The Sabbatical’s Unofficial Official Drink
Good stories need not be true. When reading about cocktails in particular, one needs to remember that many of the tales surrounding their origins are apocryphal. But that doesn’t make them any less fun to tell.
It’s just a good thing to keep in mind.
So when I overheard something about a classic cocktail recently at a reception, it piqued my interest, but I have no idea if the statement was accurate. Before I can share it however, I need to explain a little something about this sabbatical.
We’re in Princeton, but we’re not at Princeton. This academic year, we are living on the campus of the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS). And it’s an amazing place with an amazing history. It’s pretty much like summer camp for academics, except it lasts all year long.
Seriously, they have movie nights, yoga classes, excursions to New York City, pottery classes, and a shuttle service that will drive you into town. Apparently, the dining hall is said to be the best restaurant in Princeton, but it’s not open to the public. I haven’t tried the food, but the architecture of the building is gorgeous.
Anyway, we are all very happy here.
I mention all of this because there was a big welcome party earlier in the week. Every year, most of the members of IAS return to their home universities to make room for the next incoming wave of scholars. The Institute wants people to feel welcome. They do a great job.
Have you ever heard of a classic cocktail called The White Lady? It’s not in my Pocket Bartender’s Guide, which is filled with strange forgotten drinks of the past. Yet at the IAS welcoming reception, the bartenders were making a constant stream of them.
I overheard someone say that it was the official cocktail of the Institute.
Now, I have no idea if that’s true. But I love the notion that this place has an official (or even an unofficial) cocktail. There is precious little to be found of The Institute’s historical cocktail culture online. However, I was able to dig up some further information on The White Lady. And the timing lines up nicely.
The Institute for Advanced Study was founded in 1930. Coincidentally, that very year, Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book was published. That book contains the “modern” recipe for The White Lady which is simply 1/4 lemon juice, 1/4 Cointreau, and 1/2 dry gin. Those are shaken well and strained into a cocktail glass.
This drink was also popular before the book (1929), and was being served at Harry’s American Bar in Paris. But really I have no idea when it came to IAS. I do know that Robert Oppenheimer was the director of the Institute from 1947 to 1966. And I also recall stories about him holding some swinging cocktail parties with the scientists involved with the Manhattan Project. So maybe he had something to do with it.
At the welcoming party this past week the drink was prepared with egg whites, but this is a variation on the classic recipe. It’s perfectly acceptable. Some variations add milk instead of egg whites to highlight the color of the drink.
Yet even without egg whites or milk, The White Lady turns a hauntingly pale shade of white. It’s the Cointreau. Because of the orange oils suspended in the distillate, it actually gets cloudy when mixed with cold water. That, in combination with freshly squeezed and strained lemon juice, plus vigorous shaking with ice, produces a ghostly white drink.
And that’s the point. The 12 Bottle Bar has all the mythology behind The White Lady, and I pretty much credit their amazing research for enabling me to sound half intelligent on the subject.
Naturally, I had to run out and restock my Princeton liquor cabinet with a bottle of Cointreau. I already had gin, and I wisely packed my citrus squeezer, mixing tin, shaker, strainer and jiggers. Now I’m set up to make White Ladies all night long.
And those eggs I picked up at the farmers market I’m sure would really turn this into a frothy and decadent treat. But before I can attempt that, I’ve got to build up some stronger shaking muscles.
Fortunately there’s a gym here too. Yeah, I don’t know who I’m kidding with that one. I’ll just build my shaking muscles the old fashioned way, by mixing drinks. Guess we’ll need to have a party at the profussor’s.