Cocktail Recipes, Spirits, and Local Bars

Prohibition-Era Cocktails with Dale DeGroff

Prohibition-Era Cocktails with Dale DeGroff

King Cocktail, Dale DeGroff, shares some of his favorite Prohibition-era drink recipes

Learn to make the Boulevardier and other Prohibition Era cocktails

Dec. 5 is the 80th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. To celebrate, King Cocktail — James Beard Award-winning mixologist Dale DeGroff — stopped by The Daily Meal test kitchen to teach us how to make some of his favorite Prohibition-era cocktails.

Learn step-by-step how to make the Boulevardier, a mix of bourbon, vermouth, and Campari, for those of you who prefer a stiff drink. The recipe DeGroff uses can be found here.

Additionally, DeGroff demonstrates General Harrison’s Egg Nog, a boozy nog recipe without milk or cream that includes a special nontraditional ingredient.

King Cocktail also provided recipes for two classic cocktails you can never go wrong with: his take on Frank Meier’s Gin & It, as well as instructions for how to make his own Old Fashioned.

DeGroff also explains some of the history behind the cocktails and gives us some insight into why he uses certain ingredients. You’ll learn an important tidbit about using raw egg in your drinks as well.

Happy Repeal Day!


Prohibition-Era Cocktails with Dale DeGroff - Recipes

Rainbow Room, The Craft of the Cocktail, The Museum of the American Cocktail

Dale DeGroff's Biography

Dale DeGroff, often known by his nickname “King Cocktail,” is one of the founding fathers of the craft cocktail movement. Primarily while working as a bartender at the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center in New York, he revived numerous classic cocktail recipes that had fallen out of favor over the course of the 20th century.

DeGroff has won several awards for his work, including two James Beard Awards, two Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards, and a Julia Child Award for his book The Craft of the Cocktail . His work is often credited with the modern renaissance of classic craft cocktails, and he is a seminal figure in the industry. In 2005, he co-founded the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans.

What Dale DeGroff Drinks

Stinger

Brandy, White Crème De Menthe

The Stinger is a classic cocktail known as a "duo," made with a fantastic combination of brandy and white crème de menthe.

Irish Coffee

Irish Whiskey, Brown Sugar Syrup, Coffee, Unsweetened Whipped Cream

The Irish Coffee is an exceedingly simple cocktail, consisting of Irish whiskey, coffee, a bit of brown sugar simple syrup, and some optional unsweetened whipped cream (preferably homemade).

Sidecar

Cognac, Cointreau, Lemon Juice

The Sidecar is a Prohibition-era classic cocktail made with cognac, and having a sweet and citrusy flavor profile.


Bootleggers Get Creative

During Prohibition, the primary source of drinking alcohol was industrial alcohol — the kind used for making ink, perfumes, and camp stove fuel. About three gallons of faux gin or whiskey could be made from one gallon of industrial alcohol.

The authors of the Volstead Act, the law enacted to carry out the 18th Amendment, had anticipated this: It required that industrial alcohol be denatured, which means that it’s been adulterated with chemicals that make it unfit to drink.

Bootleggers quickly adapted and figured out ways to remove or neutralize these adulterants. The process changed the flavor of the finished product — and not for the better. Poor quality notwithstanding, around one-third of the 150 million gallons of industrial alcohol produced in 1925 was thought to have been diverted to the illegal alcohol trade.

The next most common source of alcohol in Prohibition was alcohol cooked up in illegal stills, producing what came to be called moonshine. By the end of Prohibition, the Prohibition Bureau was seizing nearly a quarter-million illegal stills each year.

The homemade alcohol of this era was harsh. It was almost never barrel-aged, and most moonshiners would try to mimic flavors by mixing in some suspect ingredients. They found they could simulate bourbon by adding dead rats or rotten meat to the moonshine and letting it sit for a few days. They made gin by adding juniper oil to raw alcohol, while they mixed in creosote, an antiseptic made from wood tar, to recreate scotch’s smokey flavor.

With few alternatives, these dubious versions of familiar spirits were nonetheless in high demand.

Bootleggers much preferred to trade in spirits than in beer or wine because a bottle of bootleg gin or whiskey could fetch a far higher price than a bottle of beer or wine.

Prior to Prohibition, distilled spirits accounted for less than 40 percent of the alcohol consumed in America. By the end of the “noble experiment,” distilled spirits made up more than 75 percent of alcohol sales.


