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Why the Sour Recipes Changed in Dale DeGroff's New Book

Dale DeGroff released a new version of his 2002 book The Craft of the Cocktail as The New Craft of the Cocktail [Amazon] [Bookshop] this summer.

If you have been in the game for a while, you probably have the first version too. 

And if you have both books, you may have noticed that the recipe for the Sour and its specific manifestations as the Whiskey Sour, Pisco Sour, Daiquiri, etc. has changed.



In the old version of the book the proportions are: 

1.5 to 2 oz Liquor, .75 Citrus, 1 Simple Syrup

and in the new book it is:

1.5 to 2 oz Liquor, .75 Citrus, .75 Simple Syrup

So the drinks are dryer now, matching modern palates: OR ONE MIGHT THINK. The reality is different and super interesting, for nerds like me anyway.  

The short answer is that the recipes are the same, but the recipe for the simple syrup has changed! 

I remember San Francisco bartenders saying that DeGroff's recipes were sweet compared to the local style, but it turns out that's because bartenders didn't read the recipe for simple syrup, because who needs a recipe for simple syrup? 

The way that they made the simple syrup at the Rainbow Room (that DeGroff's drink made famous) is to fill up the container half way with sugar, then add water and shake and fill as needed. As you can probably envision, that method of making simple syrup is not equal parts sugar to water (1:1 or one to one) but closer to (.75 to one).

The more common, or at least more modern way is to measure equal parts by volume and mix them together. The smarter way than that is to make syrup by weight and/or brix level, but that's more for professionals.  So the DeGroff method simple syrup has more water and less sugar. Thus the Rainbow Room's sour cocktails still used equal parts sweet to sour in their drinks, but more water. 

And the reason for this involves both the size of the glassware chosen (huge: it was the 1980s) and the way the drinks were measured (by free pouring by sight - no jiggers and not by the modern method of counting the free pour). 

Okay, now that I've done paraphrasing, let's let DeGroff tell his own story. I emailed him to ask about the "different" recipes in the two books and he described the whole situation. It tells a lot about the era of the late 1980s and 1990s cocktails at probably the best cocktail bar in America at the time. 

The below is from Dale DeGroff, with slight edits and comments in brackets from me. Note that when he talks about Joe Baum (the restauranteur) - this is the guy who had the vision of what the program could be (classic cocktails, extraordinary service) and hired Dale to execute it. 

From Dale DeGrofff :

The sour formulas and techniques we used at the Rainbow were unique to the times.

Cocktail Glass 
So, beginning with Rainbow and the Promenade Bar's 1987 opening we were costing the drinks  for 1.5 ounce of spirit in our Sours, whiskey, Tom Collins, Daiquiri, Margarita etc. But in reality Joe insisted on a generous drinks so that quickly went by the wayside. Especially since he loved the 7 ½ -ounce, V-shaped Bormioli cocktail glass. So naturally the drinks were larger and the proportions were scaled up as needed.

DeGroff2Glass, Drinks-with-Tradition 
I always felt the Bormioli glass was too big but Joe liked it. We served our drinks-with-tradition (Bronx, Between the sheets, Twentieth Century, The Colony, The Flamingo, Pink Lady, Side Car, and at first the Stork Club) in the Small Martini from Minners Designs (called the Nick and Nora today).  We moved the stork club into the larger glass because it was a juicier drink.

The Kold-Draft Machines
The Japanese fast ice machines hadn’t taken over completely in some of the fancy places in midtown but it was happening fast. But not in Joe Baum bars and restaurants. We had three cold draft Machines at Rainbow; one for flaked ice only. [see my other post, "Kold Draft Ice Machine History from Dale DeGroff"]

Training the Sours was my biggest challenge because Joe would not allow jiggering. No proper bar was using jiggers in those days, certainly not in fancy midtown cocktail lounges and hotels. The Irish neighborhood joints used them and it was considered stingy. Most good career bartenders could pour ½, ¾ , 1 ½ and 2 ounces consistently. But at Rainbow I didn’t hire super experienced bartenders because it would have been impossible to retrain them to do the drinks our way.

I taught the sours this way. First, it required the glass and metal Boston shaker because it was a hand-eye coordination system and seeing the amount in the bottom of the mixing glass was critical. In an empty mixing glass, the sour ingredient went in first, followed by the sweet ingredient, doubling the amount of liquid, and then the strong ingredient, again doubling the total amount of liquid. Then the Kold Draft ice and the shake.

No matter what the actual size of the pours, it was the system that made a perfectly balanced sour. The amounts depended only on the size of the service glass, and in that big Bormioli this was the reality: 1 sour, 1 ¼ Sweet, 2 ¼ strong. After the shake another 1 to 1 ½ ounces of water was added for a total of 5 ½ to 6 ounces of liquid which looked really good in the Bormioli glass. That was my Daiquiri, Margarita or any sour except the drinks-with-tradition.

