; I’m a big rum drinker. And I love Cognac.
T: Nice. When we’re filing down the answers for this one, I’m putting gin in that column for you. Is that correct?
T: Sounds good. Question No. 2: What ingredient or tool do you think is the most undervalued in a bartender’s arsenal?
E: When people are first starting out, it’s really important to get tools. Especially if you’re traveling and you’re bartending or if you’re working at an event or an office or something, it’s really important that you have your own tools. But they don’t necessarily need to be fancy. I think I mentioned earlier, I have never really worked well with beautiful weighted tins. For me, the weight in my hands, I’m shaking, especially with a double shake. I need the cheapo ’90s tins, and that’s what I use. I guess tins aren’t underutilized, but…
T: Yeah, a lighter, cheaper tin is undervalued.
E: Yeah. It doesn’t need to be anything crazy. I could’ve been worse. I could have been like, “Honestly, your personality is your most important tool in your arsenal.” And get a good peeler that won’t cut the tip of your finger off.
T: Wise words. All the above, really. Question 3 here: What’s the most important piece of advice you’ve received while working in this industry?
E: Can I curse?
E: To not sh*t talk other brands. It will do you no good. You don’t know the craftsmanship that goes behind said brand. You don’t know the people that go behind the brand. You don’t know if you’re going to be working there one day. Just keep your mouth shut if you don’t have anything nice to say. If someone needs to be called out for bad behavior, that’s a different story. Sure. People like to have a lot of opinions about brands. And I just think it’s a little weird to speak poorly of someone’s business.
T: I think that’s applicable across the board, too, when it comes to other bars. We’ve spoken about this before where that progression for a lot of bartenders who might be starting out behind the bar and working as a brand ambassador one day and doing all of those different roles. You never know what the future holds, like you say.
E: Look, it’s a super-small community on every side of it. On the industry-adjacent, actual F&B, suppliers, media. It’s very small. So it’s not a good idea to be a big old jerk.
T: Nice, wise words there.
T: Penultimate question: If you could only visit one…
E: Long Island Bar.
T: This is true. You’re a fan of Long Island Bar.
E: Oh, it’s easy. But I guess you can finish your question.
T: The listeners know the question, so don’t worry about that. Tell us about your journey with Long Island Bar and what makes it such a special place for yourself. When was your first visit there, or what’s your most memorable visit there been like? Because I know this is a favorite of yours. This is the bar of friend of the show Toby Cecchini.
E: To me, it’s just a perfect bar. It’s just a great environment and amazing people run it, and they make you feel so welcome. Everything is so buttoned up and well executed. It just feels effortless, you know? It’s just somewhere where you want to hang out. And I love hanging out. It’s a great vibe. They’ve got their goofy, “No Dancing” neon. They’ve got really warm, wonderful bartenders. They’re bartenders that act like they’re not, but secretly, they are. No, you’re great. This is just all great. And then, of course, the proprietors are wonderful, Toby and Joel. Toby, who famously created the Cosmopolitan in 1987. The reason I started going to Long Island Bar is because I was thrown together with Toby through work. We wanted to do a Cointreau campaign, obviously, where it was going to be a road show. And we did; it was so fun. It was with Alfred Cointreau, sixth-generation Cointreau family member telling this brand story. And then Toby, as his counterpart, gave the trade application for it. We traveled all over the world together, telling these fun origin stories. That’s a whole ‘nother episode that you’ve already done. But we basically met through work. And it just turns out that he’s an amazing guy. We became friends, and I was like, “Man, his bar’s great, too.” It’s great.
T: One more thing about that bar as well, is it is a relatively long bar. I like sitting up there. It’s the kind of place you go in on your own, you perch up, you’re bound to bump into some friendly people. It’s long, so you can get a lot of people sat at that bar, which is important to me.
E: Yes, for sure. It’s an athletic bar. Then Toby’s a sports fan, and so am I. He always has good games on. There’s a second room, as you mentioned, the Lombardi room. And during the season, there’s always NBA basketball games that you want to be watching. I can hunker down, and have some dirty Martinis and some fried cheese curds. It’s the best.
T: There you go. Last question here for you today: If you knew that the next cocktail you drank was going to be your last, what would you order or make?
E: That’s an excellent question. I feel like I’ve been on this Dirty Martini kick for many moons. I don’t want people thinking like, “Oh, we’ve been writing about how cool it is lately.” Y’all, I lived in Texas. I’ve been drinking Dirty Martinis for a while now. So that’s definitely up there. But the Margarita was kind of the launching pad of my career. But then the Queen’s Park Swizzle is just so delectable. Ooh, I’m going to go with Margaritas. I’m leaning toward the Margarita. I feel like it’s given me a lot, so I appreciate it.
T: And it’s a great drink.
E: And it’s a great drink. Never goes out of style.
T: Well, Emily, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been a blast having you on the show.
E: Yeah, this is great. Thanks for having me. Hopefully, Pam doesn’t think I’m too much of a freak that I was talking about her back bar in her apartment. But I’ve seen it.
T: It’s very out there on the internet. I’m sure Pam has no qualms about that.
T: Well, let’s go make some White Ladies.
E: OK, let’s do it.
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Now, for the credits. “Cocktail College” is recorded and produced in New York City by myself and Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director and all-around podcast guru. Of course, I want to give a huge shout-out to everyone on the VinePair team. Too many awesome people to mention. They know who they are. I want to give some credit here to Danielle Grinberg, art director at VinePair, for designing the awesome show logo. And listen to that music. That’s a Darbi Cicci original. Finally, thank you, listener, for making it this far and for giving this whole thing a purpose. Until next time.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.