A Drink with King Cocktail, Dale DeGroff

King Cocktail Dale DeGroff

King Cocktail Dale DeGroff, Photo by George Erml

Even with Thanksgiving approaching, we all seem to be wrapped up in cold blankets of fearful thoughts and somber outlooks. Perhaps the best way out of the gloom, think I, is to introduce you to one of the sunniest people I know, master mixologist, King Cocktail, Dale DeGroff.

The London Tribune has described Dale as the “Billy Graham of the holy spirits.” It is right, as always.

Dale DeGroff is to cocktails as a hand to a glove. They fit. He also is the 2009 James Beard Wine & Spirits Professional Award recipient, the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award from Nightclub & Bar Magazine recipient, the 2008 TOTC Helen David Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, and was named the 2007 Cheers Beverage Industry Innovator of the Year with his partners, for Beverage Alcohol Resource (B.A.R.) seminars. Not surprisingly, Dale is a co-founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans.

For 12 years, Dale ruled the luminous Promenade Bar at the Rainbow Room in Manhattan. He says, “I fell in love with bars because of the uninhibited, disordered, and surprising way life unfolds at the bar. The only logical progression in my life has been the wealth of characters that have crossed my path. I don’t know how Muhammad Ali felt the first time he climbed into a ring, or how Louis Armstrong felt the first time he picked up a trumpet, but for me, I knew I was standing in a very familiar and cozy place when I was standing behind a bar for the first time, I knew I was home.”

Dale took a journey back in time to hone his craft. He used only freshly squeezed juices and natural ingredients and figured out how to achieve just the right balance of sweet and sour, strong and weak. He searched for out-of-print recipes for cocktails everywhere he could find them, in garage sales and rare book collections. He experimented with hundreds of recipes, adjusting them to the modern palate and today’s larger portions. (The modern palate doesn’t have as sweet a tooth as once it did.)

He soon discovered something that bakers have long known: he couldn’t simply increase the quantities and hope to get the same result as when he mixed drinks individually. He had to adjust and balance the ratio of acidic fruits to various other components of the cocktail to achieve the results he was seeking.

Dale urges bartenders to attend cooking school in order to get a feeling and respect for composing the many elements and flavors of the ingredients that make up a good recipe. He also encourages an understanding of using correct techniques. He often says, “Watch how chefs use their tools. Collect your own specialty tools and treat them with respect.”

When asked where he got started, Dale answers, “I learned about cocktails much the same way I learned to tend bar–through research and experience and talking to connoisseurs. My fellow bartenders taught me about life, and my mentor, the great restaurateur Joe Baum, sparked my curiosity to find out what makes a great cocktail.”

If you feel the same joy of being behind the bar that Dale described, if you dream to follow in Dale’s steps, but don’t how to begin, may I suggest one of Dale’s excellent online barsmarts seminars or the purchase of one of his instructional bartending DVDs.

If you simply want to learn how to make the most sublime Sazerac ever sipped, begin with Dale’s Craft of the Cocktail.

And now, I hope you will enjoy Cocktail Jerez*, an original Dale DeGroff cocktail that is just right to share with friends and family at Thanksgiving and beyond the last drop of the last leaf.

In Dale’s words, “it is like the fall season in a glass.” Cheers!

COCKTAIL JEREZ*

Ingredients

1 1/2 ounces Jameson
1 ounce Lustau dry Oloroso sherry
1/4 ounce Lustau Pedro Ximenez Sherry
Dash Angostura Bitters
Flamed orange peel garnish

Stir the first four ingredients well with ice and serve strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a flamed orange peel and zest.