Masking the foul flavors

To make the hard liquor palatable, drinkers and bartenders mixed in various ingredients that were flavored and often sweet.

Gin was one of the most popular beverages of the era because it was usually the simplest, cheapest, and fastest beverage to produce: Take some alcohol, thin it with water, add glycerin and juniper oil, and voila—gin!

For this reason, many of the cocktails created during Prohibition used gin. Popular creations of the era included the Bee’s Knees, a gin-based drink that used honey to fend off funky flavors, and the Last Word, which mixed gin with Chartreuse and maraschino cherry liqueur and is said to have been created at the Detroit Athletic Club in 1922.

Rum was another popular Prohibition tipple, with huge amounts smuggled into the country from Caribbean nations via small boats captained by “rum-runners.” The Mary Pickford was a cocktail invented in the 1920s that used rum and red grapefruit juice.

The cocktail trend became an important part of home entertaining as well. With beer and wine less available, people hosted dinner parties featuring creative cocktails. Some even dispensed with the dinner part altogether, hosting newly fashionable cocktail parties.

Cocktails became synonymous with America the way wine was synonymous with France and Italy.


Today’s the Day!

It’s finally here! I’m taking my BAR exam today!

I’ve been studying for four weeks for this day to test my spirits knowledge and bartending skills at Bar Smarts, presented by Pernod Ricard USA.

So here I am in Washington, D.C. preparing for a full day of tastings, discussions, cocktail demonstrations and, of course, the ever-menacing practical exam where I will be asked to make 3 cocktails in front of one of BAR’s judges. I’m talkin’ about the big players here: Dale DeGroff, Steve Olson, Doug Frost, F. Paul Pacult, Andy Seymour, and Dave Wondrich (Have I mentioned that I’m incredibly nervous?).

A parting image – I leave you with a shot of the Blood and Sand cocktails I made during my last night of practice at the Dirty Bird. I’m still trying to perfect that Flaming Twist of DeGroff’s, sigh….

Tune back in soon, fellow readers, for a recap of my day-long adventure in bar education.


Spirits Dale DeGroff’s Gin-Based Cocktails

Dale shares a delicious selection of exclusive gin-based cocktail recipes.

After the Fall

Ingredients

  • 60ml Plymouth Gin
  • 10ml Yellow Chartreuse
  • Wash of Absinthe L’Esprit d’Edouard
  • Dash Gary Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6

Preparation

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a green cocktail cherry (lemon or lime cherry from Sable Rosenfeld).

The French 75 is a festive drink and I prefer it in a large goblet, over ice, with fancy garnish some prefer the more subdued version in a flute with just a lemon zest. The drink is thought by some to have originated at Harry New York Bar in Paris, but none of the editions of Harry McElhone’s ABC of Making Drinks mentions the drink. It is more likely from London, perhaps the famous Ciros. The drink appears in Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book…

Ingredients

  • 25ml Hayman’s Old Tom Gin
  • 25ml simple syrup (one part sugar dissolved into one part water)
  • 20ml fresh lemon juice
  • Chilled champagne, to top up

Preparation

Shake with ice the gin, lemon juice and simple syrup. Strain into a goblet over ice and top with champagne. Decorate with fresh seasonal fruits and mint.

Strawberry Nirvana

The special product in the next recipe is St Germain Elderflower liqueur. This marvellous product is so mixable it has become a staple in bars everywhere, it is hard to find a spirit companion that doesn’t like this pleasing floral bouquet of flavour.

Ingredients

  • 45ml Plymouth Gin
  • 8ml Elderflower Liqueur
  • 15ml Honey syrup (2 parts honey to 1 part water)
  • Small piece of fresh ginger thumb nail size
  • 2 or 3 Strawberries
  • 20ml Fresh lemon juice

Muddle the ginger first with the lemon juice then add the strawberries and muddle again. Add the remaining ingredients and shake well with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a fresh half strawberry by making a cut on the bottom of the strawberry and perching it on the rim of the glass.


DALE’S HOLIDAY OLD FASHIONED

Ingredients:

  • 1.25 oz George Dickel No. 1
  • 1 dash DeGroff’s Pimento Bitters
  • 0.25 oz Dale’s Cherry Liqueur
  • 0.5 oz Simple syrup
  • 2 orange slices
  • 2 cherries

Preparation: Muddle a cherry and orange slice with the syrup and liqueur and the dash of bitters in a bar mixing glass. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass add the whiskey and ice and stir Garnish with an orange slice and a cherry.


