Considered a classic in the pantheon of egg-white cocktails, The Pink Lady’s vibrant color and foamy white head create an eye-catching drink. Its signature tartness and relative lack of sugar set it apart from other more well-known, pink-hued creations.
The History of the Pink Lady Cocktail
Like a lot of early 20th-century cocktails, the origins of this pink drink aren’t quite clear. Some say the creator was Elsie de Wolfe. In addition to being an actress and author, she’s cited as America’s first professional interior designer. De Wolfe earned renown for pioneering a movement that advocated for innovative, lighter design in response to the heavy Victorian styles of the time. However, according to the book Power of Style: The Women Who Defined the Art of Living Well, de Wolfe’s version of the drink, which she allegedly served at parties, was comprised of gin, pink grapefruit juice and Cointreau. Neither grapefruit juice or Cointreau made it into modern versions.
But perhaps that’s because de Wolfe wasn’t the originator of the drink at all. According to The Oxford Companion of Spirits and Cocktails, the Pink Lady was actually named for a 1911 musical, The Pink Lady. Actress Hazel Dawn, the musical’s star, told drinks historian William Grimes the cocktail had been created for her as a surprise and served on the play’s opening night. However, that Pink Lady was still not the one we think of today. Rather, it was a mix of ojen—an anise-flavored liqueur—Peychaud and Angostura bitters.
Yet another contender for inventor of the Pink Lady is Jacques Straub, a Swiss native who settled in Kentucky in 1913. He eventually became an authority in early 20th-century American drinks and published a version of the Pink Lady in his book Straub’s Manual of Mixed Drinks. Ultimately, it would be his recipe that would lay the groundwork for the version of the cocktail we know today.
Sadly, due to its blush hue, the Pink Lady was unfairly maligned by many from 1930 through the ’60s as a so-called women’s drink, a “girly” cocktail not to be taken seriously by the predominantly male cocktail critics of the time. Their loss!
What’s in a Pink Lady Cocktail?
Early recipes include some combination of gin and grenadine, while egg whites seem to appear and vanish based on the author and tastes of the time. However, over time, the addition of lemon juice and applejack (apple brandy) became mainstays in the version of the drink we’ve all come to know and love. They’re a natural fit: Lemon offsets grenadine’s sweetness, while applejack lends fruit-forward depth that complements the gin’s botanicals.
Interestingly, the drink’s modern ingredients are strikingly similar to those in revered drinks like the White Lady, which is largely credited to bartending legend Harry McElhone of London’s Ciro Club and Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, as well as the Clover Club cocktail, which was created by a Philadelphia men’s club of the same name.
Regardless of trends and gender biases, one thing is clear: The Pink Lady has persevered for more than a century. It remains an impeccable and tasty drink that combines tartness and body with a heady punch of alcohol.
How to Make a Pink Lady Cocktail Without Egg White
Cocktails with egg white either evoke fascination or revulsion. But even if you’re in the latter group, you can still enjoy the Pink Lady. Egg whites are commonly used in drinks for mouthfeel as they create a creamier texture. So, by omitting this ingredient you won’t sacrifice the Pink Lady’s classic tartness, but you will lose some of its velvety mouthfeel.
How to Make a Classic Pink Lady Cocktail
- 1½ ounce gin
- ½ ounce applejack
- ¼ ounce grenadine
- ¾ ounce lemon juice
- 1 egg white
- Apple slice or cherry, for garnish
In cocktail shaker without ice, combine all ingredients, except garnish. Dry shake vigorously for at least 20 seconds, or until egg is fully beaten and incorporated into drink. Add ice, and shake again for 10–15 seconds to chill. Strain into chilled coupe or martini glass. Garnish with apple slice or cherry, if desired.
This story was updated on October 27, 2022.