Dale DeGroff is the master mixologist who poured and garnished his way to bartending stardom at New York's Rainbow Room. Here the author of The Craft of the Cocktail (Clarkson Potter, $35) and president of the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans stirs and muddles five American favorites.
What's in it: 2 ounces tequila, 1 ounce Cointreau, 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
His tip: "I really like the flavor of a well-made shaken one with puro de agave tequila. With slushy ice, that flavor can get lost. But if I am sitting on a beach baking in the sun, the charms of a frozen margarita loom a bit larger! Natural fruit purees add flavor and work in both shaken and frozen drinks. These fruit purees are now available in Whole Foods and similar stores from companies like Perfect Purée of Napa Valley. Some are slightly sweet, but you can add less sugar or add lemon or lime juice. Passion fruit, even with 10 percent sugar added, can be very tart and needs agave nectar or another sweetener."
What's in it: 3 ounces gin, 1 dash dry vermouth
His tip: "I drink gin martinis year-round. And the gin martini has evolved to an older style. What they're doing with martinis these days is two thirds gin, one third vermouth. Many people are also drinking what is essentially a 19th-century wetter martini with a dash of orange bitters, which were off the market for a long time and are just now back in several varieties."
What's in it: 1/2 lime (quartered and crushed), 1 teaspoon sugar, 2 ounces cachaça (a distilled liquor made in Brazil but widely available in the States)
His tip: "Crush the limes and sugar together, add the cachaça, shake it all together, and dump the whole thing into a glass with ice, including the mashed-up lime. I also mash the limes up with sour and/or sweet cherries, pineapples, grapes — all kinds of fruit to give it additional flavor. Leave all the fruit in there and dump everything in the glass after mashing."
What's in it: 1 ounce simple syrup, 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice, mint leaves, 2 dashes of bitters, 1 1/2 ounces white rum, soda
His tip: "Mojitos are a lot of fun to play with. I start with a sugar or simple syrup. Mix a cup of sugar with a cup of water and dissolve it. Put three quarters of an ounce each of the sugar syrup and the lime juice in the bottom of a tall glass and about five or six mint leaves. With the mint, add any other flavor you would like, such as a couple dashes of bitters or chunks of fruit — melons, cherries, peaches. Use whatever's fresh and seasonal, and you're going to get a good drink. Muddle the ingredients, then add rum and ice, and top with soda and another sprig of mint and a pineapple wedge. When you add fruit, if it's tart, you might need to add another half-ounce of sugar syrup."
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What's in it: 1 1/2 ounces gin, 3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice, 1 ounce simple syrup, 4 ounces soda
His tip: "Mint brings another dimension to a Tom Collins. Or use thyme, since gin likes thyme. You could shake some lemon juice, sugar, and gin together with a piece of thyme or mint. Pour it in a tall glass over ice; top with soda. The traditional garnish would have been a cherry or an orange, but for this, you could put in a sprig of thyme or mint as a garnish along with a piece of lemon or lime."