Bootleggers get creative

During Prohibition, the primary source of drinking alcohol was industrial alcohol – the kind used for making ink, perfumes and campstove fuel. About 3 gallons of faux gin or whiskey could be made from 1 gallon of industrial alcohol.

The authors of the Volstead Act, the law enacted to carry out the 18th Amendment, had anticipated this: It required that industrial alcohol be denatured, which means that it’s been adulterated with chemicals that make it unfit to drink.

Bootleggers quickly adapted and figured out ways to remove or neutralize these adulterants. The process changed the flavor of the finished product – and not for the better. Poor quality notwithstanding, around one-third of the 150 million gallons of industrial alcohol produced in 1925 was thought to have been diverted to the illegal alcohol trade.

The next most common source of alcohol in Prohibition was alcohol cooked up in illegal stills, producing what came to be called moonshine. By the end of Prohibition, the Prohibition Bureau was seizing nearly a quarter-million illegal stills each year.

Orange County Sheriff’s deputies dump illegal booze in Santa Ana, Calif. in this 1932 photograph. (Orange County Archives, CC BY)

The homemade alcohol of this era was harsh. It was almost never barrel-aged and most moonshiners would try to mimic flavors by mixing in some suspect ingredients. They found they could simulate bourbon by adding dead rats or rotten meat to the moonshine and letting it sit for a few days. They made gin by adding juniper oil to raw alcohol, while they mixed in creosote, an antiseptic made from wood tar, to recreate scotch’s smokey flavor.

With few alternatives, these dubious versions of familiar spirits were nonetheless in high demand.

Bootleggers much preferred to trade in spirits than in beer or wine because a bottle of bootleg gin or whiskey could fetch a far higher price than a bottle of beer or wine.

Prior to Prohibition, distilled spirits accounted for less than 40 percent of the alcohol consumed in America. By the end of the “noble experiment” distilled spirits made up more than 75 percent of alcohol sales.


A Short History Of The Retro Cocktail: Post Prohibition Recipes

Bartenders, especially those involved in the “cocktail” world, understand the significant impact that Prohibition has had on the industries surrounding alcoholic beverages. Many consumers, however, are unaware of that impact. National Prohibition was rooted in political and religious belief systems, that sought to temper a vice, and legislate morality to a nation. Any time a product, that is in high consumer demand, is made illegal, a black market is created. Crime increases, violence increases, and eventually, the public demands action. It didn’t take long for the ridiculous idea to be repealed, and when Prohibition ended on December 5, 1933, the nation joined together in a collective sigh of relief, and a toast to better times ahead.

Treatises have been written, documentaries have been filmed, and many a scholar has spoken about the nearly decade and a half that The United States of America suffered under the tyranny of Prohibition. What is sorely missing, however, is a definitive study of the decades following its repeal. And, maybe, that is because not much is ever said, outside of our small circle of bartenders, about what life in this industry was like before Prohibition was passed.

In 2007, cocktail historian (yes, that’s a thing) David Wondrich published the book, “Imbibe,” about the history of the bartending profession, and the development of mixed drinks, up to around the time of the early twentieth century. Since then, hundreds of books have been written about the early times of the bar business, and many others containing massive amounts of recipes from that time. The history of the bartender, as a professional, career-minded individual, is no longer disputed. And there’s an equal amount of reference one can obtain about the so-called “Cocktail Revolution” of the latter half of the same century. Many people credit Dale Degroff and his time at New York City’s “The Rainbow Room,” as the start of the resurgence. It may seem pedestrian today, when one can order a margarita, with fresh squeezed lime juice, in LaGuardia Airport. But during Dale’s time, fresh juice was not only taboo, it was essentially unavailable. It took his pioneering vision, and a plethora of disciples, to reinvigorate our industry, and essentially take it back to its roots.

The result of this, thirty years later, is the emergence of folks like me, who can, again, make a career out of mixing, and talking about, alcoholic beverages. All over the country, cocktails are again not just being taken seriously, but are becoming a necessity in competition with other on-premise establishments. A restaurant is now doing a disservice to its clientele, if the beverage program is not on par with the one across the street. Owners, chefs, and managers, are realizing the need for talent not just behind the bar, but around it as well. Talented bartenders are now expected to not just know how to build and stir a Manhattan, but how to make it profitable for the business to sell, in the first place. We have truly come full circle.

