A lot of cocktail books are published every year, some of them containing thousands of recipes, some of them focusing on only a few dozen. Many of these books aren't especially useful, presenting recipes chosen with little care or attention to detail. With books like that, it's caveat emptor and bibitor.
Not so with Jim Meehan's PDT Cocktail Book, an essential volume from one of the cocktail world's brightest stars. Meehan is the manager of PDT, one of New York's most celebrated cocktail bars. Prior to that he worked under Audrey Sanders at Pegu Club. His credentials are impeccable.
As soon as you pick it up, you know this is a quality book; substantial and well bound, with thick glossy paper. The illustrations (by Chris Gall) are bright, colorful, whimsical and eye-catching.
The PDT Cocktail Book shares Meehan's advice on designing a bar, stocking spirits and choosing the right ingredients and glassware, along with his tips and techniques for properly mixing drinks. A novice mixologist can pick up this book and gain a solid introduction to the subject, even if they have little or no knowledge to begin with. But the experienced bartender will also find much to learn from here.
The heart of The PDT Cocktail Book is, of course, the drinks. It contains over 300 recipes: about half of them original drinks served at PDT, along with many classic cocktails, plus some new suggestions from friends and colleagues. This isn't a hodgepodge of random recipes either. These are hand-picked and tested; the real drinks as served in a world-class bar.
I've tried several already. Here is one that I recently enjoyed — a crisp, refreshing, lemony drink that Meehan created in the Fall of 2008. The apple flavor makes it ideal for this season.
Johnny Apple Collins
1.5 oz Maker's Mark Bourbon
.75 oz Schönauer Apple Schnapps
.75 oz Lemon Juice
2 dashes The Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas Bitters
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled Collins glass filled with ice.
Top with 2 oz. Fever Tree Bitter Lemon Soda
Garnish with a lemon twist.
The ingredients and instructions for each drink are clearly spelled out. But Meehan goes one step further, including (where possible) the provenance of the drink, giving credit to the person who invented it. As such, The PDT Cocktail Book represents a valuable volume of cocktail history, helping those who are interested to trace the origins of various cocktails. (Along those lines, it also contains an excellent bibliography.)
Another interesting thing Meehan does is recommend specific brands of spirits for all the recipes. Thus we see that he makes his gin and tonics with Tanqueray, his Martinis with Plymouth, and his Aviations with Beefeater. These aren't hard and fast rules; they're simply guidelines, telling us how they make the drinks at PDT. They represent a starting point for building the flavor profile of the drink. You can (and should) try combinations of your own.
(For example, when making the drink above, I lacked both Schönauer Apple Schnapps and Fever Tree Bitter Lemon Soda. I substituted Berentzen Apfel Liqueur and 7-Up, respectively. My version tastes different, but it's still very good.)
Meehan's book will appeal most to those who already have an interest in and facility with mixology. Any bartender would be strongly urged to buy this right away. But even the amateur will enjoy this beautiful book.
If you have any interest in drinking well, you will appreciate thumbing through it. There are so many interesting ideas for ways of combining flavors here. It also teaches a lot about spirits and how to use them. If you don't have the ingredients to make the drinks at home, copy the recipes down and take them to your favorite bartender and let him/her mix them for you.
The PDT Cocktail Book joins Gary Regan's The Joy of Mixology and Dale Degroff's The Craft of the Cocktail as the indispensable monographs on modern cocktails and spirits. It belongs on every cocktail lover's shelf.