Dale DeGroff, aka, King of Cocktails - Mixologist of the Month

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Author: TheDrinkShop
Tags: Mixologist
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Dale's Bio

  • Date of Birth: 21st September 1948
  • Birth place: Rhode Island
  • Height: 5'10"
  • Eye colour: Brown
  • Nationality: Italian American

Master Mixologist Dale DeGroff, aka King Cocktail, developed his extraordinary techniques and talent tending bar at great establishments, most notably, New York's famous Rainbow Room, where in the late 1980's he pioneered a gourmet approach to recreating the great classic cocktails. Universally acknowledged as the world's premier mixologist whose innovations have globally impacted the industry, DeGroff has been credited with reinventing the profession of bartending and setting off a cocktail explosion around the world.

DeGroff creates award-winning cocktails and continues to be a leading trainer and authority in the beverage world. He is also a founding partner of Beverage Alcohol Resource (BAR), a partnership of six of the world's leading spirits and cocktails authorities that provide innovative and comprehensive training programs and seminars.

A four time James Beard award nominee, DeGroff appears regularly in the press and media, writes a monthly colums for Beverage Media, and has won many industry awards including the 2008 TOTC Helen David Lifetime Achievement Award, and the 2007 Cheers Beverage Industry Innovator of the Year for the award winning Beverage Alcohol Resource, a training and credentialing program in distilled spirits and mixology.

DeGroff is the author of "The Craft of The Cocktail", winner of the IACP Julia Child Award, and the newly released, 'The Essential Cocktail' (Random House). He is also the founding President of The Museum of the American Cocktail, a non-profit organization dedicated to education in mixology and celebrating the rich history of the cocktail.

Signature cocktails

Claim To Fame

In the late 1980's while at New York's famous Rainbow Room, Dale revived the classic cocktail menu as he pioneered a gourmet approach to recreating the great classic cocktails, and dedicated himself to reviving the profession of bartending.

Q & A

If you only had one opportunity to pass on three pieces of advice to a rookie bartender about making cocktails, what would they be? In other words, based on your experience, what are the three most important things an up-and-coming must know about the fine art of crafting cocktails?
As a prelude to telling a bartender anything about the fine art of making cocktails a bartender has to like people and decide if this is in fact the profession that suits them... You are in the business of making friends for the house and sometimes that takes all the creativity, cleverness, and patience as one can muster!

  1. Don't be embarrassed to admit that you don't know a recipe or a spirit. Listen to the customers. Ask lots of questions and hunt down the information you need... recipes, techniques, you are not going to get it in six months... maybe in six years! 1a. You do not have the luxury of several schools or institutes like your brothers on the culinary side do, so you have to be a self-starter and find the knowledge where it lays.
  2. Taste everything... spirits, wines, beers, sake, soshu, cocktail recipes, if you come across five recipes for the same cocktail taste them all. This is a profession that deals in potable beverages... all of them and slowly over time a good beverage professional should master all of them. 2a. DON"T WASTE YOUR TIME with second rate bartending, find a place that believes in honest drinks ,made with FRESH ingredients especially JUICES!
  3. Work very hard and do the research and get it right... when you finally do get it right stand by it... there are lots of "experienced" bartenders out there who don't know what they are doing! 3a. Having said that... don't show off your knowledge, just perform and enjoy the results because your passion will be evident to most, and will be enough to sustain you.

Surely you have some pet peeves about bartenders -- care to share?
There's no excuse for unfriendliness.

How did you get started?
Started tending bar in 1975 in NYC and lied to get job while I was a waiter and ended up as the regular bartender for parties at the mayors residence Gracie Mansion, the first real classy job was Hotel Bel Air in Bel Air California, then, in 1985 when I went to work for restauranteur Joseph Baum, first at Aurora Restaurant, and later at the Rainbow Room in New York City. He was looking for a classic bar program, featuring authentic recipes made with fresh, quality ingredients. The menu I developed at the Rainbow Room Promenade Bar had drinks that had not appeared on a menu since the 1930s, as well as a seasonally changing component. The menu caught the attention of the press and then the public, igniting a spark around the city, and eventually around the country.

How were you trained in bartending?
On the job, there was no serious training to be had at the time; a couple bar schools that used coloured water in bottles and taught some technique, very nearly useless, but of course the cocktail was in a downward ebb at the time of the early 1970's since most young people were getting high on other stimulants! Like most young bartenders I relied on sweet and sour mixes, not only as a short cut, but to give a drink sweetness and balance. My previous training, if you could call it that, since it was all catch-as-catch-can, was in bars with all the modern conveniences like soda guns and sweet and sour mix. I finally got my hands on Jerry Thomas's book, "The Bon Vivant's Companion" and a treasure of other old cocktail books which proved invaluable in helping me reconstruct the methods of the classic era. Thomas's recipes were simple and direct; a base ingredient combined with modifiers. I learned the absolute necessity of using simple syrup in a cocktail program that utilizes only fresh squeezed lemon and limejuice, and through much experimentation, mastered the sweet and sour cocktails, like fizzes, sours, fixes and daisies.

Did you take any courses?
In Wine and food only: Windows on the World, and from the Chef of the Aurora.

What are some trends you're seeing in the market?
Serious career in all-round beverage jobs are becoming a reality again. The craft is back in the bar business, and the culinary cocktail is the future.

