In 2002—before the mixology trend took hold everywhere from Poughkeepsie to Peoria—Dale DeGroff published what is basically considered the bible of contemporary bartending: The Craft of the Cocktail. Eighteen years later, the iconic Rainbow Room barman, credited with being the first to bring back the classic libations of the 19th century, is a double James Beard Award winner, a Tales of the Cocktail Lifetime Achievement Award recipient and a founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans.
He’s also back with the just-released and completely revised The New Craft of the Cocktail: Everything You Need to Know to Think Like a Master Mixologist and we caught up with the legend to get his take on the new tome, the state of cocktailing today, and his plan for an epic post-pandemic bar crawl.
What inspired you to revisit The Craft of the Cocktail? Even the name of the book told the story of the future, The Craft of the Cocktail.
It was a book of its time and served a real purpose when it was published, giving bartenders a roadmap, photo demonstrations, and recipes to take cocktails back to the golden age—when ingredients were fresh and many bitters, syrups, and infusions were a regular part of the repertoire at cocktail bars. It was an era when many of the most iconic cocktails like the martini, the Manhattan, the sour and the julep were either invented or perfected, an era when the job of master bartender was a highly respected profession.
Even the name of the book told the story of the future, The Craft of the Cocktail.
Over the next 18 years that’s exactly what happened. The stunner to me was how much the culinary side of the business inspired and moved the cocktail bartenders; I write about this in the new edition because it is my belief that without the culinary revolution we would not have had an audience for the craft cocktail movement.
It also occurred to me that two generations of talented young bartenders who emerged from the 1980s, when I started my journey, might be interested in some of that material. And they might be interested in my story as well. So I collected a sizable sampling of the special recipes that I felt may be on the their way to becoming the new classics of the craft era, and I started work on The New Craft of the Cocktail.
You are undoubtedly the preeminent cocktail expert in the US. Who do you see carrying the torch for the next generation?
I’m not the preeminent expert, but I have stories to tell and experience to share. Our business is much richer than preeminence in the technique—we are in a people business, and that is the key to success. Bartenders have to find that chink in the social armor of the people who gather across the bar and get to the happy place behind the armor.
What’s your go-to cocktail these days?
I’m playing with next-generation martinis like this:
THE SMOKY MARTINI #2
1 ounce Reyka Vodka
1 ½ ounce Hendrick’s Orbium Gin
½ ounce Martini Ambrato Vermouth
1 tsp. Monkey Shoulder Scotch
4 drops Dale DeGroff’s bitters
Stir with ice. Strain into your favorite cocktail glass.
Note: A spritz of Jade Liqueurs Absinthe is a pleasant finish.
What bars are you most looking forward to bellying up to once we’re post-pandemic?
I’d like to start in London at the Connaught Hotel, then whatever bar Salvatore Calabrese is behind, then NYC to Doug Quinn’s Hudson Malone, Dead Rabbit, Death and Co.; to Boston to Drink and Hawthorne, Cleveland’s “divey” Harbor Inn Café, Miami to Café La Trova and Sweet Liberty to pay tribute to the cocktail world’s lost treasure John Lermayer.
Then across the Gulf Coast to New Orleans and Chris and Laura McMillian at Revel, Chris Hannah at his Jewel of the South, and Lu Brow holding court at Brennan’s. Off to Chicago’s to visit Three Dots and a Dash; then some music behind the bar at the Green Room in Kansas City and a Rieger’s Whiskey at Manifesto with Ryan Maybee. Then off to Denver for some jawing and drinking at Williams and Graham with Sean Kenyon. Next stop, Scottsdale, Arizona, to have a margarita with chef Mark, then off to LA to Varnish and enjoy the poetry in motion of Eric Alperin behind the bar. North to San Francisco and a Ford’s gin martini with Martin Cate at Whitechapel, a tour of the basement treasures at Canon with Jamie Boudreau in Seattle …
I think you get the idea.