Book Review: The PDT Cocktail Book

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The PDT Cocktail Book: The Complete Bartender’s Guide from the Celebrated Speakeasy by Jim Meehan. Review by Michael Bounds.

Although The PDT Cocktail Book is not the most comprehensive cocktail book in terms of the number of recipes it contains–about 300-it offers other benefits for both professional and amateur mixologists interested in supplementing their repertoires. Jim Meehan, the proprietor of the hip Manhattan cocktail lounge PDT, provides readers with a look into the inner workings of a bar, with advice ranging from tools to techniques, garnishes to glassware (“We taste with our eyes first, so it’s essential that a cocktail be served in a handsome glass”). He even includes a page on etiquette expected of customers (in order for his establishment to “maintain decorum and draw a sophisticated audience”).

Where Meehan’s book differs from many other books of its type is in the informative nature of the entries for each drink listed. Arranged alphabetically by drink name (rather than in sections by base spirit), each entry contains not only the recipe listing the quantities of each ingredient, mixing directions, and type of glass to use, but also a brief note on the origin of the drink or an anecdote regarding its name, as well as attribution. For example, about the Rattlesnake, Meehan notes that “Harry Craddock (famous New York bartender and author of The Savoy Cocktail Book) writes that this drink is ‘so called because it will either cure Rattlesnake bite, or kill Rattlesnakes, or make you see them.’ ” This may not be as much of an exaggeration as it sounds, given that the rye whiskey, lemon juice, simple syrup, and egg white that make up the recipe are poured into a coupe that has been rinsed with absinthe.

Many of the more contemporary recipes were created by Meehan himself or his staff at PDT and show the influence of other areas of popular culture on cocktail culture. The movie “There Will Be Blood” is commemorated in an eponymous drink consisting of bourbon, Godiva liqueur, and–what else?–blood orange juice. Many bar guides feature ingredients that can best be described as esoteric, but a few of the recipes in The PDT Cocktail Book take the word in a new direction altogether. The Cinema Highball incorporates the ubiquitous Coca-Cola Classic with buttered popcorn infused rum, while Meehan’s own Imperial Silver Corn Fizz combines George Dickel Tennessee Whiskey with honey syrup, an egg white, and corn water, which is simply 16 ounces of water and a can of Del Monte fresh cut whole kernel corn pureed and fine-strained. It may indeed complement the corn-based whiskey. Meehan includes a section on seasonal mixology, listing a few fruits, herbs and vegetables, base spirits, and liqueur modifiers as sample ingredients for each season, along with a couple of drinks that illustrate the seasonal motif. This section contains what has to be one of the most memorable (and also most helpful) ideas in the entire book–the Mr. Potato Head Theory of Mixing Drinks. Meehan writes “Mr. Potato Head is the recipe . . . and the ingredients are the features on his face. As long as you exchange an eye for an eye, such as tequila for Cognac, an ear for an ear, say lime juice for lemon juice, and leave the rest or substitute with another ingredient in the same category, you have a good chance of creating a balanced drink.”

Also helpful is the Resource Guide, a listing of websites where cocktail aficionados can find spirits, bitters, books, and numerous other products, and The Bartender’s Library, a bibliography with nearly ninety sources for further reference, going back to a facsimile of the 1862 edition of “How to Mix Drinks”, the first professional bartender’s manual. Although The PDT Cocktail Book does not contain photos or drawings of its drinks, it is beautifully illustrated by Chris Gall with full-color artwork that complements the text. The double-page image following the final recipe in the book (Zombie Punch), depicting a person running down a darkened alleyway carrying a bowl while being pursued by (thirsty?) zombies, is a highlight. And about the name of the bar–Please Don’t Tell.

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