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King Cocktail Returns

October 16, 2020

Story: Chloe Frechette

photo: Eric Medsker

In The New Craft of the Cocktail, Dale DeGroff distills the wisdom culled from nearly four decades in the industry.

Not since the early 20th century—the era of Harry Craddock and The Savoy Cocktail Book—have new bar books hit the market with such rapidity and at such volume. There are deep dives into forgotten elixirs, manuals for aspiring bar owners and recipe books dedicated to every category of spirit (Amaro, The Book of Vermouth, The Way of Whisky) and cocktail (The Martini Cocktail, The Manhattan Cocktail, The Old-Fashioned) under the sun. But before every bartender of note bestowed their own personality-driven recipe collections onto the never-ending library of bar books, there was one that set the foundation for all that followed.

Dale DeGroff’s 2002 Craft of the Cocktail, with its 500 recipes and entry-level primers on everything from drink-world lore to how to properly flame an orange peel, became the textbook for a generation of bartenders that would go on to shape our modern understanding of cocktails. Now, 18 years later, DeGroff, who ushered in the cocktail revival with his groundbreaking tenure at New York’s famed Rainbow Room, has released a revised edition: The New Craft of the Cocktail, featuring a host of novel recipes, anecdotes and resources. A look at what’s changed, and what hasn’t, reveals as much about the trajectory of cocktails over the last two decades as it does about the author himself—a serious bartender who reminded us that cocktails could be fun and refined at the same time.

“In the first version I had very few original cocktails,” explains DeGroff, of the classic-leaning roster of recipes that spotlighted late 19th and 20th century drinks—like the Algonquin, the Pink Lady and the Sazerac—which he helped reintroduce to public consciousness. By contrast, the new edition features a slew of DeGroff originals from throughout his decades-long career, like the Gallery Gimlet and the Pimm’s Italiano, alongside dozens of recipes submitted by other pioneering bartenders, including Franky Marshall, Brian Miller and Eric Alperin.

“I invited people to do this personally,” DeGroff says. “I told them I wanted them to choose a cocktail that they were most proud of.”

Old Flame [recipe] and Pimm's Italiano [recipe].

The resulting catalog paints a far more personal picture of the last two decades of the cocktail revival than any greatest hits collection could. Take, for instance, the Brother Cleve Sour, an original cocktail by Miller. Consisting of pisco, lemon, lime and pineapple juices as well as cinnamon syrup, egg white and DeGroff’s Pimento Aromatic Bitters, the drink—created in tribute to the godfather of the early Boston cocktail scene—exemplifies Miller’s hybrid tiki-classic approach, but is surely a B-side hit, and has never appeared in print anywhere else.

Juxtaposed with these new additions are the recipes that DeGroff deliberately kept intact from the first edition, while “dead weight” drinks, like the Mango-Rita and Bahia Breeze, were scrubbed from the pages. Among the worthy hangers-on are a number of recipes that might seem out of place in a bar book published more than two decades into the cocktail revival, like the B-52, a disco-era layered shot; the Angel’s Tip, equal parts heavy cream and crème de cacao; and the Flirtini, a 1990s “it” drink. There’s even a revised Alabama Slammer, which DeGroff has repurposed as the Alabama Slammerito, with Southern Comfort, vodka, sloe gin and orange juice pared down to a shooter size. “It always should’ve been a shot in my opinion,” he says. “It was a silly drink, but it’s a great shot.” The deliberate inclusion of these drink-world relics again reminds the reader that DeGroff is the type of bartender who never forgot cocktails were supposed to be fun, and that hospitality is not conditional on the sophistication of a drink order.

As for tools and techniques, DeGroff notes that there have been dramatic advancements since he was last behind a bar. But what you’ll find in The New Craft of the Cocktail is deliberately straightforward. There is no mention of sous-vide infusion or centrifugal clarification. Instead, the lessons on muddling fruit, prepping glassware and zesting citrus are a reminder that even in cocktails, it’s best to walk before you run. “Some of the guys are making mistakes,” says DeGroff, citing, for example, the oversized citrus twists that often adorn up drinks like the Manhattan or Martini. “They have much too much of an effect on the drink itself,” he explains.

Though one might wonder what’s left to be added to the conversation on cocktails in light of the ever-expanding library of books on the topic, DeGroff’s The New Craft of the Cocktail is evidence that some things bear repeating. After all, if it were possible to have Craddock revise his seminal contribution to the canon, wouldn’t you read that? “It’s not like all the old stuff has been left behind,” says DeGroff. “It’s still relevant.”

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