It’s too hot. The sky is a bright, flat blue, without a cloud in sight to intercept those rays. This heat wave has people speaking in obnoxious clichés: It’s hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk!
Which makes me want a drink. A specific drink, a drink a lot of people shy away from: a cocktail with an egg white in it.
There’s an initial gross-out factor with raw egg whites. I’d like to offer some blend of wit and science that succinctly exonerates them, but I can’t. They are slimy, globby, and gross. From childhood we’re warned about the dangers of eating them raw.
But shaken with liquor and citrus—typically dry-shaken (no ice) to incorporate the elements, then shaken again with ice, or a spring in the shaker, or some other labor-intensive process—the egg white is transformed from amniotic gag-bait to siren silkiness. The drink’s texture is unlike any other, making it a smooth, cool sipper topped with a layer of fine-bubbled foam like a cappuccino, but counterintuitively light and refreshing. It’s like drinking a cloud, or the reflection of a cloud on cold, pure spring water.
The most common egg white cocktail is the sour—liquor, lemon, and egg white—specifically the whiskey sour. Out at the train-tracky end of the Pearl District, between new condos and tiny Tanner Springs Park, Catalan restaurant Can Font serves up a slight variation: the New Yester, a ginger whiskey sour ($14). It wakes up parts of the tongue, adding a slight jolt to the invigorating baseline of a sour, tempered by the merino softness of the egg white. But ginger and lemon are wolves in sheep’s clothing when it comes to heat-beating quenchability—the combination makes you need another drink. Also try: the Vermut, a combo of gin and Spanish vermouth. The Yzaguirre red vermouth, more herbal and woody than sweet, and with a couple of olives dropped in define the drink’s surprisingly savory profile. It’s $14 with Beefeater, but if you’re a gin and/or Spain fan, splurge for Mahon, a finely muscular Spanish gin.)
Meanwhile, in the old Davis Street Tavern space at Northwest 5th and Davis, the North End Saloon has had a soft open over the last few weeks, hosting special events and running a happy-hour-all-the-time schedule. It should be officially open by the time you read this, and hopefully the Cane Salute ($9) will still be on the menu. Cruzan Black Strap rum, earth-spicy falernum, lime, and cinnamon are softened and welded by egg whites to make the world’s least frivolous Tiki drink. If this one’s a cloud, it’s hanging low and mellow over an island sunset, ready to rain if the port bars get too rowdy.
Speaking of rowdy, the bell-ringing indulgers at Bit House Saloon fit seemingly every known cocktail ingredient onto their menu (not to mention a handful of previously unknown ones), including the egg white. The vehicle is the Arizona Bay, a rye sour with plenty of additional ingredients. Grapefruit and peach liqueurs, two kinds of bitters, honey, and lemon all sound fine, but the actual reason you’re ordering the drink is for the pair of Campari gummy bears palling around on top ($10). Glad to see the cocktail community admitting that Jell-O shots belong in Jell-O molds. (Also try: the Miche Viche if you’re craving seafood or judge your drinks by novelty. It’s just a simple, refreshing michelada with a serving of bay shrimp ceviche, but the plastic to-go container presentation on this drink is laugh-out-loud funny, $10.)
Back in Northwest, the Solo Club, sister bar to reborn local mainstay Besaw’s, won high marks from me when it opened for the menu’s “coolers” section—simple, classic constructions like the spritz, gin and tonic, or fernet and cola, usually with a choice of amaro. It’s a go-to bar for introducing neophytes to the world of Italian bitters, and now that the coolers include a $10 “fizz,” it’s also a gateway for the egg white-averse. The addition of soda gives these beauties an even lighter weight, planting them firmly between expectations—smooth and fizzy, bitter and sweet, cooling and cozy—like an ice-cold cashmere scarf coiled in a coupe glass. Fruitier, slightly sweeter bitters like Melletti 1870 pop languorously, though on a hot day I recommend Cappelletti. There’s something a little rebellious-teenager about its broad candy sweetness, like a bubblegum bubble lazily eclipsing the face of a disaffected mallrat.
Made right, the egg white cocktail is the cloud that finally slips across the sun. And even if it doesn’t drop the ambient temperature, it at least lets you relax that permanent squint and pulls a soda-commercial “ahh” from your lips. Just don’t spill it on the sidewalk. We’re not making omelets.