The 9-Bottle Bar Guide to Eggs in Cocktails

updated May 2, 2019
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(Image credit: Roger Kamholz)

This Friday the 9-Bottle Bar is featuring a recipe for the Clover Club, a standout gin cocktail from the classic canon. The Clover Club is, essentially, a kind of Sour — a category of mixed drink that combines a base spirit with sugar or a flavored syrup, citrus juice, and, in many instances, egg white. Because the Clover Club’s recipe calls for the latter, now seems like the perfect moment in the series to explore the roles eggs can play in cocktails, as well as the techniques the home bartender can use for incorporating them.

Why We Use Eggs in Cocktails

Generally, mixing egg white into a cocktail is meant to enhance texture. Vigorously shaken, egg white and its inherent proteins form a pillowy, frothy foam that, after a cocktail is strained, sits atop the denser liquid in the glass like the head of a sudsy beer. It’s quite handsome, and luscious to boot.

Drinks with egg whites are light and creamy on a palate. And besides, say, softening the sharpness of citrus, there’s very little noticeable effect on the taste of a cocktail because it includes egg white. That said, you might pick up on a faint odor (bartenders have characterized it to me as smelling like a wet dog’s nose), but it’s hardly unpleasant — and there’s a handy technique to mask it, which we’ll get to later.

In addition to Sours, the class of cocktails known as Fizzes (the Ramos Gin Fizz being perhaps the best known) by and large call for egg whites, as well.

(Image credit: Roger Kamholz)

Egg yolks alone are rarely, if ever, called for in cocktail recipes, but whole eggs (as in the yolk and the white) are key ingredients in Nogs and Flips. The whole egg thickens the consistency of these styles of cocktail, creating a milky, robust texture. These are rich, festive (and often sweeter) drinks that are generally enjoyed in wintertime — especially around the holidays.

Is It Safe to Drink Raw Eggs?

Because the eggs used in cocktails are raw, it’s important to be mindful of sanitation and proper food safety practices when handling them, even if the risk of ingesting a dangerous bacteria like salmonella is pretty low. Among the ways you can protect against illness is to use fresh, clean eggs that have been dutifully refrigerated up until they’re used.

Raw eggs, as we all know, can also be messy, and separating yolks from whites can be tricky business. But the home bartender has options; like some cocktail bars do, you can opt to use commercial alternatives to actual, in-the-shell eggs such as cartons of pasteurized liquid egg whites or powdered egg whites.

An added bonus of using these products is their reduced risk to health. A drawback, though, is that they may not deliver the same results in the glass you’d get from using real, fresh egg. Pasteurized eggs often don’t taste quite as good and usually need to be shaken longer and more vigorously to generate foam. But if you’re extra-concerned about salmonella check them out.

It’s All About the Shake

Whatever form you choose, getting eggs to do their thing in cocktails comes down to shaking — hard, prolonged shaking! The more and stronger you shake the ingredients of a Sour or Fizz, the more air will be incorporated into the liquid in the form of tiny, delicate bubbles, and the more emulsification will take place among the ingredients — both of which will yield a foamier, more luxurious result.

(Image credit: Roger Kamholz)

But unlike the process for most shaken drinks, where all the ingredients are shaken once and in the presence of ice, egg-white-bearing cocktails benefit from what bartenders often call a dry or a mime shake. Those terms simply mean an initial shake of the ingredients without any ice in your tin. You’d then add ice to the now-bubbly mixture and perform a second shake before straining the liquid contents.

For Flip-style cocktails, where a whole egg is used, some bartenders favor a modified technique to the dry shake, using one piece of ice. Sometimes called a damp shake, this method is useful for breaking down and dispersing the thick, hearty yolk prior to the chilling-and-diluting step of performing a “wet” shake over more ice.

How to Soften the Taste of the Egg

That just leaves one loose end. How do you cure the wet dog’s nose? A surefire solution to the funky smell rising off a freshly poured egg-white-bearing cocktail is to lay a few drops of aromatic bitters (such as Angostura) atop the blanket of cloud-white bubbles. The spicy, woodsy fragrance of the bitters will neutralize any off odors, leaving only the silky texture of beaten egg white in evidence.