But, there’s a large portion of this story that didn’t make it into the proverbial dossier. What about the five decades between the end of Prohibition, and Dale Degroff’s legendary rediscovery of the craft? Surely we agree that bartenders still existed during this half of a century, so what were they doing, and why were they doing it? As a group, we collectively call this period the Dark Ages.

It is estimated that at the end of the nineteenth century, there were over 4000 breweries in the United States. By the early 1930’s, there were merely a handful. While there was a strong bump, following repeal, most of the market was controlled by what would become the large “macro” companies, Bud, Miller, and Coors. By 1979, there were a total of 44 breweries operating in the United States. The same can be said for distilleries. Prohibition nationalized all of the distilled alcohol produced in the country, and the only alcohol that could be sold to the public was marketed as elixirs for “health benefits.” This had the effect of consolidating all of the distilled spirits under the control of a few large companies, as well. Moving into the war and post-war eras, alcoholic beverages followed the same mega-industrial trends as food. The same family that heated up TV dinners for supper, and ate Sara Lee cheesecake for dessert, also drank Smirnoff vodka, and Seagrams Whiskey. A few major brands dominated the market, and the demand for “mixers” was minimal. A bar could be expected to carry a dry and a sweet vermouth, and maybe some “schnapps,” but the days of artisanal Crème de Violette, were over.

So what happened? TGI Fridays happened. Applebee’s happened. Chili’s happened. And the club scene in the large cities happened. While drinks like the Manhattan, and Old Fashioned, had survived Prohibition (at least in a somewhat bastardized form) drinks like the Martini were now of national relevance. One need only to catch a few episodes of Mad Men, to see how the vodka martini began to be the American drink of choice. And, like all good, trends, everyone latched onto it. The public began to move away from drinks that tasted overly like alcohol. Soon, every mixed drink served “up” in a coupe-typed glass, was being called a “martini.” The drink took on the shape of the glassware, rather than the historical recipe for the drink. The style of the 1970’s led to the coupe taking on a more angular, triangle shape, and the “martini glass” was born (I’ll leave the subject of wine coolers to a different post.)

Every generation eschews the practices of the previous one. Soon, brown liquor drinks, like the Manhattan, were being passed over for neon-colored martinis, of various flavors. Large liquor manufacturers were quick to develop product lines of artificially-colored and flavored liqueurs that were meant to approximate real mixing ingredients of the past. You can still see this today, with examples like Hiram Walker, Bols, and Dekuyper, all having various pros and cons to their formulas. The Apple Martini, The Chocolate Martini, The Pineapple Upside Down Cake Martini…. All of these drinks were born in the fern bars and clubs of the 1970’s and 1980’s. The youth was wild, the hook-up game intense. And things would remain this way until Dale Degroff solved all of the world’s problems at The Rainbow Room. Right?

Let’s start from the premise that nothing’s changed. Ever. There have always been two people in the world. One, those who want to drink alcohol, and love the taste of alcohol. And two, those who want to get drunk, and don’t love the taste of alcohol. If you don’t want to drink alcohol at all, I don’t trust you, you’re strange and probably dangerous. But for everyone else, you either sip a nice bourbon, or you mix it with ten ounces of Coca-Cola, and drink it through a straw. There’s really no other option.

So, what are cocktails, exactly, other than a way to make an alcoholic ingredient more palatable? Whether its lightly “seasoning” your whiskey with a cube of sugar, and a few dashes of bitters, or drowning raspberry vodka in a pint glass of Sprite, we’re kind of chasing after the same thing, are we not? At the end of the day, if you want a pint of neon green liquid, served in a triangle suitcase, that tastes like an apple Jolly Rancher on steroids, shouldn’t I be just as willing to accept your twelve dollars in return for it, as I would be in any other instance? Let’s face it, making an Apple Martini, and making a Negroni, are only differed by the skill set needed to master either one. If you can make one, and not the other, then I condemn you for not rounding out your talents. If you can spend three minutes crafting a Mahattan, using local, organic, artisanal, overproof Rye, but you can’t get a customer a vodka soda within ten seconds, while a DJ pumps remixed house beats in your ear, then my thoughts are that you’d better work on that.

At the end of the day, there are no differences in the title ascribed to any of these people. All of them are bartenders, they’re just using different skill sets, depending on the location in which they happen to be working, at the given time. To hear a bartender at a local dive criticize the bartender at an upscale restaurant, or the other way around, is childish, petty, and unnecessary. That being said, there are those who succeed and fail at any of these skill sets. I’ve met incredible bartenders at clubs, and terrible bartenders at world famous cocktail bars, and vice versa. However, the days of the arrogant, dismissive, bartender, who looks down her nose at someone else doing exactly the same job, but in a different way, should be over. We should be holding ourselves more accountable. And I’m looking at you, clubtender who thinks “craft” cocktails are elitist and corny, all while sipping your fresh kale smoothie, that you paid eight dollars for, at the gym.

