All Cocktail Drinkers Need to Own this Bartending Book
Legendary bartender Dale DeGroff just published a second edition of his highly influential “The Craft of the Cocktail.” Here’s what to expect and why you should buy it.
Over the past 15 years or so, we’ve enjoyed what’s come to be known as the craft cocktail renaissance.
Across the country, it’s become incredibly easy to find a well-mixed drink. Bitters are once again routinely used in Manhattans and Old-Fashioneds, and rye whiskey is once again as easy to get as bourbon. But let me tell you a bit about what it was like before the renaissance. I turned 21 in 1983, and at that time the term “cocktail” was used to describe basically any drink that called for hard liquor and a mixer. Things began to improve in the 1990s with the introduction of single malt Scotch, small-batch bourbons and other more artisanal fare. What was needed, however, was a guidebook to what consumers and professionals were supposed to do with these excellent new offerings.
We got that book on Oct. 15, 2002, when Dale DeGroff’s pioneering The Craft of the Cocktail was published. “I wanted to write the book that I wished I had when I was a young bartender and there simply wasn’t a book like that,” Dale recently told me. “A book with pictures of the garnishes and the techniques, some history about both the cocktails and the profession. There was so much education available on the culinary side, but little interest in educating bartenders in 1974 when I started.”
Dale’s book gave an excellent overview of the history of cocktails, an easy-to-read deconstruction of what made a good drink and what separated it from an inferior one. He shared all the information he had learned running the bar at New York’s famous Rainbow Room under the watchful eye of masterful restaurateur Joe Baum who wanted the cocktails to be made like they had been in the golden age, during the late 1800s.
The word (and the idea of) “craft” didn’t just appear in Dale’s book title, it jumped off every page, as he emphasized the need for fresh, not bottled juices and better quality ice cubes. He also had a disdain for mass-production methods such as “sour mix” or other mixers coming out of a so-called bar gun. In short, the book revolutionized both professional bartending, as well as home bartending.
Dale’s 2002 book has served as a bible in the industry for nearly two decades. But, of course, a lot has changed since 2002. Thankfully Dale has just released, The New Craft of the Cocktail: Everything You Need to Know to Think Like a Master Mixologist, with 500 Recipes. The 2020 edition offers a new intro, an improved glossary and index, and also a chapter on the rebirth of the cocktail. Dale has also included new drink recipes from colleagues in the industry, offering that “some of these recipes are destined to be the modern classics that will endure.”
The Craft of the Cocktail
The new edition of Craft of the Cocktail couldn’t have come at a better time with more of us trying to make quality cocktails while sheltering at home. But Dale was quick to assure me that “bartending and bars are not going away. We will lose a lot of craft bars, maybe a majority, and some really great restaurants, but the people who opened those places are really a clever lot. They figured out how to open once, the next one will be even easier. A vaccination will emerge and we will move on!”
To give you a sense of how influential The Craft of the Cocktail was when it was published back in 2002, I asked some of the leading drinks writers, bartenders and liquor brand builders what the book means to them.
“Having the opportunity to work for Dale very early on in my career was more than I could ever have dreamed of. His passion for the craft and his quest for excellence have always been my greatest sources of inspiration. Back in those early days, our dream was to see our industry flourish, and I remember when Dale first told me that he had begun working on The Craft of the Cocktail. I was thrilled at the prospect of seeing his work come to life in a book, codified in a way that could be shared with the world.
A couple of years later in 2002, I met up with him at the bar of the restaurant Aquavit. He had just received the galley, and he wanted to share it with me. I could feel my excitement mounting as I pored over the pages—not only was it chock full of recipes and methodologies, but equally important, it was laced throughout with his many wonderful stories. It was precisely in his sharing of those stories that brought the book to life, and what distinguished it from any other book that I had ever known. He had truly captured the heart and soul of bartending. It was hard to contain myself because I knew in that moment that our world was about to change dramatically for the better. His quest for excellence and his generosity of spirit shines through on every page, as much as it inspires.” -Audrey Saunders, award-winning bartender and founder of New York’s now closed and much lamented Pegu Club
“Dale’s influence looms much larger than any other individual that I know of in the global cocktail culture. To state this again in a different way to accentuate the weight of my impression, there is no one of Dale’s stature that I know of in this field. He is number one. He is the King.‘King Cocktail.’” -Tomas Estes, co-creator of Tequila Ocho
“Back at the end of 1999, when I began writing about cocktails and drinks in general, I was determined to learn to mix drinks as well as possible so I wouldn’t have to call up a bartender every time I had a technical question (there are far more amusing things to discuss with bartenders). You can judge my success with this by the fact that when, in late 2000, I began writing my first book, Esquire Drinks, I was still shaking my Manhattans. Then I met Dale.
