Wine & Spirits: Introduction to Mixology

Bartender, educator and writer shares his secrets in the PDT Cocktail Book.
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The PDT Cocktail Book contains over three hundred recipes from the famous New York City cocktail den.

A couple of weekends ago I took a few friends to PDT while I was in New York on business. It’s always fun to accompany newbies on their experience to the East Village cocktail den. Those of you who have been there know exactly what I’m talking about. But if you haven’t had the pleasure of sipping a smoky Benton’s Old Fashioned (bacon fat-infused Bourbon, maple syrup and Angostura bitters, served with one large square ice cube) or a delicate and aromatic Falling Leaves (dry Riesling, pear brandy, orange Curaçao, honey, Peychaud’s bitters) at the speakeasy-esque spot that’s been named the World’s Best Cocktail Bar both at New Orleans’ Tales of the Cocktail in 2009, and more recently topped Drinks International’s list of the top fifty bars in the world, then I don’t want to ruin things for you. Let’s just say that a phone booth, hot dogs and tater tots, stuffed animal heads and killer libations all play a pivotal role.

An evening at PDT feels both exclusive and inclusive. Thanks to the low lighting (and ceilings to match), and tucked in booths, the lounge also feels cozy, comfortable and intimate: perfect to dish with friends or flirt amid the anticipatory sounds of ice cubes being skillfully shaken or stirred by PDT’s well-trained staff. A bit of advice: take the time to thoroughly read the drinks menu, and ask your server for recommendations. And it’s logistically smart to have each person in your group order a different cocktail, so you’ll get a chance to sample as many as possible.

Bartender, educator and writer Jim Meehan.

I’ve been fortunate to know Jim for several years. He’s always a go-to, reliable, extremely knowledgeable source for so many things I write about: gin, wine cocktails, drink trends and bubbly, just to name a few. But beyond that, he’s become a dear friend. (Jim, who was also rightfully named American Bartender of the Year in 2009, happened to also be the bar professional who judged my drink making skills a few years back when I took the BarSmarts course sponsored by Pernod-Ricard. Thankfully, I was able to deftly and quickly mix up the three cocktails he challenged me with for my final exam that day: a Manhattan, Margarita and Caipiroska. You can read all about that experience here.)

In the summer of 2010, we also ventured, along with other writers and bartenders, on a gin trip to London and Plymouth, England During that week, Jim gave me a sneak peek of his upcoming book, still in its early stages. My reader’s copy arrived a few months ago, and quickly became dog-eared as I poured through it to recreate some of the great drinks I’ve sampled at PDT.

The newly released hardbound copy, illustrated throughout with whimsical color pictures by Chris Gall, is handsomely packaged and a delight to peruse. A peek-through dust cover highlights an illustration of an olive-adorned Martini. Removing the cover reveals an embossed silver and black hardcover that looks equally attractive.

“I wanted to bottle the look, feel, and attitude of contemporary cocktail culture classically, with a playful sense of humor,” Jim explains. “Our goal is for the artwork, alongside the stories, to transport you like sipping a well-made cocktail.” After having explained the story of his bar so many times, he is thrilled to share this book with cocktail aficionados.

The book reads like a conversation with Jim himself: approachable, affable and helpful. In it, he gives the reader a tour of 113 St. Marks Place (PDT’s location), before diving into some über-helpful advice about glassware, equipment and essentials for a well-stocked home bar. Over three hundred classic and contemporary cocktail recipes are organized alphabetically, though the thoughtful index also groups them according to base spirits. A primer on back bar ingredients ranging from spirits and liqueurs to bitters and syrups will help you figure out what you need to stock to make great drinks, and a seasonal guide lets you in on his farm-to-back-bar mixing philosophy.

“Hopefully, paging through this book will demystify mixology, spirits, and cocktails and inspire you to pick up a shaker,” Jim explains. “However, just like going out to a bar, I intended this book to be used for entertainment purposes.” He goes on to add that if it whipping up these drinks at home or getting yourself down to PDT just seems too taxing, you can just as easily be an armchair mixologist and flip through the book at home. “We taste with our eyes first.”

Having accomplished so much in his field, I asked Jim what exciting things he is currently shaking up. He mentioned that he still has goals at PDT he wants to accomplish, and then he will see what life has in store.

You can buy The PDT Cocktail Book at amazon.com. It makes a great gift for the cocktail lover in your life (or for yourself if that person is you…) Take your copy down to PDT, and maybe if you are lucky Jim will sign your copy like he did mine. In the meantime, here’s a seasonal cocktail he shared that would be perfect to mix up for Thanksgiving.

The Great Pumpkin, one of Jim Meehan's creations.

Great Pumpkin
Courtesy of Jim Meehan, PDT, New York, NY
“Nothing sums up the thrill of fall in the Northeast better than the Charles Schultz masterpiece ‘It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,’” says Jim, who created this drink in the fall of 2008.

2 oz. Brooklyn Brewery Pumpkin Ale
1 oz. Rittenhouse Bonded Rye Whiskey
1 oz. Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy
½ oz. Deep Mountain Grade B Maple syrup
Whole egg
Grated nutmeg, for garnish

Add all ingredients except garnish to a cocktail shaker. Dry shake without ice. Add ice, and shake again. Strain into a chilled fizz glass, and garnish with grated nutmeg.

Kelly Magyarics is a wine and spirits writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, DC area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on www.twitter.com/kmagyarics.

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