What's your process for creating a new cocktail?
1. Shake. Shaking is the heart and soul of cocktail making There are two distinctive styles of cocktail shaker. Boston Shaker, A two part metal and glass shake. The metal half is about 26 to 30 ounces in size the other half, usually around 16-ounces, is glass. When the metal is placed on top of the glass, they fit snugly together to form a sealed container. Cobbler shaker, The Cobbler shaker is usually all metal (stainless steel or sometimes silver, rarely glass), with a top that has a smaller cap, which unscrews to reveal a strainer. The shaker is simplicity itself to use: add ingredients; secure top and cap; shake; unscrew cap, and strain. 2. Fresh Ingredients. Forget the store bought mixes and make your dinks from fresh juices and fruits. 3. Balance. Remember if you have a sweet you need a sour or a bitter ingredient to balance the cocktail. Sweet and sour formula; 3/4 part sour 1 part sweet 2 parts strong For example a classic straight up Margarita: 3/4 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice 1 ounce Triple sec 2 ounces Gran Centenario Plata Tequila Shake the ingredients very hard with ice and stain into a chilled cocktail glass frosted half way round the rim with kosher salt. For a bit of a sweeter drink, just add a splash of simple syrup (half sugar half water; stir to dissolve the sugar - that is why they call it simple!) 4. Choose flavours and ingredients you like and use them. Orange and cinnamon and sugar for example, would be wonderful together in a cocktail, for example a drink as simple as a Screwdriver can take on a totally different dimension when the rim of the glass is frosted with cinnamon sugar. Below are one of the two recipes for the Centenario Distinction the other is farther down... 1 1/2 ounces Gran Centenario Plata 3/4 ounce Cointreau 1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lemon 2 medium size strawberries 2 canned lychees 1 piece of fresh ginger root with the skin removed about the size of a sugar cube Preparation Mash the ginger root in the bottom of a cocktail shaker glass with the lemon juice. Add the strawberries and the lychees and muddle again. Add the remaining ingredients and shake well with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass decorated on the rim with a half strawberry. 5. Take your cue from the kitchen if you want garlic flavour in a sauce. The chef doesn't add garlic powder, he mashes garlic cloves in the bottom of the pan! If you have favourite flavours like fruit or herbs, mash them in the bottom of the cocktail shaker glass, and build the ingredients on top. Alternate recipe: Centenario Distinction Ingredients 3/4 ounce Gran Centenario Anejo 3/4 ounce Grand Marnier 1ounce Blood Orange juice Champagne Assemble the first three ingredients in a bar glass with ice and stir to chill. Strain into a chilled champagne flute and top with champagne. Garnish with spiral of orange peel and a flamed orange zest. Ideas for a romantic drink: 1. My first choice will always be The Patio of the Hotel Bel Air under the bougainvillea vines sipping a Pimms Cup. 2. Del Coronado Hotel in San Diego sipping a Straight up Gran Centenario Margarita under the sun. 3. While in San Diego don't forget a Caipirinha at Cafe Buenos Aries... brush up on your tango. 4. The Ivy with a couple of well shaken Xellent Vodka Gimlets. 5. The Roosevelt Hotel is reborn, but with all feeling of a classic deco lounge from the 30s... a classic Manhattan or Dry Gin Martini is absolutely called for in these surroundings. 6. Chateau Marmont... just get a room and stay overnight, you won't have to worry about the drive home... Butterfly Kiss Martini. 7. Yamashiro outdoors at dusk with the lights of the city twinkling on one by one... teach the barman how to make the Centenario Distinction. 8. Chad's on Chapala... Santa Barbara sipping on Bikini Martinis. 9. Akwa in the courtyard with sushi rolls and a couple Ginger Martini 10. Bring a cold bottle of champagne and a tin of caviar up to Wattles Park at sunset.

What is your favourite cocktail to drink? To make?
Gin Martini & Sazerac.

What are some of your favourite tools?
Boston shaker, channel knife & muddler.

What is your favourite mixology resource?
My old cocktail books and Robert Hess's is an international web site / chat room for bartenders. There is a lot of esoteric stuff but there is also really helpful stuff... postings from around the world for people both looking for position, and for people looking for bartenders.

What does success mean for you?
Pride in what I do and enjoyment while doing it!

What are some current trends you've seen in the cocktail market?
Culinary cocktails and all that that encompasses learning kitchen techniques and tools - learning how to use ingredients and choose ingredients.

What goes into creating a cocktail? And what inspired you in the first place?
Does the world need you cocktail? Is it extraordinary? Do you have a great name/do you have a place to present the new creation? Joe baum and Jerry Thomas were my first inspirations.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
On the earth - not in it.

If you weren't in the drinks industry, what do you think you would be doing now?

Your hangover cure?
Soak your feet in oatmeal, while swallowing vitamins, and an aspirin with a bloody mary.

Your biggest career influencer?
Joe Baum Little Jazz Roy Eldridge, advertising man J. Ron Holland.

First drink you ever tried?
Cubal Bacardi Rum and Cock in Jerez, Spain in 1963.

We've all had a bad experience with at least one drink. What drink do you most avoid?

£10m comes to you. What do you do next?
Buy a building in New Orleans for the Museum of the American Cocktail - then go live there.

Bar or cellar at home?
Yes, yes!

Favourite beer?
Pinkus and guiness


Can't choose - too many!

Gin Martini

Fav Bar?
PJ Clarkes as a hang and Pegu Club for drinks.


World location?

Fav film?
To Kill a Mocking Bird.

Up in the Old Hotel by Joe Mitchell.

Best of louis Armstrong.

Armstrong's Hot five and Hot Seven bands.


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