The Perfect White Lady
Diageo World Class judge Hidetsugu Ueno shares his secrets
The White Lady cocktail is a classic - gin, Cointreau, lemon and some say egg white. Shaken and served. Easy as that.
But in a slender bar tucked away on the fourth floor of a building in Tokyo’s exclusive Ginza district works one man who, people say, makes the drink better than anyone else. His name is Hidetsugu Ueno. You may know him as one of Diageo’s World Class judges. Or perhaps as the guy who carves ice into diamonds. In Tokyo, he’s also known as the master of the White Lady cocktail. Here’s how he does it.
First, forget the egg. Early cocktail recipes called for just gin, triple sec and juice. Somewhere around the mid-20th century, people started adding egg white. In Japan, the original cocktail recipe rules. “Have you ever drunk an egg white White Lady in Japan?” asks Ueno. “Nobody uses it.”
Next, juice your lemon but be careful how you do it. Ueno says if you slice a lemon across the bulge and grind it against a juicer, your juice will be too sour. You’re
pushing down hard, pressing oils from the skin, and forcing the white core against the juicer. “Lemons and limes are sour, but they’re fruits, so they have sweetness too,” he says. He peels the skin and pith from his lemons, slices them lengthways, then carves out the core. He then rocks the flesh gently against a metal juicer. “In Star Bar (a legendary 4Ginza bar where Ueno spent nearly a decade) we used a plastic juicer but with stainless steel, I don’t have to use so much power,” he says.
Ueno favours a cobbler cocktail shaker over the Boston variation, for the next step. “The Boston cocktail shaker is much better for egg whites. It’s also good for ice-machine ice, which is soft and gets watery fast. However, I don’t think it goes well with the ice I use,” says Ueno. He favours very hard and pure ice produced in a factory just west of Tokyo.
Fill two thirds of the cocktail shaker with ice. Add 45 mls of gin. Ueno suggests Beefeater or Tanqueray.
Add 15 mls of Cointreau, followed by the juice. “I start from 15 mls (of lemon),” he says. “But I usually add 20, depending on how sour the juice is. In Japan, a cocktail-glass serve should be exactly 60 ml. I make gimlets that way, but not the White Lady. For me, that technique doesn’t work.”
When the balance tastes right, put the lid on and shake. Shake longer than you would for a gimlet or daiquiri, then pour into a cocktail glass. The perfect White Lady cocktail. Easy as that.
Nicholas Coldicott has been writing about Japanese drinks and bars for over a decade. He's the former editor of Eat Magazine, former drink columnist for the Japan Times, and former contributing editor at Whisky Magazine Japan.