It didn’t take me long to realize that the best thing to do in any situation involving mixing drinks was simply to do what Dale did—if I could. Stirring, measuring by eye, shaking in a steel-and-glass Boston shaker (rather than the lame stainless three-piece shaker I had originally used)—in the amount of time I spent practicing these things I could have learned Ancient Babylonian. And yet compared to Dale, I still looked like a wind-up monkey while doing them. But at least I was doing them, and a little bit of Dale is far better than no Dale at all. This new edition of the Craft of the Cocktail gives you more than a little bit of Dale, and its publication is therefore a cause for rejoicing. I’m off to shake up a Fitzgerald to celebrate.” -David Wondrich, Half Full’s Senior Drinks Columnist, author of the award-winning books Imbibe! and Punch, and co-host of the podcast Life Behind Bars
“When I first came to the USA in the name of gin, Dale was the first to welcome me to the country. He did so by taking me on one of his famous Cocktail Safaris, a tour made memorable by the experience of sipping a Martini at the Rainbow Room and ending the day with burgers and beers at P.J. Clarke’s. It was in this moment that I learned the tremendous amount of love and respect anyone that had ever worked with that Dale had and the impact he was inspiring in bartenders young and old. The Craft of the Cocktail was the one book I always had on hand. If there was one book you needed to be a knowledgeable bartender, it was The Craft of the Cocktail. It broke down all the information from the past and made it digestible and relevant in a modern cocktail age.” -Simon Ford, award-winning brand ambassador and founder of Fords Gin
“I was fortunate enough to go to the launch party for The Craft of the Cocktail back in 2002. While I remember being extremely excited to get an autographed copy of his book, I didn’t fully realize how thoroughly it would change my life and the bar world. And now instead of calling Dale several times a month to ask him questions, I could just look in his book, which has become the most treasured (and well-worn) book in my library” -Noah Rothbaum, Half Full’s editor, author of The Art of American Whiskey and The Business of Spirits, and co-host of the podcast Life Behind Bars
“On our first meeting in 1997, I had the privilege of working with Dale behind his bar at the Rainbow Room. I soon knew that I was in the presence of greatness and The Craft of the Cocktail proves that ‘King Cocktail’ truly deserves his crown,” -Salvatore Calabrese, award-winning London bartender and author of the Cognac: A Liquid History
“The average cocktail, back in 2002 when Dale’s The Craft of the Cocktail first came out, was a far cry from what we find today. Dale’s book was a shot across the bow to the industry, not only providing solid quality recipes, but it also detailed his own techniques and philosophy of what a quality cocktail could, and should, be. Things that many take for granted in their cocktails today, such as the use of fresh juices instead of commercial sour mix, Dale was the original champion of. In The Craft of the Cocktail, he finally had an outlet that the general bartending public could access, and through this, learn from his experience. Even today, with the plethora of cocktail books that have come out in recent years, The Craft of the Cocktail remains one of the few core volumes that every bartender (and home enthusiast) should have in their library.” -Robert Hess, co-founder of The Museum of the American Cocktail, author of The Essential Bartender’s Guide and host of The Cocktail Spirit from Small Screen Network
“I think my clearest memory of the book dates back to the opening of Death & Co in 2006. Every member of the opening staff was given a copy of The Craft of the Cocktail and told (in no uncertain terms) that we were responsible for knowing the information within it. It felt like being given a copy of the bible on your first day at the seminary. Having studied the book intently, Dale’s mastery of cocktail history and technique was impressive and aspirational. But it wasn’t until later that year that I actually got to meet the man himself for the first time, and I immediately realized that the knowledge in the book paled in comparison to his command of the bar as both a physical and emotional environment. Dale’s ineffable showmanship, practiced rigor, and attention to detail blew me out of the water. I clearly had a lot more to learn than the dozens of recipes and backstories in his book, and I have spent the years since then rounding out my education and training. I can only hope the next generation of young bartenders find in this new edition the same inspiration to study hard, work even harder, and better understand the historical significance of their role to their guests and community.” -Joaquín Simó, award-winning bartender and co-owner of New York’s acclaimed bar Pouring Ribbons
“The new millennium had just arrived. Despite the warnings, the sky hadn’t fallen. The sun still rose and set. Life went on pretty much as it had done way, way back in the distant 20th century. But at the London Bar Show during a packed drinks industry seminar by cocktail guru Dale DeGroff, things were about to change for one person, for good.
‘How many of you have ever had an Irish coffee?’ DeGroff asked. Everyone raised their hands.
‘How many of you have ever had an Irish Coffee that you actually liked?’ Everyone lowered their hands, except one. In San Francisco, I had tried Buena Vista’s version of the drink, and he had seen the light. But, looking around the bewildered room, I knew that I was the exception.
How, asked DeGroff, can we explain the ubiquity of this drink with its almost equally universal poor preparation?
The answer, he said, was simple. Rather than being considered a carefully constructed cocktail, the Irish Coffee is routinely assembled as an afterthought using inferior ingredients–burnt coffee, whipped cream from an aerosol can, random whiskey, all served in oversized mugs.
There was a better way, he said; a much better way using two parts freshly brewed coffee to one part blended Irish whiskey, sweetened with Demerara sugar and topped with runny whipped cream.
No more bitterness. No more separated cream. No sludgy, mixed-up flavors.
At this stage, The Dead Rabbit Irish Coffee—indeed The Dead Rabbit itself—was years away. But a seed had been planted. And in time it became an obsession.
With Dale DeGroff’s help, that obsession became the most popular drink in one of the world’s most celebrated cocktail bars. It’s become our signature drink—lovingly remembered and longingly discussed.” -Sean Muldoon, co-founder of the award-winning bar The Dead Rabbit and co-author of From Barley to Blarney: A Whiskey Lover’s Guide to Ireland
As for me, I have cherished (and consulted many times) the well-worn copy of Craft of the Cocktail that Dale signed for me in 2004 when we were in the midst of launching the Museum of the American Cocktail. I’ve lost track of how many copies I’ve given to friends and colleagues or how many times I’ve recommended the book.
One of the new drink recipes that’s found in the new Craft of the Cocktail was created by yours truly. Here’s how:
- 2 oz Appleton Estate Reserve Blend Jamaica Rum
- 1 oz Martini & Rossi Sweet Vermouth
- .75 oz Lime juice
- .25 oz Orgeat syrup
- 2 dashes Dale DeGroff’s Pimento Aromatic Bitters
- Glass: Cocktail
Add all of the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.