Just the right mix

in my glass

November 12, 2008|By Rob Kasper | Rob Kasper,rob.kasper@baltsun.com

Afinely crafted cocktail, says Dale DeGroff, "is more than just a handful of ingredients poured into a glass. It is a marriage of creativity, history and expression." Moreover, he says, a cocktail often has a story that goes with it, and a technique for its proper execution.

DeGroff knows his mixed drinks. During a 12-year stint as a bartender at New York's Rainbow Room and in the pages of his books, including the recently published The Essential Cocktail , he has revived the classic cocktails. His creations are made with fresh ingredients, not mixes; their liquids are poured from bottles, not shot out of a bar's beverage hose.

In a recent telephone conversation and in his book, DeGroff, who now operates a beverage consulting business, outlined some of his core cocktail beliefs. He also passed along a recipe for the Old-Fashioned, a drink he called the quintessential Thanksgiving pre-dinner cocktail.

Here are some edicts from the man known as the king of cocktails:

* Martini makers: Don't store the gin or vodka in the freezer. "One of the crucial ingredients in a martini is water, the water that results from mixing a room-temperature spirit with ice" he told me. "If your spirit is already ice-cold, you won't melt any water when you mix it with ice and your drink will be way too strong." However, in his book, DeGroff adds: "Always chill your glasses in the freezer for a minute or two. Or, to be debonair, leave a pair of martini glasses in your freezer, because you never know."

* Garnishes should be fresh, attractive and cold . "If a garnish for your cocktail is not cold, you are adding a reverse ice cube," DeGroff writes. On the phone, he added that a garnish is a matter of personal choice. "I like my martini with a twist of lemon and an olive that has no pimento. I wash the olive quickly in a bath of mineral water to remove the brine, because that brine is vinegar." But there are limits to garnishes, as a story in his book revealed. A young bartender at Manny Mateo's Saloon in California once asked Frank Sinatra, who liked olives in his martini, if he wanted a couple of onions in it as well. "Hey, kid," Sinatra is said to have replied, "if I want a salad, I'll order it."

* Warm up fruit before juicing it. DeGroff's book details how to get the most juice out of fruit. "When adding fresh fruit juice to a cocktail, make sure your fruit is at room temperature before you juice it. If you are taking it out of the fridge, soak the fruit in hot water for 10 minutes before squeezing it. Roll it across the counter top a few times, applying pressure with your palm to break the membranes and release the juice."

* Ice is the key ingredient in a mint julep. "All ice isn't the same," DeGroff said, his voice rising with passion. He proceeded to talk about the "nightmare" of making a julep with weak ice. His book details the correct pulverizing procedure: "What you want is to chip a fist-sized chunk off a nice cold block, or use ice from a professional machine like a Kold Draft or Scotsman. Then you place it in a canvas bag, called a Lewis bag. Fold over the bag, and place it on a secure cutting board away from small children and pets. Grab a square-headed wooden mallet and whale away, until you have pulverized your block into a powder. This is proper powdered ice for juleps."

* Love your muddler. DeGroff told me he was quite fond of his muddler, which was made of tropical wood. "Muddlers are a crucial tool to release the flavors of herbs and fresh fruit," he said in his book. I told him I had a muddler shaped like a miniature Louisville Slugger baseball bat. He asked if it was varnished. "You don't want it varnished, because the varnish will get in your drink," he said. In a pinch, he said, I could muddle with a thick wooden cooking spoon.

old-fashioned

(makes 1)

1 level teaspoon superfine bar sugar or 1 to 2 sugar cubes, to taste

3 dashes Angostura bitters

2 orange slices (divided use)

2 maraschino cherries (divided use)

splash of warm water or club soda

2 ounces bourbon

In the bottom of an Old-Fashioned glass, carefully muddle the sugar, bitters, 1 orange slice, 1 cherry and a splash of water or club soda. Remove the fruit husks. Add the bourbon and ice cubes and stir. Garnish with the remaining orange slice and cherry.

From "The Essential Cocktail," by Dale DeGroff

Per cocktail: : 139 calories, 0 grams protein, 0 grams fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 3 grams carbohydrate, 0 grams fiber, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 1 milligram sodium

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