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The Bartending Books That Shaped Jim Meehan’s Path to Cocktails

In the spirit of year-end reflection, we asked Jim Meehan—beverage director at Takibi in Portland, Oregon, and author of The PDT Cocktail Book and Meehan’s Bartender Manual—to look back on the books he kept dog-eared while getting his start in bartending. Here, he recommends works that have built the foundation of his cocktail education.

Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s Guide “For the first 10 years of my career, every bar I worked at had a copy of Mr. Boston Bartender’s Guide tucked into the back of a drawer,” Meehan says of this shelf stalwart, first published in 1935. Updated versions of the book now tally approximately 1,400 recipes. “In 2005, I met the book’s editor—wine guru Anthony Giglio— who enlisted me to help collect recipes. We collaborated on four editions, and we still work together today.” $4.99,

The Craft of the Cocktail by Dale DeGroff “Dale’s book is where cocktails became my focus behind the bar,” Meehan says. “Released [in 2002] upon my arrival in New York City, Dale’s book helped me glean the similarities between the rigor of the chefs I was working for, and the path forward for a cocktail-focused bartender with mettle.” DeGroff released an updated and revised version in September, though its core message remains the same. “Dale insisted bartending wasn’t just a job—it was a craft worth laboring to master. I was hooked from here on.” $35,

The Joy of Mixology by Gary Regan An influential guide first published in 2003 by the late Gary Regan, The Joy of Mixology probed at the deeper meaning behind mixing and serving cocktails. “If The Craft of the Cocktail helped me see the trees within the forest, The Joy of Mixology helped me identify which trees were related, and how,” says Meehan. “Cocktail recipes went from a stack of flashcards to a taxonomy constructed from intuitive building blocks to be used to create new recipes! A gifted storyteller, Regan doubled down on Dale’s assertion that bartending was a noble profession worth practicing.” $30,

Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh “Ted’s book trotted out dozens of delightful-sounding drinks I’d never heard of, from lesser-known historical recipe books and bar guides,” Meehan says. “Ted’s a Hollywood designer by trade, and his book really captured the look and feel of each cocktail’s time and place in illustrations and photographs.” $24.99,

Imbibe! by David Wondrich “David Wondrich’s biography of Jerry Thomas, the legendary bartender and author of the first American bartending book, brought early American drinking culture to life for me in a way few other writers have in our time,” says Meehan. Updated since its initial publication in 2007, Imbibe! adds legitimacy to cocktail lore, excavating recipes previously lost to time. “David’s writing continually reinforces that historical context is as vital as the ingredients and proportions in a recipe, and without them, the glass may appear half- empty.” $28,

(Editor’s note: this list first appeared in the November/December 2020 edition).

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