I’m sure you are puzzling over the graduated amounts and how that constitutes doubling. The Boston mixing glass is not straight sided it gets slightly wider at the top. The sweet and sour ingredients together exactly match the strong ingredient in volume. And actually, the sweet to sour ration was the same as equal parts with slightly weaker simple syrup making the difference, and adding ¼ oz to the volume of the drink. My simple was closer to 60:40 water to sugar because of the way we made it at Rainbow.

Simple Syrup
We had fancy Spanish bottles some 750 ml some liters at the bar and when we ran out of simple we filled the bottle half way with granulated sugar and then filled with filtered water, then corked the bottle and shook very hard for a couple minutes up right and then upside down. Setting the bottle on the bar of course the ullage was low so we topped off with more water. : > ))

Once the bartenders mastered free pour, we made remarkably consistent sours of all types.
The specs were driven by the size of the glass, the type of sweetener or sweeteners.

Our sour style drinks-with-tradition like the Between the Sheets or the Side Car in the little martini (Nick & Nora) was made exactly the same way but the proportions were: ¾ sour: 1 sweet: 1.5 strong and that was driven by the size of the Nick and Nora glass.

A drink like the Between the Sheets (we made the Bottoms Up 1951 recipe with Benedictine instead of rum) would have ¾ ounce lemon juice : ½ Cointreau: ½ Benedictine: 1 ½ cognac. Cointreau at 40% alcohol is much less sweet than simple syrup at 50/50.

DeGroff1The Book Recipes
So when I wrote the 2002, “Craft” I needed to standardize recipes so on page 188, I list my sour formula as 1 ½ to 2 ounces of the base, ¾ ounce sour, to 1 ounce sweet (Rainbow simple)

In the 2020 edition on page 205, I list the sour formula as 1 ½ to 2 ounces base, to ¾ ounces sour, to ¾ ounce sweet. The simple in that book is in line with most of the rest of the industry today at 50/50.

The pour for strong stirred drinks was 2 ½, at Rainbow and in the book.

The Smaller Cocktail Glass
I finally got Joe down to a 6-ounce cocktail glass in 1997, and we just down sized the pours to accommodate the new glass. The customers bitched at first but soon got used to it and the sales went up because the average check increased by a drink!

The biggest decision a bar owner makes is the size of the glasses, that directly drives the size of the pours and the cost of sales. At Rainbow we averaged 27 million a year gross sales, but 2/3 of that was private dining and the beverage cost of sales in our private dining events was under 16 % allowing me to run a much higher cost of sales at the public bars, 19 to 20% , Joe bitched about the 20%, but knew that he needed it to offer the kind pour that were in line with the sort of hospitality he wanted offer the public bar.



That's more information than people making drinks at home probably need, but for bartenders I think it's an extremely interesting part of craft cocktail history. 

Thanks Dale!  

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Diogo Quinaz

Great post!!! (again)
I really love all the technicality involved in everything regarding the hospitality industry.
I was never into maths while growing but, nowadays, I can say I'm in love and it's my best friend to understand and justify everything I do in the Bar industry (and even other things in life).
Thanks to you, and Dale, for giving us an insight of the changes in the re-print.

Hugh Anderson

"That's more information than people making drinks at home probably need"

I enjoyed it! I think about this and similar topics a lot even as a home enthusiast.

That so many cocktail books and websites are spec'd according to margins, hospitality, glassware, and all these other factors is fascinating but ultimately I think it makes comparing specs and grasping fundamentals messy for us amateurs.

Cocktail books are almost all written from the perspective of bartenders and bars - I'm not hating on it - but a great cookbook on making sauces or soups is written from the perspective of making delicious sauces or soups and that's it. We still don't have that kind of cookbook for mixed drinks - bar culture and wash lines and margins get embedded into the specs and recipes through and through.

By way of example I saw tonight on Punchdrink a recipe for the Alaska cocktail and they point out it has a "weird" 2.25 oz gin measurement. Most amateurs would miss it's only weird because the recipe has a total of 3 undiluted ounces. The ratio of gin to Yellow Chartreuse in the spec is 3:1., totally normal. Talk about muddying the understanding of such a simple cocktail based on the bar/bartender's decision to supersize it.

To gain some clarity on the whole mixed drink recipe landscape, I've settled on a 2 oz standard of total liquor for my drink-making and I'm influenced by Andrew Willett on this score. I see it as a brilliant stricture for developing my ability to confidently make decent drinks on the fly and in any style with any liquor - cocktail, sour, highball, you name it. Converting specs from the wild into this format, finding the common denominator, also strengthens my grasp for underlying ratios.

Thank you for coming to my Ted talk, etc etc.

Camper English

@Hugh - Hah, thank you! I have seen some specs come from brands that were trying to stay within the legal department's maximum of 1.5 total ounces of liquor and they were just unreadable. You can just write the easy spec and say "makes 1.5 cocktails" and call it a day :)

Douglas M Ford

Thanks for publishing this, Camper. Dale's history lessons are always fascinating and educational. In this case, it amuses me that the attention to (and politics of) glass size can drive so many decisions.

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