Book Review – The PDT Cocktail Book by Jim Meehan

Since its launch last year, copies of Jim Meehan’s first cocktail book have been harder to find than a successful American Tiki team.

BarLifeUK were lucky enough to get hold of a copy courtesy of Banks Rum when Jim was in the country to help launch Banks 7 Island Rum a few weeks ago.

If you haven’t been lucky enough to get your hands on a copy yet you have almost definitely heard (probably from a smug git who has a copy) what a beautiful looking book it is, well it is, but unlike Megan Fox there is a lot more beneath the obvious looks.

BarLifeUK has yet to be lucky enough to visit Jim’s home of PDT (standing for Please Don’t Tell) in New York but it’s a bar as famous for its entrance through a telephone box in Crif’s hot dog stand as for its drinks. As a result when I first opened The PDT Cocktail Book I was hoping for more than a list of lovely sounding drinks and I was not to be disappointed.

The book starts with obligatory Foreword, this time penned by David Wondrich, which whet the appetite for what lay in store as he compared it to the Savoy Cocktail Book ‘a book that perfectly encapsulates what we drink in bars today in a way that’s both timelessly elegant and concisely and efficiently contemporary.’ High praise indeed.

As sure as an Introduction follows a Foreword….. well the Introduction followed the Foreword! Jim quickly gives an overview of his career to date including some expert name and bar dropping (well who wouldn’t when you have worked at Pegu Club with the likes of Sam Ross and Phil Ward?).

It was the next section of the book that really stood out for me. All too often people are so caught up in the cocktails, or the garnish, or the ice, or the glassware, or the tattoo’s that they forget the most important part of any bar (with the obvious exception of the bartenders), the design. What use is a great cocktail list with a myriad of barrel infused drinks served in glassware from the Titanic using ice from the very ‘berg that sank it if the bar is so badly laid out it takes half an hour to make the damn thing.

Jim was involved with PDT right from the start in 2007 and was behind the design of the workstations themselves. From the original design onwards, ‘Good bar design is evolutionary’, he points out as he explains the reasons for the various elements of the bar. With the assistance of 4 diagrams (including one of the back of house area) you get a real insight into how and why PDT works.

Following a look at the glassware and equipment used in the bar Jim moves onto another often overlooked area in cocktail books, the essential mixers and garnishes for a cocktail bar. From the juices and garnishes to the specific type of Maple Syrup and House Orange Bitters the PDT mise en place is laid out.

One of Chris Gall's awesome illustrations

Now that, as a reader, you totally understand what PDT, as a venue, is all about it is time to move into the cocktails. There are the classics but alongside these are every single cocktail included on the menus at PDT since its launch in 2007. Each cocktail comes with not only the creator (or author as Jim puts it) and year, but also the season, a great addition to put the drink into perspective. The recipes also get a written description as well as preparation guidelines for any of the more obscure homemade ingredients such as the Buttered Popcorn Infused Rum.

This builds up into a superb collection of recipes with inspiration on every page. All of the recipes are listed with brand specific ingredients which has been cause for complaint with a few consumer based reviews. In actual fact BarLifeUK thinks it adds a great dimension to the recipes as you can exactly recreate how a drink is served in PDT. Sure there are some ingredients that aren’t ready available in the UK but that is part of the fun, you can put your own twist on a PDT classic.

It was at this point that it occurred to me that Jim was laying PDT bare. This is a book giving away what some would consider the ‘secrets’ of their bar. Not just any bar, this is PDT, this is a bar that has taken out more titles in the last few years than Stu Hudson has made Blazers in a competition (I did try to research how many and Google had a meltdown, take my word for it, it’s a lot).

In the introduction for the recipe element of the book Jim made clear that this was very much a conscious decision:
‘I’ve never once questioned my decision to share all of our production methods and sincerely hope that my colleagues all over the world will follow suit’

The book finishes with a mini masterclass from Jim on the various categories of products stocked in PDT along with a list of all the cocktail/spirit books he suggests you should have in your book shelf. This is a real opportunity to get your geek on and leaves you in no doubt that this book is written by someone with a huge knowledge and love of the industry.

The PDT Cocktail Book is an absolute must have in every bartenders collection, not only is it full of fantastic recipes and an amazing insight into the workings and successes of one the world’s top cocktail bars, it is the best looking book I have ever seen. The Illustrations by Chris Gall are superb and give the book a unique and edgy quality you just don’t usually see.

Now on it’s second print run copies are much easier to get hold of so if you want to get your hands on a copy, and trust me you do want to get your hands on a copy, then head to Amazon to get it alternatively the lovely folk at Spirit Cartel the distributors of Banks Rum in the UK have got a copy or two for you lucky BarLifers so to be in the draw simply e-mail with the subject line ‘Please Do Tell me I won a book’.