The color truly fits for this drink, which is almost a slight cream color, only given a sort of hue thanks to the use of lemon juice. Furthermore, the name invokes characteristics of a soft texture, which actually is quite the case with this drink, thanks to the incorporated textural element of foam from the pineapple juice. I’m not sure where this libation first shows up. However, on the bright side, we know who created the drink, seeing as a few sources actually cite the creator of the drink as Tony O’Connor (Craddock; Tarling).
The drink also shows up in Embury’s work, under the same name. Embury, as the fine cocktail connoisseur that he is, believes firmly that the drink is an off shoot of the White Lady, specifically in this case the White Baby, seeing as how the White Lady, which is a cocktail with a few variations, is a cocktail featuring egg whites, and the White Baby is the same drink without the egg whites (Embury 278). In such a relationship, the White Velvet is the White Baby with a replacement of pineapple juice for the lemon juice. Not too complicated, save for the fact that very few people will refer to a White Lady or a White Baby as distinct cocktails. But here again, we get into esoteric knowledge which really doesn’t help most imbibers, nor bartenders, and is just a good fact to know that there are names for the various minutiae of difference, even if such distinctions and changing ingredients are conflated more commonly into one drink.
Just like all citrus juices, Embury is fairly strong minded about using freshly squeezed juice for cocktails, and this extends to pineapple juice as well. This means, muddling, pressing, or pureeing pineapple and running the juice through a sieve. Of course, the end result is fantastic, and the lack of intense cloying syrup-like characteristic of a lot of pineapple juice provides a more subtle and rounded fruit flavor, as well as increased amounts of foam when shaken. I have been trying to do research into why pineapple juice foams, but from what I can tell, it is a combination of air mixed in from shaking and a reaction with the enzymes found in pineapple juice, that being the proteolytic enzyme bromelain found in pineapples. However, until I find a biochemist to ask, this will be a question left to another day.
Tony O’Connor is someone who doesn’t really show up in many bar books. I can’t find a history of the guy. Yet I can find other recipes attributed to him: the Silver Shower and the “25.” Both of these are also obscure drinks, more obscure than White Velvet, and feature ingredients such as Van der Hum and Żubrówka, both two not so common ingredients in the United States. The fact though, that recipes were attributed to him, compared to the majority of the recipes in the book, probably is indicative that the recipes and Tony O’Connor are both related directly to the united Kingdom Bartender’s Guild-for it seems likely that Tony might have been another UK based bartender, or at least a friend of the guild. The other drinks in both the United Kingdom Bartender’s Guild list of approved cocktails as well as those showing up in the Café Royal are cited as creations of members of the UK guild (such as Craddock).
However, once again, that is speculation however, and uncertainty reigns supreme. I feel it is necessary to problematize these ideas, even if they might be grounded in some sort of discursive logic, since while there might be a reasonable truth to them, there is never any certainty. Cocktails in that respect, or history rather, is just like an atom: the Heisenberg uncertainty principle suggests that we know about the composition of the drink, but we aren’t really sure ever about the position of the drink in the historical canon. And even if we put it into perspective, we can’t be sure about whether or not there is accuracy here, since there are not a plethora of sources. As such, for posterity, we really need to keep up the excellent job of cataloging the efforts of contemporary craft bartenders.
The drink works fairly well with dry gin, which is what the original recipe calls for (“a high and dry gin”) but a slightly more fruit-driven or summer-driven gin works just as well in this drink. For instance, G’Vine comes to mind as a nice summery, floral, fruit-like and strong dry gin. The grape gives a nice complement to the already distinct flavor of the pineapple juice.
2 ounces dry gin
1/2 – 3/4 ounce pineapple juice
1/2 ounce Cointreau
Combine the gin, pineapple juice and Cointreau with cracked ice in a shaker tin. Shake until frothy, and serve up.
Craddock, Harry. Approved Cocktails: authorized by the United Kingdom Bartender’s Guild. London: Pall Mall LTD.
Embury, David A. 2009. The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. Originally published 1948. New York: Mud Puddle Books, Inc.
Tarling, William. 1937. Café Royal Cocktail Book. Pall Mall LTD: London, 1937.