The fact is, there were people drinking a multitude of different alcoholic beverages in 1820, and there are people drinking a multitude of different alcoholic beverages now. Our job is to make whatever drink they would like, quickly, efficiently, and consistently, every time, while we continue to push ourselves to be pioneers in our field, develop new recipes and new techniques, and learn how to increase sales, and save money. We owe this responsibility to our business, our industry, and ourselves.


Prohibition-Era Cocktails with Dale DeGroff - Recipes

How to make a cocktail: the Old Fashioned

Stay in the loop

As with the division of opinion over egg whites in a cocktail (via last week's piece), the Old Fashioned is a cocktail that has split much of the bartending community in terms of the necessary ingredients. Lots of bartenders tell me that this will be the first drink they order on arrival at a new bar: the delivery thereof will often be the acid-test of whether to explore the cocktail menu further or just stick with a beer.

At it's best, the Old Fashioned is an elegant mix of delicately sweet and spicy whiskey. In the wrong hands, it can be a fizzy mess of undissolved sugar and gunky fruit. As far as the things that everyone agrees on go, it's that the drink must contain North American whiskey (most will insist on bourbon, but as with many Prohibition era cocktails, it's likely that this drink was first prepared with rye), sugar, and bitters, all stirred over ice and served on the rocks. From there the discussion is endless, and fierce.

One camp, led by one of the USA's great bartenders and cocktail historians, Dale Degroff, insists that the drink be prepared not only with the addition of a splash of soda water, but also with muddled fruit. In particular, a maraschino cherry and an orange slice. Degroff insists that anything else is just "sweetened whiskey."

Naturally, the other camp disagrees heavily, calling the addition of any fruits (other than a garnish of lemon or orange zest) the result of a need for a "fruit salad" rather than a cocktail. The current champion of this school of thought is Brad Thomas Parsons, whose book Bitters has called for a better understanding of the real flavouring agent in this classic drink. The introduction of other influences prevents the enjoyment of the whiskey, and, more importantly, the complex flavours of the bitters.

At Toronto's County General, Toronto's leading bitters advocate, Bar Manager Jeff Carroll, couldn't agree more. He lovingly produces a number of different flavours to accent his drinks, with his Manhattan (using a home-made Cherry Masala Chai bitters) named as one of Toronto's best.

Jeff begins in a mixing glass (Jeff explains that you should "never make a cocktail in the glass you serve it in") with a cube of raw sugar, soaked in his bitters, which is then mashed before expressing the oils from the zest of an orange into the mixture. 2 ounces of Maker's Mark are then stirred into the drink to fully dissolve the sugar before ice is added. A further 20 seconds of stirring are needed before straining over fresh ice into a short tumbler, or "rocks" glass. Add the orange peel to garnish.

Ingredients and Instructions

1 raw sugar cube
¼ oz of cherry masala chai bitters
1 zest of orange
2 oz of Makers Mark bourbon

Jeff's bitters recipes are a closely guarded secret (though he admits using a combination of cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and dried cherries steeped in bourbon, to name a few ingredients). His own inspiration came from sniffing around his spice rack at home, but he heartily recommends Angostura for anyone wanting to make the drink themselves without going to all the trouble.

If you are interested in making your own bitters, Jeff reminds us that it's not an overnight process, and to set aside at least two weeks to allow the flavours to mingle. If you want to try his concoctions, including Apple Cinnamon Bourbon Bitters, and Cranberry Orange Rum Bitters, get down to County General at 936 Queen St. West.


If you want the best orange juice cocktails possible, squeeze the juice yourself. Many fruit and citrus juicers are available to fit any need, and oranges are inexpensive year-round, so you really can't go wrong.

On the other hand, the reality is that you're not always going to take the time to squeeze fresh orange juice. In a world filled with convenience, there are some great bottles of orange juice available. In this case, do your best to choose an all-natural, not-from-concentrate juice.

Either way, keep in mind that your choice of orange juice should not be an afterthought. Any of the cocktails that rely on this ingredient will taste better with a quality juice.


Watch the video: Bartender Legend Dale DeGroff Makes Us A Bulleit Boulevardier (November 2021).