An evening with Dale DeGroff
August 3, 2018
There is no shortage of accolades that cocktail innovator, veteran bartender and envelope pushing coryphée Dale DeGroff has been decorated with over fifty years of being active in the realm of serving alcoholic quality concoctions with a twist, which is why it is not further wondrous that a world renowned liqueur brand like De Kuyper flew the man in to head the 2018 incarnation of their Works program.
De Kuyper’s The Works on terra australis is aimed at upskilling and educating both industry professionals as well as the curious wider public via a curated series of workshops that are held in key markets.
Proceedings were set off with one of deGroff’s trademark cocktails before the evening transitioned into him holding court with an entertaining presentation of how the bar and hospitality industries have evolved and morphed since he first stepped a foot into a bar well over thirty years ago. Tales of the Rhode Island native detailing what went down in iconic venues like the renowned and infamous Rainbow Room and how he reimagined classic cocktails through adding a twist via his idiosyncratic approach to mixology went down a treat.
In times of an abundance of themed bars and quality cocktails, we were catapulted back to a time when mixing a cocktail culminated in employing a soda gun and a prefabricated package of sour mix with the pinnacle of creations being a vodka martini.
From humble beginnings as a wanna-be actor, via his acquaintance with Joe Baum to his ascent landing a gig at the bar on the top of the Rockefeller Centre via a prolonged stint at the West Coast, i.e. Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles, DeGroff’s storytelling was not devoid of highlights. Au contraire.
What was particularly interesting about from personal anecdotes, the evolution of bartending and mixology, were the creations that became benchmarks of his careers and how he was humbled when he was shown how punters taught him how to take what he thought was a Sidecar or a Margarita, which prompted his approach to cocktail making and enabled him to convert even hard-core gin haters with his juniper spirit based concoctions.
Needless to say that the stories had celebrity name dropping galore and was not devoid of fun facts that either tied in with popular cultural phenomena as well as political climates of the 1970s, 80s and 90s.
The evening was embedded in de Kuyper’s team proffering an array of delicious cocktails that each individual could have customised after a consultation with the engaging and forthcoming teams of bartenders, whose recommendations lead me to trying concoctions I usually not dabble in, which made me realise what I had missed out on before.