Early Wednesday night, as Portland State students crammed in a few more hours of finals week studying and nearly-intravenous caffenation, I made my way through downtown to The Cleaners event space to celebrate the release of the PDT Cocktail Book from Jim Meehan and Chris Gall. But while the beverages being stirred and sipped at the evening’s soiree weren’t caffeinated, there was certainly a similar nervous excitement in the air.
In coordination with the week’s BarSmarts Live events, Meehan’s Stumptown celebration brought together some of the most talented bartenders from across the U.S., including Esquire’s David Wondrich, San Francisco’s Erick Castro and Boston’s Misty Kalkofen. A sort of graduate school for mixologists, BarSmarts is a certification program that starts with online quizzes and a home bar kit and ends in an exclusive live event, held in a different city each year. Born from a book proposal Meehan had to write for the final thesis of the national BarSmarts program, the book is chock full of recipes and drink details that even the most amateur bartender will love – and is certainly study-worthy.
But unlike the chemistry or PoliSci textbooks down at PSU, Meehan’s book is truly stunning. After all, Meehan is the mastermind behind PDT (short for Please Don’t Tell), a Manhattan speakeasy where the talking is soft and the cocktails are carefully crafted, accessible only through a funky old phone booth hidden away inside a hot dog restaurant.
And though Meehan has worked with pioneering mixers like Audrey Saunders of Pegu Club, and the book includes blurbs from David Chang, Dale DeGroff, Mark Bittman and Rachel Maddow, he has a quiet intelligence about him, as well as a refreshing lack of pretension.
“I was thinking about my brother’s book (Peter Meehan’s The Momofuku Cookbook),” Meehan told me during the party, “and how my parents, while very supportive, hadn’t even read the whole thing. I wanted to make a book that could be educational but also something people wanted to pick up off the coffee table and read through.”
Much like his cocktails, his choice of Chris Gall for illustrator was certainly the right addition to the mix as well.
“I was sitting on the subway and I looked up at this amazing flying fish illustration for the MTA arts series and knew that’s what I wanted. It had a great WPA feel, block prints and all. So I tracked Chris down and told him about my project… I knew it would be a great match.”
Like Meehan and his book, the release party itself was understated and smart, of course, with four cocktails carefully prepared by Wondrich and Portland’s own Jeffrey Morgenthaler, among others. Featured drinks included Meehan’s 2008 invention, the Green Deacon, a fuchsia-hued concoction with gin and grapefruit juice given a slight aromatic twist with an absinthe rinse, as well as Erick Castro’s The Statesman, a light gin mixture with chartreuse and a subtle hint of pear. Meehan’s 2003 invention and grownup tipple, the Apple Malt Toddy, was also on hand to warm party goers. My personal favorite, however, was David Wondrich’s Weeksi, a unique (much like Wondrich himself) whiskey concoction with a delicate addition of Lillet Blanc, which Wondrich joked, “…basically requires that I say the name with a French accent.”
As the night went on, the room transformed from electric to the more laid-back, speakeasy ambiance of Meehan’s world of imbibe, and I felt grateful to be far, far away from anything resembling a finals week.
*Photo credit: Matt Devincenzi