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The Fitzgerald is a gin cocktail from the 1990s created by Dale DeGroff, and published in his book, The Craft of the Cocktail. In reality, it’s a gin sour with bitters. To some, a very sweet gin sour, but then, it was the ‘90s, and DeGroff is known for his style of recipe in that way artists are known for their style of art, even if some are more recognizable than others, especially if they publish their work in books. DeGroff’s book was one of the first of the modern cocktail best sellers, and the Fitzgerald shows us why books are important, and why you should own as many as you can.
The story of DeGroff is well documented. Enough to say he’s one of the respected bartending stars, and known for many cocktails, more than a few of them ‘90s cocktails, including the Cosmopolitan, which he didn’t create but popularized, and the Fitzgerald. The Fitzgerald might not be the best known modern classic, but one sip and you’ll know it’s creator, and era.
The ‘90s were a time when patrons began tiring of the buckets of vodka and sugar passing for cocktails; those hold over drinks from the Reagan era and the leisure suit lounge act that preceded it. The next generation was coming of age, graduating college, leaving the colorful kid’s drinks behind, and the Fitzgerald is a cocktail for them. It’s sweet, like most cocktails of the time, but unlike many cocktails of the time, it’s a gin cocktail. It’s a gateway drink for a crowd wanting something more sophisticated than a Screwdriver (a delicious cocktail when made right...but still), but who are wary of the dry, pine-ness of gin. It’s a perfect relic, and could have come from no other time, and no other bartender.
The time part is easily understood, even if overstated. There were plenty of gin drinks at the time, and you could get the classics in most any bar, but the Fitzgerald did come from the ‘90s. We know this from the creator's book, and if you spend time with that book, make the recipes in it, you notice a perfect consistency of style. It’s a solid collection, but The Craft of the Cocktail isn’t alone. Every good cocktail book with a single author will be that way, a book full of recipes that have stylistic consistency. Understanding and recognizing the style of a collection allows adaptation of a given recipe to your particular taste, and equivalent appreciation of each offering.
We see the same thing in spirits. Every craft distiller has a style, and if you spend time with a given distillery’s products, you’ll get familiar with how each craftsperson approaches their art. It’s another reason to love craft distilling, and local products that you can appreciate as art, but the appreciation comes from how you use them. That knowledge comes from books, and looking a single recipe up in 5 different books will lead to an understanding of how each bartender or author approaches and balances that particular drink, through, among other things, the choice of bottle and quantity of measure. The Fitzgerald is no exception. It appears in a variety of books, many of which have their own variations of it. We favor DeGroff’s original, because, unlike many classics which have a lost or doubtful history, we know where this one came from, and we know what it’s meant to be because we spent time appreciating the author’s style in the book where it appears. We’ll adjust it for personal taste, as should you, but start from the original.
The Fitzgerald is a syrup cocktail. It’s base spirit is gin, of course, but an ounce and a half of gin with a full ounce of simple syrup? Near as makes no difference, half this drink is sweetener. That’s not a bad thing, sweet drinks are, for sure, delicious, just use a good, proper gin, otherwise forsake the Fitzgerald for a Lemon Drop. Timid spirits are lost in this drink, so we reach for our favorite cocktail gin, Aria Gin, which is a Portland style gin that strays not far from it’s London dry roots. It’s also a distinctive gin, a consistently distinctive gin, the kind you’d expect from an accomplished artisan, and perfect for a recipe from another accomplished artisan. Try it for yourself, then, next time you pick up a new cocktail book, pour a Fitzgerald while reading it for the first time, just as a reminder of the craft that starts with a bottle.
Shake and serve up. Garnish with a piece of lemon.