Required Reading: The Craft of the Cocktail by Dale DeGroff

The You Do You Bar is based on the idea that building a home bar should be tailored to the builder’s preferences and habits. Not everyone needs St. Germain or even the ubiquitous Campari. Regardless of how you stock your bar, if you’re interested in making excellent cocktails, you need to know the basics and classics. Classic cocktails are classic for a reason. So, in a new series here on H&H, we will be taking a look at some cocktail books and evaluating them from the perspective of the home cocktail maker. Do they deserve a place on your bookshelf? We can’t tell you what to do, but hopefully we can give you some insight to make an informed decision.

If you have ever thought about trying to find a solid standard cocktail book to live on your shelf, look no further. The Craft of the Cocktail by King Cocktail himself, Dale DeGroff, is what you have been seeking.

DeGroff is a big reason we are sitting here talking about cocktails today because, although cocktails were quite the fancy thing from around the 1920s to the mid-1960s, cocktails were not a Good and Delicious Thing for a couple of dark decades. Think Zima.

The master bartender worked at the wonderful Rainbow Room in New York City in the late 1980s and basically reinvented bartending. He reinvented bartending to the point that the man was given a James Beard Award for his impact on the industry.

Cosmopolitan and The Craft of the CocktailThe Craft of the Cocktail reflects his interest in the history of cocktails and features all the classics that any good host needs to know, or, at least, be able to look up. For those who like knowing a little bit about the background behind their favorite classic cocktails, the book has some very informative sections about how they came to be, the history of the cocktail in general, and interesting cocktail trivia.

In addition to all the classics (and many of their buddies), tons of other recipes are included that usually feature lots of fresh fruit juices and sometimes seem a bit dated when compared to cocktail lists in fancy restaurants and bars today. Nary a fancy bitter or emulsion to be found. However, what this book does not provide in copycat cocktails or crazy flavor combinations it does provide in sheer information and truly solid basics. The cover claims that the book provides “Everything you need to know to be a master bartender, with 500 recipes” and I can’t really say it’s lying.

The last section of the book is full of cocktail resources: a glossary, suppliers, techniques, and a bibliography that makes the researcher in me so very happy. This book would be excellent to have as a reference tool, cozied up nicely next to my Cooks Illustrated cookbook that I turn to when unfamiliar with a technique or basic recipe.

The Cosmopolitan

Although DeGroff readily admits to not inventing the Cosmopolitan, he does take credit for helping rocket a definitive recipe to popularity in the late 1990s after adding it to the menu at the Rainbow Room. All it took was a photo of Madonna drinking one and DeGroff was off to the races. Here’s his recipe:

  • 1 1/2 oz. citron vodka
  • 1/2 oz. Cointreau
  • 1/4 oz. fresh lime juice
  • 1 oz. cranberry juice
  • Flamed orange peel to garnish

Shake all the ingredients with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the flamed orange peel.

Cosmopolitan : Hooch & HomeNow, I must admit that the drink pictured was made with regular Tito’s vodka and a little bit of some homemade limoncello to make up for not having and not wanting to buy citron vodka. I think it’s a bit sweet for my taste and using citron vodka would probably help mitigate that somewhat, but I can certainly see why it was so popular in the not-so-distant past.

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3 Responses to Required Reading: The Craft of the Cocktail by Dale DeGroff

  1. I agree with you that this is a must-have book for anyone wanting to up their cocktail-making potential. It is one of my favorites, for sure. Another one that I love right now? Death & Co.’s book. I checked it out from the library for a couple of weeks and had to have a copy of it, myself. It arrives in the mail in a couple of days {it was back-ordered, and I am patiently waiting for it}. And limoncello? I actually purchased about a dozen lemons today for some limoncello-making. Do you use vodka or a high-proof spirit, like Everclear? Any tips?

    • mmcoulston says:

      I just got to spend some time with the Death & Co. book and I’ll be reviewing it here soon. It’s quite the book! For limoncello, I’ve seen both used, but I’ve never made it myself. For something like that, though, I’d say a higher proof vodka or Everclear would be better than your standard vodka for extraction purposes and you can just adjust the syrup to your taste. That’s one of the things I’ve had to learn about infusing alcohols: taste as you go! Good luck!

      • Thanks for the tips! I am going with a chef’s recipe via Williams-Sonoma. The recipe calls for equal parts Everclear and vodka {80 proof}. Starting it this afternoon. Have fun with Death & Co.! It is very enlightening – and I love the format of the book.

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